By Larry Gordon –
Later this month former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg will be awarded the first Genesis Prize in recognition of his commitment to enhancing Jewish life through philanthropy. The big news is that the prize which will be presented to Mr. Bloomberg by the Prime Minister’s Office along with the Jewish Agency For Israel will in fact be handed to the former Mayor by comedian Jay Leno who will be making his first visit to Israel.
While this is no joking matter, the actual prize is an award of $1 million to a man who is reported to be worth over $30 billion. So while it is an important and prestigious award the prize money is genuinely and literally pocket change for Mr. Bloomberg.
This is what the Genesis Found website says about the event: ,”The award is a symbol of a movement to honor and enhance Jewish identity around the world and recognize achievements of individuals who “embody the character of the Jewish people” through a commitment to Israel, the Jewish community and Jewish values.
“The development and strengthening of Jewish identity in Israel and the Diaspora contributes to the welfare of humanity across the world.”
According to a recent story in the New York Times, the Bloomberg Foundation is 12th on the list of grant making foundations in the United States. Last year Bloomberg gave over $450 million to charitable causes.
It is a beautiful thing that the State of Israel recognizes Michael Bloomberg’s contribution to Jewish life but over all these years he has impressed observers with a coolness and detachment to directing his ample resources in impacting in any significant way on Jewish life. So perhaps the Genesis prize is meant to be an investment in the future and a way to influence Mr. Bloomberg’s future philanthropy.
According to the Times piece this is what Mr. Bloomberg has done with his money of late. He recently donated $30 million to the Young Men’s Initiative which helps African American boys reconnect with absent fathers and provides mentors and school support as well.
Mr. Bloomberg says that his personal giving priorities are—government innovation, environment, public health, education and the arts. It is indeed startling to think what he could do in the area of Yeshiva education in this country but that does not appear to interest him.
Here are some of the other things that, however, do interest the mayor. Some are indeed very interesting, even fascinating but nowhere near impacting on the enhancement of Jewish life. There is a competition called The Mayor’s Challenge in Europe that awards a prize of $6.3 million to the winner of an educational competition.
Last year a similar amount was awarded to Providence, R.I., a city that developed a method to increase the number of words poor children hear in their early years of life. Studies show that children from more affluent homes develop a better vocabulary earlier in life.
Then there is a fascinating Bloomberg funded program in Tanzania a country that has a serious shortage of doctors and those it does have are often far away from the people who need them. The result was that people who need routine surgery like appendectomies and C-sections were dying because they could not get to a hospital on time.
“It turns out that those are two relatively simple operations so high school graduates cannot do worse,” Bloomberg told the Times. “Now if something goes wrong, you’re dead, but if you don’t do anything you’re for sure dead. So as long as you have a success rate better than zero, it’s a lot better.”
The program in Tanzania has so far trained over 100 people to perform these operations.
These are all wonderful and important undertakings that still leave one wondering about the prize Mr. Bloomberg will be receiving and what exactly is the nature of his philanthropic commitment to Jewish life here, in Israel and around the world.