In Search of a Common Denominator



"A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries," wrote Thomas Mann in his book, "The Magic Mountain."

As Jews, we have lived through many epochs and the lives of many people: We have lived the lives of our biblical forefathers, we live the lives of our relatives who perished in the Holocaust, the lives of those who fought for our country and those who are a part of our lives even if they live in different countries. We carry our Jewish burden with us all of our lives. At times it is heavy and cumbersome and it slows us down. Other times it serves as an invisible wing that carries us to the horizon with incredible lightness. But it always floods us with questions regarding our identity and essence, our nationality and history.

The relations between the State of Israel and World Jewry are complex and challenging. We consider World Jewry to be our brothers overseas, but as between brothers, we also may become angry with them when they do not stand by our side, or when they espouse ideas different from our own. It is also hard for our Jewish brothers around the world. We do not always make it easy on their lives with our statements and behavior.

As a Jew who was not born in the State of Israel, but who fought for many years to move to Israel, I have felt this complexity. Currently, as the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, I think that we have the opportunity to work toward bringing the sides closer together, to reduce the distance between the Jews of the world, and to enable all of us to unite around common values.

But are our values the same? "How can you expect a man who's warm to understand one who is freezing?" asked Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, one of the opponents of the USSR regime. And can we, who live here in the heart of the Middle East, really understand the dilemmas of the Jews living in France? Can a Jew in affluent Melbourne truly understand what a mother goes through when she sends her son to the army? I think so. Because what connects us is a thread that has connected the Jews of the world throughout the years: striving for Tikun Olam, Derech Eretz and making a positive impact. Many people in Jewish history have worked according to this principle and have led to many inventions and developments that have made an extraordinary impact on humanity.

The Genesis Prize reflects the age old Jewish concept of Tikun Olam: "Humanity carries a shared responsibility to heal, repair and change the world." This prize is a badge of honor and appreciation of the people whose extraordinary deeds have changed the historic epoch in which we live and who lend special significance to the tradition of Tikun Olam.

In this context, this prize will seek out the person who has contributed to humanity in the spirit of Jewish values, who is aligned with our very existence and our desire to make an impact on humanity as a whole.

The process of the conferring of this prize will reflect and incorporate the experience, knowledge and vision of many of the distinguished and talented leaders from Jewish communities around the world. The committee members have been selected based on their outstanding leadership in fields such as international relations and media, human rights and justice, business and philanthropy and their strong support for Jewish causes.

"There is no higher religion than human service," said Dr. Albert Schweitzer, and our search, which will now begin, will prove this. We embark on this journey backed by long years of Jewish heritage and Israeli determination, which was born here on the rocky hills of the Land of Israel.

Armed with our faith on the one hand, and technological advancement on the other, we know that there is a common denominator shared by Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel: contribution to humanity. The Genesis Prize will epitomize this common denominator.

By Yuli Edelstein, the Speaker of the Knesset

The Genesis Prize is a $1 million award given annually to an accomplished, internationally renowned professional from anywhere in the world who is a role model in his/her community and who can inspire a younger generation of Jews worldwide. The inaugural Genesis Prize will be awarded in the spring of 2014 in Jerusalem by the Prime Minister of Israel.