The $1 million “Genesis Prize,” founded by three Russian-Jewish businessmen, is a case study in assimilation at its worst. Its modus operandi is to ape the general society around us, thus inescapably falling prey to the perils of inauthenticity.
Awarded jointly by the prime minister’s office of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Genesis Prize has fallen on its face for the past several years. These failures should not mask the structural deficiency at the heart of the prize. First, however, the specific failures:
This year’s awardee, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has recently been charged in Florida with soliciting prostitution. Innocent until proven guilty; but still, not yet a role model for a prize —maybe never.
Last year’s awardee, Natalie Portman, snubbed the prize because she doesn’t like Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who would have handed her the prize.
The year before that, the award ceremony was cancelled because the 2017 winner, Sir Anish Kapoor, said it would be “inappropriate to hold a festive ceremony” in Jerusalem with a civil war in Syria close by.
The prize is supposed to recognize Jews who provide “inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement along with their comitment to Jewish values and the Jewish people.” Sounds nice, but in practice the prize of $1 million is almost always awarded to millionaires. It is not a prize to recognize inspiration, but wealth.
We are not one of those who believe that being a billionaire is a sign of social failure, as a first-term member of Congress recently put it. But the idea that a $1 million prize serves a social good when almost all of its recipients are already using their wealth for social good sends two messages. First, the prize is pointless. Second, there is no inspiration other than through wealth. Who is kidding whom? Does a prize to Robert Kraft, worth $6.6 billion, or to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, worth $47.6 billion, say anything else?
The problem with the Genesis Prize is not that it’s had a run of bad luck. It is misconceived in principle. It is not a prize for achievement, but for flattery.
As an occasional awardee, a philanthropist is a most worthy choice. But the “Jewish Nobel” is ignoble because it does not not recognize excellence that is truly competed for, as is the case in medicine, economics, chemistry, physics, literature and peace. Not that these Nobel Prize categories are the only areas of genuine human achievement, but they do salute an authentically competitive playing field.
The Genesis Prize will never be the “Jewish Nobel” because it tries too hard to be something it is not. And that is the essence of assimilation.
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