The Jewish people have spoken this year and have deemed Steven Spielberg — known for his iconic films including “Schindler’s List,” “Jurassic Park” and “Jaws” — as the recipient of the 2021 Genesis Prize.
Announced on February 10, the Genesis Prize Foundation (GPF) recognized the filmmaker’s commitment to Jewish values, extraordinary contribution to cinema, dedication to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and preventing future genocides.
The annual $1 million 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.
For the first time in its history, voices of the global Jewish community played a major role in Laureate selection. Two hundred thousand Jews on six continents cast their votes for the 2021 Laureate; millions more engaged on social media. Although the Prize Committee made the final decision, the overwhelming majority of votes going to Spielberg helped make him the ninth Genesis Prize honoree.
Two hundred thousand Jews on six continents cast their votes for the 2021 Laureate.
“The Genesis Prize celebrates Steven Spielberg’s unique talent, his commitment to making the world a better place and his unparalleled contribution to teaching the post-war generations about the horrors of the Holocaust,” Stan Polovets, co-founder and chairman of GPF, said. “We are delighted to welcome Steven Spielberg to the distinguished family of Genesis Prize honorees, which includes such luminaries as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Natan Sharansky and Michael Bloomberg.”
This is the latest in a series of prominent awards awarded to Spielberg. He was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States; Legion d’Honneur, the highest order of the French Republic and Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit. In 2001, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Spielberg as an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2013, he received Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction from Shimon Peres for his work to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.
Spielberg’s films have grossed $10 billion worldwide, making him the highest-grossing director and producer. He’s a three-time Oscar winner, three-time BAFTA winner, six-time Golden Globes winner and four-time Emmy winner.
“Spielberg is a great Jewish visionary and storyteller,” said human rights activist Natan Sharansky, who was awarded the Genesis Prize in 2020. “Key Jewish themes are often woven into his narratives: importance of identity and belonging, maintaining humanity in a ruthless world, caring for the other and honoring the moral obligation to do the right thing. His talent makes them universal: told by Spielberg, these stories come alive in people’s hearts across the globe.”
In addition to his cinematic success, Spielberg’s philanthropic efforts have impacted communities locally, nationally and globally. In 1994, following the success of “Schindler’s List,” he founded the USC Shoah Foundation with a $10 million grant to make audio-visual interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust. To date, the Foundation has conducted 55,000 interviews in 32 languages with survivors from 56 countries. The Foundation is also working to preserve the memory of other genocides in Cambodia, Armenia and Rwanda. The foundation is financed with proceeds from “Schindler’s List.”
Also in 1994, Spielberg founded the Righteous Persons Foundation to recover and preserve Jewish stories from the past and build a contemporary Jewish community. The Foundation provides extensive philanthropic support to a wide range of Jewish organizations such as Moishe House, Jews of Color Initiative and the Anti-Defamation League.
He also co-founded Starlight Children’s Foundation to help improve the quality of life for children with life-threatening conditions; donated $30 million to the Motion Picture and Television Fund to provide healthcare and assistance to older people who worked in film and television and supported the American Heart Association, the Children’s Diabetes Foundation, Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles, Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation and the UCLA Foundation towards medical research. He has financed construction of a 13,000 sq. ft microbiology lab at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and pediatric programs at the hospital. Most recently, he has donated $500,000 to the gun control initiative March for our Lives and $500,000 to support COVID-19 relief in the Los Angeles area.
Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and chairman of the Genesis Prize selection committee said that Spielberg is an example of great Jewish talent, worthy of this award. “[His] extraordinary work in film and philanthropy is infused with the values of his people — a quest for justice, compassion, humanism, and a heartfelt desire to make the world a better place,” Herzog said.