Steven Spielberg is donating his Genesis Prize earnings — and more — to Jewish and non-Jewish groups working to promote racial and economic justice.
The foundation for the prestigious Israeli prize, which honors individuals for their accomplishments and commitment to Jewish values, announced on March 25 that the film director and his wife, retired actor Kate Capshaw, would be doubling the prize money and distributing $2 million to 10 social justice organizations, including the Berkeley-based Jews of Color Initiative.
Formed in 2018, the Jews of Color Initiative has grown into a national nonprofit that supports Jews of color and their inclusion and advancement in various spheres of Jewish community life. The nonprofit, at first called the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative, aims to achieve this through grantmaking, research and community outreach.
Ilana Kaufman, JCI’s founding executive director, told J. that the organization was “filled with tremendous gratitude” to Spielberg, Capshaw and the Genesis Foundation for the $200,000 grant. The JOC Initiative, and the other grantees, were selected for the grant and did not apply.
She said the gift will be used in two ways: for research, and for grantmaking to organizations that are led by Jews of color and/or focused on advancing the causes of Jews of color.
“Both making grants and funding research are vital to our work,” Kaufman told J.
Earlier this year, JCI commissioned a research survey called “Count Me In,” a partnership with Stanford University that drew 1,029 respondents. The survey explores the experiences of Jews of color in Jewish spaces and communal life, according to the organization, and results are expected in July.
“We also want to acknowledge the other incredible organizations in this group of 10,” Kaufman added.
The other groups benefiting from Spielberg’s largesse are Avodah, Black Voters Matter, the Collaborative for Jewish Organizing, Dayenu, Justice for Migrant Women, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Native American Rights Fund, One Fair Wage and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Black Voters Matter supports but is not aligned with Black Lives Matter, which has taken in criticism from parts of the Jewish community for its 2016 platform on Israel, which has since been amended.
Here’s a brief look at the Jewish groups: Avodah “is building a new generation of Jewish leaders to work on our country’s most pressing social and economic issues,” according to its website; the Collaborative for Jewish Organizing is a network of Jewish organizations in 19 states working for social changes; Dayenu describes its mission by using “A Jewish Call to Climate Action” as part of its name; and the Religious Action Center is the Reform movement’s activism wing.
Many of the groups receiving money previously had pledged to fight efforts by state-level Republican legislators to roll back voting rights.
Spielberg issued a statement about the gift in a press release from the Genesis Prize Foundation.
“Judaism and Jewish history begin with two narratives: Genesis and Exodus, stories about creation and liberation from oppression, about the discovery of the moral voice and of human dignity,” he said. “From these accounts come the ethical precepts commanding us to work for a more just and equitable world.”
Spielberg also said “America is facing a crisis” in reference to the reverberations from the George Floyd killing and last year’s racial justice protests.
The Genesis Prize statement notably included a comment from President Joe Biden.
“Steven, I am inspired by the ways in which your Judaism has compelled you to confront the ugly forces of hate and intolerance with the healing power of truth and love,” Biden said.
The award, nicknamed the “Jewish Nobel,” honors “individuals for their outstanding professional accomplishments, commitment to Jewish values and contribution to improving the world,” according to the Genesis Prize website. All past recipients, including Michael Douglas, Michael Bloomberg, Natalie Portman and Natan Sharansky, have donated their winnings to philanthropic causes.