The most prestigious award in the Jewish community is establishing its presence in the growing public discussion over sexual harassment and related women’s issues.
The five-year-old Genesis Prize, which has had a knack for making headlines, has announced a new award — worth $2 million — that promotes gender equality.
The Women’s Empowerment Challenge, a matching grants competition, will be aimed at the North American Jewish community. The money comes from the $1 million Prize awarded this year to actress Natalie Portman, and by an additional $1 million from Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn.
“This year, after extensive research in Israel and North America, The Genesis Prize Foundation launched grants competitions because we believed that this initiative will help surface the best and most impactful ideas for addressing key issues affecting women in the Jewish community,” said Steve Rakitt, president of the foundation in an email interview. “We hope this approach will raise the visibility of the issues in the Jewish community and help lead to lasting and systemic change.”
The foundation, whose prizes are used to fund programs and activities that further Jewish identity and affiliation, began developing the challenge last year, “before #MeToo was on the front pages,” Rakitt said. “Gender equality is a critical challenge — in general and in the Jewish community — and GPF wanted to respond.
“In the Jewish community, as with the greater society, self-reflection and change is required to address gender harassment, abuse and economic discrimination,” he said. “As victims of assault and harassment in the Jewish community join others in the general #MeToo movement to speak out and share their stories, it is important for the Jewish community — in its workplaces and communal spaces — to address the challenges honestly and directly.”
The foundation is no stranger to making headline-grabbing bold moves.
First it was the size of the annual awards, $1 million, which earned them the unofficial title of the Jewish Nobel Prizes.
Then it was the identity of some of the Prizes’ recipients: including intermarried actor Michael Douglas; billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who clearly does not need the money; and Portman, who drew criticism for refusing to appear at the awards ceremony in Israel this year with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Now, the new initiative comes as the #MeToo campaign keeps generating interest — three sexual crimes charges were filed this week by the Manhattan district attorney against disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
“Working for gender equality — especially combating sexual assault and harassment — is a Jewish value. We are all created b’tzelem Elohim — in the image of God,” Rakitt said. “We hope that the continued media focus on issues facing women will encourage organizations and funders to develop innovative and sustainable ideas for addressing challenges for women in Jewish workplaces and communal spaces.”
The matching grants initiative will fund programs in the areas of prevention of gender-based discrimination, harassment and assault in Jewish community workplaces and communal spaces; development of gender sensitivity and inclusivity training programs in Jewish communal organizations; encouraging and supporting opportunities for Jewish girls and women in STEM education and careers; and research comparing salaries for men and women who work in the Jewish community.
The prize is administered by a partnership among the office of Israel’s prime minister, the executive of the Jewish Agency and the foundation.
Applications for the grant competition, which will be administered by the Jewish Funders Network, will be accepted through Nov. 16 at genesis-prize-womens-empowerment-match.org.