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February 12, 2021 1:43 pm

What Is It That Jews Actually Value?

avatar by Jonathan S. Tobin / JNS.org

Opinion

Steven Spielberg. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org –We already knew that the Genesis Prize was not really the “Jewish Nobel Prize” as its public-relations flacks have trained so many journalists to call it. Since its inception in 2012, it has been a parody of the world-famous Swedish prizes. We also already knew that the last thing that the Jewish people needed right now was another excuse for the organized world to slobber over celebrities and fat cats. But last year, when the organizers decided to pump up the publicity for their annual extravaganza by holding an Internet poll to decide their winner for 2021, they took the next step towards dumbing down an already ridiculous exercise.

We all knew that one of the celebrities that were among the “nominees” for the prize would be the winner of the poll; I wrote as much at the time. And that’s exactly what happened when film director Steven Spielberg finished first and has now been named the winner of the award. But in putting a group of merely famous people, including entertainers Barbra Streisand, Gal Gadot, Sacha Baron Cohen, entrepreneur Marc Beniof and (more defensibly) US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan up against Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks — one of the truly great Jews of our time — the Genesis committee had set itself up for criticism that it wasn’t so much seeking to inspire Jews as to reflect their shortcomings.

But fate gave them an opportunity to rectify the situation when, sadly, Sacks passed away in November while the voting was being held. Had those running the Genesis Prize possessed a scrap of good sense, they would have closed down the voting then and there, and declared that Sacks would be given the award posthumously. Doing so would have been no disrespect to any of the others who had been persuaded to take part in this farce. Even the devoted fans of each of the entertainers would have understood that Sacks’s death rendered the vote not so much an absurd popularity contest as an exercise in bad taste.

But expecting people who think that giving an award to a rich or famous Jew (when that’s what Jewish organizations do all the time) is evidence of creative thinking to behave appropriately was, of course, mistaken. The vote went on, and while the announcement said that the winner of the poll was merely one element in their decision, nonetheless it was given to Spielberg.

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