Actor and peace activist Michael Douglas is the recipient of the 2015 Genesis Prize. The decision was announced Wednesday night by the Genesis Prize Foundation. The $1 million prize will be awarded in Jerusalem by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and the prime minister of Israel on June 18.
Douglas said he plans to use the prize money for promoting activities designed to raise awareness of inclusiveness and diversity in Judaism, according to the prize foundation. “I share this award with my family, who encouraged me in my exploration of the Jewish faith,” Douglas said. “I hope these teachings and values will be part of the legacy in the world that I leave for my children and those who follow.”
Douglas, 70, was not raised Jewish. His father, the actor Kirk Douglas, is Jewish, but his mother is Anglican. In recent years, however, Douglas has embraced the Jewish faith and said he considers himself a Reform Jew. Last year he took his son, Dylan, to Jerusalem for his bar mitzvah. Because he never converted, Douglas is not considered Jewish according to Conservative or Orthodox Judaism, where patrilineal descent is insufficient to qualify one as Jewish.
“It is an unconventional choice,” said Stan Polovets, co-founder and chairman of the Genesis Prize Foundation, according to the Los Angeles Times. In a statement, Polovets said Douglas was chosen for “his professional achievements and for his passion for his Jewish heritage and the Jewish state.” He added, “The Douglas family’s experience of connecting with its heritage and embracing it on their own terms embodies an inclusive approach for Jews of diverse backgrounds. This is particularly important today, when the question of what it means to be Jewish has become more pressing than ever.”
The winner of two Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and an Emmy Award, Douglas serves as a United Nations Messenger of Peace, focusing on human rights, gun violence prevention and nuclear anti-proliferation work. The first Genesis Prize, an annual award, was given to Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman and former mayor of New York. It is meant to recognize an accomplished, internationally renowned professional who is a role model in his or her community and whose actions and achievements express a commitment to Jewish values, the Jewish community and Israel, and who can inspire the younger generation of Jews worldwide. The foundation was endowed by the Genesis Philanthropy Group, a consortium of wealthy philanthropists and businessmen from the former Soviet Union that includes Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven and German Khan.