Sharansky will be honoured in Jerusalem on June 18, 2020. The Genesis Prize, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel,” was started in 2013 and is financed through a permanent $100 million endowment. The annual award honours “extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity and commitment to Jewish values.”
According to their press release, Sharansky was selected to honour “his extraordinary lifelong struggle for political and religious freedoms, emphasizing the relevance of his work in today’s world.”
In 1977, Sharansky was jailed by the communist authorities for his pro-Zionist, pro-democracy efforts and spent nine years in Soviet prison. A child chess prodigy, he kept himself sane in solitary confinement by playing chess in his mind. “I played thousands of games, and I won them all,” he told the New York Times in 1996, the year he also managed to beat chess champion Gary Kasparov.
Due to the efforts of his wife Avital, who actively lobbied governments around the world, Sharansky was released in 1986 and emigrated to Israel, where he and Avital raised two daughters. As a politician and later as the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Sharansky advocated for the rights of Israeli immigrants, religious minorities and women.
Previous winners of the prize include New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Michael Bloomberg and Itzhak Perlman. In 2018, GPF canceled its ceremony after winner Natalie Portman said she wouldn’t visit Israel due to “distressing” events in the country.
“Even in democracies our freedoms cannot be taken for granted,” said Stan Polovets, co-founder and chairman of GPF. “Natan’s ideals and vision are as relevant today as they were in the 1980’s when he took on the totalitarian Soviet regime – and won.”