Natalie Portman by Siebbi [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
You’d think that with all the rape scandals infecting Hollywood, Western Jews would tone down the Jewish-actor kvelling a few notches. But as the Genesis Prize Foundation clearly demonstrated last week, many Western Jews still get stoked every time they hear some Hollywood actor is Jewish.
Now don’t get me wrong — while I couldn’t care less about Hollywood, I suffer from the same cultural phenomenon. If you tell me that an NFL player is Jewish, I instantly reach nachas nirvana. But being a celebrity alone wouldn’t be a good enough reason for me to award said athlete with a prize meant to honor Jewish values.
The Genesis Prize Foundation, on the other hand, is a different story. According to its mission statement, the Genesis Prize “honors individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values.”
But do they? Let’s consider past laureates. In 2015, in only its second year, the Genesis Prize granted Hollywood actor and Tinseltown playboy Michael Douglas with the prestigious award. Needless to say, Michael Douglas isn’t even Jewish according to Jewish law. Additionally, his roles in softcore pornographic movies like “Basic Instinct” and public boasting about how he contracted throat cancer from oral sex in 2013, don’t exactly scream out “dedication to Jewish values.”
And just to add insult to injury, Douglas announced that he would donate his $1 million prize money to “initiatives that foster inclusion of intermarried couples and their children in the global Jewish community.” You’d think that after this embarrassment, the Genesis selection committee would think twice about honoring another Hollywood actor with the award — especially in light of all the recent sexual assault scandals plaguing the movie industry, right? Wrong! The false pride of seeing a member-of-the-tribe on the big screen has apparently blurred the intent of their own mission statement.
This is highlighted by the fact that Portman's performance in the academy-award winning movie “Black Swan” included gratuitous scenes of her masturbating and receiving oral sex from her female co-star Mila Kunis (another intermarried Jewish celebrity). That scene alone should have disqualified her from winning an award that embodies “Jewish values.”
But according to the Genesis Prize Foundation, none of that matters — because she’s a Hollywood actress.
Let’s put it this way, if all it takes to win the Genesis Prize is to be a rich Hollywood celebrity who gave a bit of charity at some point, disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein could just as easily have qualified for the award before the news of his sexual assaults broke. After all, he's also a Jewish Hollywood guy who gave some of his millions to UNICEF or whatever.
I remember as a kid when NBA legend Charles Barkley famously stated in an iconic Nike commercial “I am not a role model.” He got a lot of flack for saying that, but he was absolutely right and most people didn’t (and still don’t) appreciate just how correct he was. Celebrities never signed up to be role models or virtuous in real life. They’re entertaining to watch and that’s where it needs to end. The Portman incident should serve as a cautionary tale to us Jews from the West who place any Jewish celebrity on a pedestal, whether they deserve it or not.
So how about this: Let’s stop leading our kids to believe that actors and professional athletes are the ones in our society who’ve “made it.” Let's inspire the new generation to realize that it’s not necessarily Natalie Portman or Charles Barkley that we should aspire to emulate, but perhaps the local Chabad rabbi who, although he may not be rich, has entire vaults filled with hard-earned wisdom he's willing to share with you for free.
Let’s teach our sons that the carpenter who builds houses in Israel or the farmer who works the land may never have set foot on the red carpet, but he still produces a durable good that contributes to the very survival of Israel as a society. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good movie and a competitive sporting event. But we need to understand that their success in the spotlight says nothing about their moral character after the closing credits. So let’s stop pretending that it does.
As for the Genesis Prize Foundation, we can only hope they learned their lesson. Who knows — maybe they just can’t imagine anyone who inspires others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values that hasn’t been on the cover of People Magazine. If that’s the case, there is a footer on their website that reads “Who inspires you?” I say we each send them a message answering that very question — even if it’s not someone who is rich and famous.
David Sidman is a blogger, State of Judea activist and candidate on the Zehut party list. You can follow him on Twitter @TheIsraeliShow