Natan Sharansky awarded prestigious ‘Jewish Nobel’ Genesis Prize for 2020
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Natan Sharansky awarded prestigious ‘Jewish Nobel’ Genesis Prize for 2020

Soviet refusenik heralded as a 'true hero and an outstanding human being' by Isaac Herzog, who took over his role as head of the Jewish Agency

Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky has been awarded the $1 million Genesis Prize for 2020, which he is set to donate to Jewish charities.

Sharansky, who later led the Jewish Agency, was this week hailed a “true Jewish hero” by his successor Isaac Herzog, who chaired the Genesis judging panel.

“Natan is a true Jewish hero and an outstanding human being,” said Herzog. “He is a symbol of the Jewish quest for freedom and has made a great contribution to strengthening the Jewish State, Jewish identity, and Israel’s bond with global Jewry.

Herzog said the Genesis Prize, sometimes known as the “Jewish Nobel,” would “rightfully complement the Israel Prize” – the state’s highest honour – which was awarded to Sharansky last year.

Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said: “No one could be more deserving of the Genesis Prize than this true giant of world Jewry. A fighter, a survivor, an inspiration, he epitomises the Jewish spirit, demonstrating that great triumphs can be built from the foundations of the deepest adversity.”

Retired Israeli Supreme Court judge and prize panellist Tova Strasberg-Cohen said it was “at great sacrifice” that Sharansky “dedicated his life to the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the entire word, in the spirit of tikkun olam”.

While two previous prize winners were born in Israel and are Israeli citizens, Sharansky is the first Genesis Prize Laureate currently living in Israel, and in line with tradition, has chosen to forgo the prize money, giving it to charities instead.

Sharansky’s battle with Soviet authorities, including a lengthy spell in a KGB prison on charges of espionage, together with his wife’s tireless efforts to raise awareness, led to him becoming a symbol of Soviet Jewry’s fight for heritage and homeland.

He was released in 1986 and went straight to Israel, which triggered a mass exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union, more than one million Jews making aliyah in the following few years.

Sharansky received both the  Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, top American awards. The only other foreigners to get both were Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Pope John Paul II.

Reacting to the news this week, Sharansky said: “I am humbled by this honour and am grateful to the members of the two committees that selected me.”

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