NEW YORK (JTA) – Wayne Firestone, the head of Hillel, was named president of the Genesis Prize Foundation.
The appointment of Firestone was announced Wednesday. The president and CEO of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life will stay at his current post until April 26.
The Genesis Prize was created last year by the Genesis Philanthropy Group, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. Touted by its creators as a “Jewish Nobel Prize,” the award comes with a $1 million prize and aims to honor individuals whose success has been informed by their Jewish values.
The prize is being funded with a $50 million endowment set up by the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which is comprised of several oligarchs from the former Soviet Union who are committed to building the Russian-speaking Jewish Diaspora
“One of the exciting things about the prize is that it is endowed for perpetuity,” Firestone told JTA. “This was not just a prize de jour but a much larger statement that’s bigger than any organization, one that can engage the Jewish people in a conversation.”
Firestone said a pool of academics and community leaders around the world have begun submitting nominations for the award in a selection process emulating the MacArthur Fellowship. Their recommendations will be presented to a selection committee headed by Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky and a prize committee headed by Israeli Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
Committee members include Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, outgoing British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Meir Shamgar, president emeritus of Israel’s Supreme Court.
As the outgoing head of a youth group, Firestone said he hoped to “introduce the laureate to young people, hosting and convening conversations about Jewish accomplishment and identity.”
He said the inaugural winner of the prize will be announced this fall and the ceremony will take place the following spring.