Jay Leno, Bar Refaeli and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were all on hand Thursday evening in Jerusalem to fete Michael Douglas as he received the second annual Genesis Prize, a $1 million award from the Genesis Prize Foundation, a cadre of Russian oligarchs committing to bolstering Jewish identity among Diaspora Jews. A gift from an anonymous donor this year doubled the prize to $2 million, all of which will be donated by Douglas to organizations that foster Jewish inclusion.
Douglas, who attended the splashy event with his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones and their children Dylan and Carys, spoke of embracing his Jewish heritage later in life and his desire to help push the global Jewish community toward greater inclusiveness and acceptance of interfaith couples.
Douglas has a Jewish father, Kirk Douglas, but a non-Jewish mother, which means that according to Jewish law he is not considered Jewish. The same ruling goes for his children. But the Douglas family flew to Israel last year for Dylan’s bar mitzvah, an event, his father told the assembled crowd, that prompted his own exploration and embrace of Judaism.
“Inclusiveness and tolerance are Jewish values, too,” Douglas said as he accepted his award. “I strongly believe that Judaism should reflect the spirit of welcome and tradition that existed in Abraham’s tent.”
The ceremony, emceed by Leno and Refaeli and peppered with song and dance performances featuring Jewish-composed Broadway numbers, focused on Douglas’ work as a peace activist and advocate for nuclear disarmament. A slick video presentation presented testimonies from Sherry Lansing and Danny DeVito, as well as special messages from Barbra Streisand and father Kirk.
Leno, who also emceed last year’s inaugural prize ceremony honoring Michael Bloomberg, played directly to Netanyahu in his opening number, taking jabs at U.S. President Barack Obama (“Don’t confuse Obamacare with his Israel policy, which is called ObamaDon’tCare”) and the Israeli political system (“Israel is the purest democracy in the world, because in Israel it seems like every voter has their own political party.”)
Netanyahu was more serious, sticking to praise for both Douglas and Zeta-Jones. “To borrow a phrase from one of your father’s movies, you two cast a giant shadow over your profession and set a standard for all actors to follow,” he said.