Natan Sharansky donates his $1 million Genesis Prize to alleviate coronavirus suffering, protect against future pandemics

Genesis, in partnership with Start-Up Nation Central, to award additional prizes to Israeli companies working to defeat COVID-19


Natan Sharansky donates his $1 million Genesis Prize to alleviate coronavirus suffering, protect against future pandemics

May 4, 2020, Jerusalem – The Genesis Prize Foundation (GPF) announced today the names of the 15 recipients of this year’s Genesis Prize grants.  The majority of the funding for the grants came from the $1 million Genesis Prize, which was awarded to the legendary human rights activist Natan Sharansky last December. Sharansky chose to direct these funds to organizations fighting the coronavirus pandemic and supporting individuals most affected by it. 

“The selection of Natan Sharansky as the 2020 Genesis Prize Laureate coincided with the beginning of the worst pandemic faced by humanity in the past one hundred years,” said Stan Polovets, Co-Founder and Chairman of The Genesis Prize Foundation.  “Natan felt strongly that the most positive impact he could have as the Genesis Prize Laureate is to donate his $1 million prize in its entirety to organizations combating coronavirus and helping individuals most impacted by this vicious, invisible enemy.”

“Many people of good will around the world have given generously to help organizations and individuals who have been devastated by COVID-19; I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to this humanitarian effort,” said Natan Sharansky. “Throughout the long history of the Jewish people, our ability to come together as one during the times of crisis - to unite and help each other - gave us strength to persevere and face the future with hope and confidence. That’s why I cannot think of a better way to use the Genesis Prize money than to fund those who are fighting the coronavirus epidemic, both in Israel and around the world.”

Genesis Co-Founder Polovets noted that some of the grants will deliver immediate relief to those most affected; others will seed longer-term advances against the disease.  The former group includes Israeli organization 1221 Assistance for All – an emergency support service for residents of Jerusalem; ALEH Negev, working with children with severe disabilities; Association of Rape Crisis Centers of Israel, responding to a 40% increase in domestic violence cases; Hillel and Moishe House, supporting isolated elderly in Europe and the Former Soviet Union.

Among the projects with a longer-term focus are grants to Israel’s Weizmann Institute’s research program to develop a coronavirus vaccine, and two leading US universities, Columbia and New York University (NYU). The grant to Columbia University Irving Medical Center provides seed funds for researchers to develop new treatments, while the grant to NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering funds a competition for undergraduate and graduate students to address the acute engineering challenges presented by the coronavirus, including creating “zero contact” hardware, such as doors and payment systems.

“New York has suffered the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world; the city – and its Jewish community – have been profoundly affected. The grants to Columbia and NYU provide additional resources to the two world-class centers of scientific excellence in New York – where The Genesis Prize Foundation is headquartered – as they work to help the city emerge from the current crisis,” said GPF’s Polovets.

Morris Kahn, a prominent Israeli philanthropist who contributed additional funds in honor of Natan Sharansky, said: “We are not only battling to save the lives of those infected by COVID-19; the harsh reality has threatened the lives of many, including victims of domestic violence and those less fortunate in need of medical attention. Mr. Sharansky is an example of a true believer in life and the bounty of life, his decision to support these important organizations is the core of the Jewish values – to be compassionate and help ease the pain of others.”

Isaac Herzog, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Chairman of the Genesis Prize Selection Committee, said: “I admire Natan’s decision to donate his award in this hour of profound need. The range of projects selected for Genesis Prize grants is strategic, comprehensive and addresses the need for immediate humanitarian relief as well as preparedness for the challenges of tomorrow.  The Jewish Agency is honored to partner with Natan and the Genesis Prize in this 2020 philanthropic program.” 

In addition to the fifteen grants, Genesis announced a special competition in honor of Sharansky, which will recognize Israeli companies working to combat COVID-19 and mitigate the damage from future pandemics. Start-Up Nation Central, an NGO founded by philanthropist Paul Singer, will run the competition in partnership with GPF to promote Israeli innovation globally. GPF and Start-Up Nation Central will award prizes to selected Israeli companies, which either have made significant contributions to the effort to fight COVID-19 or are working on promising technologies, therapies, or vaccines that have the potential to provide significant benefits in the near future. Winners of the competition, to be held in the summer, will donate their prize funds to the charities of their choice. 



The 2020 Genesis Prize grants announced today will support a total of 15 NGOs and institutions working in the humanitarian, social, scientific and medical fields to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and advance the recovery.

In Israel, grants in honor of Sharansky will fund nine organizations working to help the vulnerable and advance medical and scientific innovation.  These include:

  • 1221 Assistance for all, an emergency response service in Jerusalem helping both Jews and non-Jews affected by the coronavirus epidemic – an alliance of United Hatzalah, Lev Echad, and Israel Association of Community Centers;
  • Association of Rape Crisis Centers of Israel, which will utilize the grant to hire additional staff as it works to mitigate a 40% increase in domestic violence during the lockdown;
  • ALEH Negev, supporting the most isolated and vulnerable populations on the country’s periphery, including children with severe disabilities; additional staff will be hired to replace volunteers unable to work due to coronavirus;
  • TEREM Public Clinic, providing medical services to the residents of South Tel Aviv, many of whom are not covered by government medical plans;
  • Enosh Israeli Mental Health Organization, to hire additional professionals speaking Russian, Amharit, English and Arabic to respond to the increased mental health caseload;
  • Migdal Ohr, supporting high-risk Israeli prisoners sent home to reduce crowding in Israeli prisons because of coronavirus;
  • Two projects in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel – through volunteer service by young adults at Machon Shlichim working with the elderly and at-risk youth hit by coronavirus and by funding interest-free loans for struggling Israeli NGOs through Ogen;
  • The Weizmann Institute which will use the grant to fund research to develop the COVID-19 vaccine.


Beyond Israel, Genesis Prize grants will support projects in eight countries, including:

Italy, France, Russia, and Spain:  Expanding volunteer activities to help the isolated and elderly members of the Jewish communities affected by COVID-19 in Rome, Madrid, Paris, and Moscow (grantee: Moishe House);

Ukraine and Belarus: Providing support to the most vulnerable community members by 130 Hillel student volunteers working in six cities in Ukraine and Belarus to Jewish elderly and homebound (grantee: Hillel);

United States:  Funding research to mitigate medical complications of coronavirus by medical staff at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and a competition to for students at New York University Tandon School of Engineering to solve physical challenges presented by COVID-19; supporting the Hebrew Free Loan Society to help with the overwhelming increase in requests for loans due to coronavirus-related financial hardships, including lay-offs;

UK:  Providing personal protective equipment to staff engaged in giving care and support to vulnerable residents in care homes including those receiving end of life care (grantee:  Jewish Care).



The annual Genesis Prize, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel” by TIME Magazine, honors extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity, and commitment to Jewish values. Legendary Jewish leader and activist Natan Sharansky was announced in December 2019 as the 8th Genesis Prize Honoree in recognition of his life-long advocacy for human rights, democracy, service to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Launched in 2013, the Prize is financed through a permanent endowment of $100 million established by The Genesis Prize Foundation.

Previous Genesis Prize laureates are former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; actor, producer and peace activist Michael Douglas; virtuoso violinist and advocate for individuals with special needs Itzhak Perlman; sculptor and advocate for the rights of refugees Sir Anish Kapoor; Oscar-winning actress and social activist Natalie Portman; and owner of New England Patriots and founder of the leading foundation to combat anti-Semitism Robert Kraft. In 2018, the Genesis Prize Foundation honored U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to social justice and equal rights.

All laureates have selected causes that are important to them, and award funds in their honor have been donated to these causes. These initiatives have included support of social entrepreneurship based on Jewish values, inclusiveness of intermarried families in Jewish life, improving the lives of individuals with special needs, helping to alleviate the global refugee crisis, advancing women’s equality, and combatting anti-Semitism and efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.

The Genesis Prize Foundation