The actor and peace activist Michael Douglas has been named as the second recipient of the Genesis Prize, a $1 million award that recognizes great contributions to Jewish culture across the globe.
Douglas will be personally awarded his prize in Jerusalem on June 18 by both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
The Genesis Prize is an initiative of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency, in coordination with the Genesis Philanthropic Group, a cadre of Russian businessmen committed to bolstering Jewish identity among Russian Jewry and the greater Diaspora.
Last year’s inaugural Genesis Prize was awarded to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, himself a billionaire, in a move that raised hackles in some Jewish circles due to Bloomberg’s avidly secular life. Bloomberg is “no more Jewish than the cop on the street who eats a bagel for lunch and picked up some Yiddish… What are these Jewish values that we so vaguely admire?” wrote Jane Eisner, the editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, when that selection was announced.
Bloomberg used his $1 million, which was awarded at a lavish Jerusalem ceremony headlined by comedian Jay Leno, to establish a fellowship called the Genesis Generation Challenge, which is granted to young people seeking to do humanitarian work rooted in Jewish values.
The selection committee for this year’s award included Sharansky, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Chief Rabbi of the UK (Emeritus) Lord Jonathan Sacks.
Douglas, a multiple Oscar winner with a decades-long film career, also serves as a United Nations Messenger of Peace and has done extensive work promoting gun control, human rights and nuclear non-proliferation. But his selection is likely to also raise some criticism; he is married to non-Jewish screen siren Catherine Zeta-Jones and his own children are not, according to Jewish law, Jewish.
In a press release distributed Thursday, Douglas said, “I share this award with my family, who encouraged me in my exploration of the Jewish faith. 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 and Zeta-Jones made a high-profile visit to Israel last summer with their family in honor of their son Dylan’s bar mitzvah, during which they stayed in the Presidential Suite of the King David Hotel and toured the Old City of Jerusalem. Press reports at the time said that Zeta-Jones is considering converting to Judaism.
Douglas plans to donate his prize money toward projects promoting diversity and inclusiveness in Jerusalem.