Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday became the first recipient of the new Genesis Prize, a $1 million award to individuals who "embody the character of the Jewish people and values...and the State of Israel."
In a ceremony at the Jerusalem Theater, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu presented the award, saying "I think that in creating the Genesis Prize, there is a need to identify each year one outstanding individual, one individual who embodies in many ways Jewish traditions and Jewish values."
"The most important tradition that we have is that we cherish our heritage, but we are always seeking new things. There is a different way of thinking about things, about problems, about solutions, about challenges. I think that's what the State of Israel is about. We've achieved remarkable things in our 66 years and I think the world marvels at it," remarked Netanyahu.
The prime minister added "we achieved it because we're grounded in our traditions, and yet at the same time, we seek to seize the future: with technology, with science, with breakthrough innovation. And I can think of no one more worthy of this honor – which we present tonight for the very first time – than my friend Michael Bloomberg."
The ceremony was emceed by Jay Leno, the iconic former Tonight Show TV host comedian, who two weeks ago said he is "very pro-Jewish, very pro-Israeli." It was also attended by over 400 international dignitaries, including Nobel laureates, philanthropists and business leaders, and featured world-renowned pianist Evgeny Kissin, who became an Israeli citizen last year.
Bloomberg, while in Jerusalem, also visited the City of David Museum, where ancient archaeological remains of King David's 3,000-year-old Jewish capital are being revealed just south of the Old City. "The city of David is where we all came from," said Bloomberg after the tour of the site, speaking at the Western Wall plaza.
While the former NY mayor stated that Israel stands for freedom of worship, recent reports indicate Israel plans to let Catholics hold fixed prayers in the David's Tomb Compound in time for Pope Francis's visit next week. The move would prevent Jews from entering the site, given that Jewish law forbids using a building used for idol-worship, a category Catholic worship with its effigies falls under in Jewish law.
Genesis Generation Challenge
The Genesis Prize Foundation announced Thursday that Bloomberg chose to invest the $1 million prize in a global competition named the Genesis Generation Challenge, which aims to find new ideas to improve the world.
Under the program's auspices, up to ten selected teams will be awarded at least $100,000 to implement the ideas they submit, with the official start of the competition being August 1. Ideas are to be submitted online at this site.
Winners will be announced in the first quarter of 2015.
Bloomberg said ahead of the ceremony "to me, nothing is more central to Jewish values than wanting to make the world a better place. Young people in every corner of the earth have great ideas of how to change the world but lack the resources they need to try. The Genesis Generation Challenge will help find and fund them."
"The Genesis Prize is a symbol of a movement to spark a far-reaching conversation about the universal impact of Jewish values, culture and heritage, especially among young people," said Stan Polovets, Chairman of the Board of the Genesis Prize Foundation.
"Our first laureate, Michael R. Bloomberg's, inspired idea - to establish a competitive means of promoting positive change - comes at a crucial point in today's society," added Polovets.