The Genesis Prize can help us reclaim the word 'philanthropy'

Huge new pledges at Thursday's ceremony means there is now a $31 million fund to tackle online antisemitism - this was not mere 'fundraising'

June 21, 2019 13:35

Each year at Rosh Hashanah, when our children were growing up, we sat as a family  around our dining room table, calculated ten per cent of our income and debated how best to give it away. 

Our conversations were feisty and heated. Causes, Israeli, Palestinian, LGBT, Jewish and not, often found themselves included. Perhaps our most difficult discussion saw RSY-Netzer bursaries pitched against a donkey sanctuary. 

The mitzvah of tzedakah is obligatory. So it was such a privilege, a zechut, to give the keynote address in Jerusalem for the Genesis Prize Foundation, who this year honoured American philanthropist, Robert Kraft for his efforts to combat antisemitism and delegitimisation of Israel. Genesis annually awards a selected laureate $1 million for regifting to a cause close to that person’s heart. This amount has always leveraged other significant donations for wonderful causes.

At last night’s ceremony, Kraft, perhaps best known for his ownership of six-time Super Bowl champions the New England Patriots, donated a stunning $20 million of tzedakah. Roman Abramovich is one of two others each adding $5 million. There is now a $31 million fund to tackle online antisemitism. 

Founded in 2013, the Genesis Prize, the “Jewish Nobel”, is an extraordinary philanthropic achievement, so far securing over $250 million to support humanitarian causes, benefitting both Jews and non-Jews. 

Undeniably, the past week’s events were glamorous, with American footballers in Mr Kraft’s entourage, cocktails on the Mediterranean coast and the world class ceremony in the Jerusalem Theatre. 

I noticed during this past week the profound difference between this approach to philanthropy, and how we work in the UK. On the whole, we shun glitz and prefer understated. We shy away from the word ‘philanthropy’, a term expressed by the Genesis Prize with justifiable pride. 

Tuesday night’s event in Israel as part of this week of Genesis celebrations was hosted by the main founder of Bereshit, the Israeli lunar lander, Morris Khan. The event was called “a celebration of philanthropy”. The term we use in the UK, fundraising, seems transactional by comparison. We often ‘fundraise’ shyly, sometimes guiltily, even though we are raising money for good, for tzedakah, to enable us to look after other people. 

The Genesis Prize sees professionally accomplished game-changers giving both time and money, with their energy on display all year round. While the reaction of some in the UK may be cynical and we may not instinctively put on parties like this, we know that people like Robert Kraft can choose what to do with their wealth. I’m delighted that he, and others who support the Genesis Prize, have chosen to tackle antisemitism, including in the UK and the rest of Europe. 

Back at home, I’m so grateful to our outstanding group of immensely generous communal backers in the UK, but this may not last forever. The success of the Genesis Prize demonstrates a more muscular approach to philanthropy, that can inspire us here. We can be more effusive and proud about philanthropy, about enabling people to give of themselves, to fulfil the mitzvah of tzedakah. 

Whether it’s donkeys or youth leaders, whether it’s the time it takes to write a cheque, or much longer, let’s be loud and proud of our charities and our philanthropists. Let’s support the outstanding institutions that in turn support ourselves, our families, our community and the wider world. 

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner is Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism


June 21, 2019 13:35

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