Barbra Streisand is getting the next ‘Jewish Nobel,’ in prize’s return to celebrity tradition


(JTA) — The prize dubbed the “Jewish Nobel” will be going to Barbra Streisand later this year, in a return to its tradition of honoring Jewish celebrities for their lifetime of achievements.

The iconic actor and singer is getting the Genesis Prize, which has been awarded since 2013, in recognition of her contributions to a number of fields, including the arts and philanthropy.

The prize was endowed by a group of Russian Jewish billionaires, three of whom stepped down from the board of a related foundation, the Genesis Philanthropy Group, after being targeted by Western sanctions last year for their ties to Vladimir Putin following his invasion of Ukraine. The most recent Genesis Prize, awarded earlier this year, went to Jewish activists and nonprofits in Ukraine — the first time the prize had not been given to a single individual.

Now, the prize foundation is signaling a return to normalcy by selecting Streisand, 81, who has served as a symbol of pride for generations of women and men who saw themselves reflected in her brash, Brooklyn-bred, unapologetically Jewish persona. She has sold more than 100 million records; had more albums chart in the Top 40 than any other female recording artist; and is one of just 18 people to rack up an EGOT — an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

The prize’s goal is to stimulate Jewish giving by raising awareness of particular needs. Streisand will be donating her $1 million award to four groups aimed at protecting the environment, promoting women’s health, combating disinformation in the media and aiding the people of Ukraine, according to a press release from the Genesis Prize Foundation.

“I am delighted to be honored by the special 10th Anniversary Genesis Prize and to work with The Genesis Prize Foundation to support organizations that seek to better society and our shared humanity,” Streisand said in a statement. “I am very proud of my Jewish heritage, and have always been moved by the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, to repair the world. I hope to join and inspire others in their own commitment to build a better world.”

The ceremony honoring Streisand, which will be held for the first time in Los Angeles, marks another change for the prize.

Before this year, the prize had been awarded at a ceremony in Israel. In the past, it was presented in cooperation with the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, and in 2018, actor Natalie Portman, that year’s honoree, stirred controversy by declining to attend the ceremony in protest of “recent events” in Israel. The partnership with the prime minister ended in 2020.

The award seeks to honor “extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity, and commitment to Jewish values,” according to the press release, and has generally gone to a celebrity who has worn their Jewish identity publicly. Many of its laureates have been involved in the arts — including actors Michael Douglas and Portman; sculptor Anish Kapoor; violinist Itzhak Perlman; and, in 2021, filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

“Her sense of responsibility to heal the world grows out of her Jewish values and her Jewish identity, which Barbra has displayed proudly since the very beginning of her extraordinary career,” Genesis Prize Foundation founder Stan Polovets said in a statement about Streisand. “Barbra’s innovative philanthropy has had significant impact in so many areas, including health, environment, and gender equality.”

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