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Groups working to support Israeli hostages and their families awarded 2024 ‘Jewish Nobel’

Stan Polovets (right) cofounder of the Genesis Prize, with some of the 2024 awardees, the parents of hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, Rachel Goldberg (center) and Jon Polin (left), for their activism on the hostages held in Gaza.

(JTA) — Five Israeli groups supporting Israelis held hostage in Gaza and their families will receive the 2024 Genesis Prize, the $1 million award known as the “Jewish Nobel.”

Presented annually since 2013, the award is given by the Genesis Prize Foundation and has historically gone to Jewish celebrities or public figures. More recently, the foundation has given the prize to organizations that together are tackling a crisis in the Jewish community, including in 2022 when it honored groups supporting Jews in Ukraine.

This year, the foundation turned again to a collective: groups working to support Israelis taken hostage when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which quickly became one of the central organizing groups advocating for the release of the hostages, will share this year’s prize with four other groups: JAFI Fund for Victims of Terror; Lev Echad; NATAL-The Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center; and OneFamily-Overcoming Terror Together.

The groups will not be allowed to use the prize money “to fund political activism, lobbying and other activities inside Israel not directly related to humanitarian assistance,” according to the foundation. Instead, the prize — which is intended to spur further giving from Jews around the world — is aimed toward supporting medical and psychological treatment for former hostages as well as hostages’ families.

More than 250 Israelis were taken hostage on Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked Israel. More than 100 were freed in November during a temporary ceasefire. An estimated 136 people remain hostage in Gaza, of whom about 100 are thought to be alive. Talks are underway now over a truce that would see Hamas release at least some of them.

Families of the hostages have emerged as a potent political force in Israel and beyond, with some arguing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been inadequately attentive to their plight. Family members of the hostages are in the midst of a march on Jerusalem to press the government for swifter action. A smaller group is pushing for Israel to take harsher measures against Hamas and civilians in Gaza.

The hostages’ cause has also inspired a global activist movement. Early in the conflict, activists pushing for their freedom embarked on a worldwide flier campaign, wallpapering public spaces with posters bearing the hostages’ names and photos below the word “kidnapped.” Advocates for the hostages have also staged rallies, met with world leaders and confronted officials on the street in a bid to keep the captives in public view.

“As [does] most of the Israeli society, our foundation fully supports the government’s stated goal of destroying Hamas,” Genesis Prize cofounder Stan Polovets said in a statement. “The purpose of this year’s award is not to influence policy, but to raise international awareness of the plight of the hostages and provide humanitarian assistance focused on recovery, rehabilitation, and treatment.”

For the families of the hostages, the attention that comes with the prize is of utmost importance.

Rachel Goldberg, the mother of 23-year-old Hersh Goldberg-Polin, said in a statement, “We fervently pray this gift will be instrumental in continuing the family organizations’ valiant and tireless efforts to bring the remaining 134 beloved hostages home, now.” Goldberg is one of the leading voices advocating for the release of the hostages internationally, having met with figures as prominent as Pope Francis and Elon Musk, and inspiring a grassroots movement in which supporters wear tape.

“I pray that the Genesis Prize will help keep the hostages in the news and bring everyone home,” Shelly Shem Tov, the mother of 21-year old Omer Shem Tov and one of the founding parents of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, said in a statement.

“The last time I saw our son Omer – the sunshine of our house – was on my birthday on October 6. The next day, he went to the Supernova Music Festival. He called to say that he had escaped, but then his phone stopped working. Now my life – as it is for all mothers of hostages – is a living hell.”

The award comes at a tumultuous time for the foundation. In September, Polovets was accused in a civil lawsuit of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman. Polovets has denied the allegations and accused the woman of targeting him for his wealth. The Genesis Prize Foundation released a statement saying it stood behind Polovets.

“The foundation believes that false accusations of sexual assault injure not only the person falsely accused, but also survivors of sexual assault,” the foundation said in a statement at the time. “The important philanthropic work of The Genesis Prize Foundation will continue without disruption.”

Past honorees of the foundation include former CEO of Pfizer Albert Bourla for his work on the COVID-19 vaccine, the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and, last year, Barbra Streisand for her contributions to the arts and philanthropy.

The post Groups working to support Israeli hostages and their families awarded 2024 ‘Jewish Nobel’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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