As 2018 grantees advance women’s empowerment, The Genesis Prize Foundation aims to make an impact with a 2019 agenda centered on combatting antisemitism
By LINDA GRADSTEIN and MAAYAN HOFFMAN
“The demand for justice, for peace, for enlightenment runs through the entirety of the Jewish history and Jewish tradition,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told a room of activists in July 2018 during her acceptance speech of the inaugural Genesis Lifetime Achievement Award, initiating a year of The Genesis Prize Foundation’s (GPF) philanthropy dedicated to women’s empowerment.
Ginsburg, an outspoken advocate for gender equality, was selected to receive the Award for her groundbreaking legal work in the fields of civil liberties and women’s rights. The announcement that she would be its first recipient was made months before the #MeToo or Time’s Up movements became front-page news .
Inspired by Ginsburg’s vision “to open doors to women”, GPF made grants to organizations in Israel and North America working on issues such as enhancing socio-economic opportunities for women, preventing violence, fighting against harassment in Jewish communal workspaces and encouraging girls and young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
In total, $3.5 million dollars was distributed as a result of matching grants programs – $2.5 million in North America, and $1M in Israel, funded jointly with Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn. The money was granted in Israel with the help of Matan - United Way to 37 organizations and programs, and in the United States through Jewish Funders Network to 14 non-profits.
While the distribution of North American grants started more recently, the Israeli organizations received their gifts in September 2018 and many are already making an impact.
One grantee, the Israel Women’s Network (IWN), ranks among Israel’s oldest and best-known women’s organizations. It used the Genesis Prize Foundation grant to fund a comprehensive report on sexual harassment against women in Israel. This report was presented to the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women.
IWN aims to increase female representation on the boards of directors of public companies, open new positions for women in the IDF, and promote anti-sexual-harassment legislation. IWN CEO Michal Gera Margaliot said educating thought leaders about the country’s current gaps is the first step in effecting this change.
Another grantee, the Taliya program, organizes groups of young Arab women to volunteer in their village schools and youth clubs four days a week. They earn a stipend for their work, and, on the fifth day, study together to improve their high school grades.
Organization head Hiba Al Nebari explained that some Arab women do not have sufficiently high grades to enter university. Many of them live in the periphery of Israel where job opportunities are few. Those who are not studying or working have a high chance of getting married young and having children quickly. Once that happens, their chances of going to a university or working outside the home decrease dramatically. The Taliya program “changes their lives – they become powerful women with tremendous self-confidence. We empower them to make their dreams come true,” said Al Nebari, pointing out that close to 80% of participants enroll in a university after a year in the study group.
Taliya used the Genesis Prize funding to open two new groups in northern Israel, one in the town of Sakhnin, and the other in Majdal al-Krum, in addition to the seven groups the organization has run in the past. Each group has up to 20 women.
Ayala Reifler, who volunteers for GPF grantee Bat Kol, a religious lesbian organization founded in 2005, said the grant will go toward hiring the organization’s first CEO.
Bat Kol started as a support group for Orthodox Jewish women who identify as gay or transgender. Reifler said that the number of openly Orthodox gay women is increasing each year, and today the organization has a mailing list of 500 people.
“The CEO will help our organization pursue its agenda more quickly and efficiently,” Reifler told The Jerusalem Post. “When you rely only on volunteers, a lot falls through the cracks.”
Indeed, the role of professional managers and CEOs, who possess professional skills required to lead the organization and maximize its impact, is paramount. Alas, nonprofits are often run by passionate people without basic managerial training.
To address this issue and help the entire sector, GPF and Matan have partnered to launch an innovative training program for women who run non-profit organizations. Fifteen CEOs, chosen from the grant-winning organizations, have already started their training in organizational management.
“It’s a management course designed to help them build more stable organizations, to fundraise more efficiently, and to work with governmental organizations and volunteers,” Sana Britavsky, GPF deputy CEO, told The Jerusalem Post. “We also hope to encourage collaborations between all of the organizations.”
She said the idea for the course came as GPF looked at the grant applications of the NGOs.
“There are a lot of great ideas targeting important social change; but people who are heading and managing these organizations don’t always have a lot of relevant experience,” she said.
The course will consist of eight full-day sessions on topics such as “What is the Difference Between Managing a Business and a Social Enterprise?” and “Legal Aspects of Running an NGO.” The participants will be able to consult with professionals in the legal, financial and governmental fields to help keep them on track for two years after the course ends.
“We have learned that organizations are very dedicated to their agenda, but they don’t have time or energy to develop their people,” Matan CEO Ahuva Yanai told the Post, noting that participants will also find fields of cooperation and learn from each other. “Every business needs to strengthen their managers to be better at what they do. We strive for excellence.”
In fact, striving for excellence and “getting the work done” is the secret ingredient of the Genesis Prize. When the award was launched in 2013 as a partnership between the private Genesis Prize Foundation, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency for Israel, Time Magazine called it the “Jewish Nobel.” The laureates receive a $1 million award and are honored at a prestigious ceremony. However, as Britavsky explained, “it is after the ceremony that the real work begins.”
“We seek to engage the Jewish world on relevant social and humanitarian issues,” said Britavsky. “This Prize is an action-oriented award; it provides a platform for the laureate to make a significant difference. The Foundation gives the honoree an opportunity to ‘re-gift’ the funds to a worthy cause of his or her choice, all our laureates to-date have chosen to do so.”
Genesis Prize laureates have included Michael Bloomberg, Michael Douglas, Itzhak Perlman, Sir Anish Kapoor and Natalie Portman. Last year, GPF also honored Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.
The 2019 Genesis Prize laureate is Robert Kraft, philanthropist and owner of the New England Patriots football team, who plans to use his award funds to help combat the growing threat of antisemitism and efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.
As of 2018, anti-Semitic incidents (including those not involving physical violence) were being reported in France and Germany at an average rate of four per day. And the UK has experienced record levels of anti-Semitic incidents which have stretched from street level incidents to mainstream politics.
Most dramatically, 2018 saw the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history, when eleven Jewish congregants were killed at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in October, followed six months later by a deadly shooting in Poway synagogue in California.
The 2019 prize ceremony will take place June 20, in Jerusalem, but Kraft already started working on the 2019 Genesis Prize theme of combating antisemitism even before he has been formally honored. He partnered with Roman Abramovich to launch the “Final Whistle on Hate” campaign, the inaugural event of which was a May 15 charity soccer match between Robert’s New England Revolution and Roman’s Chelsea.
This attitude echoes the words of Britavsky: “The uniqueness of Genesis is not the prize itself,” she said. “Many prizes involve money, medals and memories. But after you get the Genesis Prize, you start working to shape the future of the Jewish people.” Kraft will work to help shape a future free of hate.