Michael Bloomberg wins $US1 million prize - and gives it back

Jerusalem: What does one of the world's richest people do when awarded a $US1 million prize?

He gives it back.

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman who took a token $US1-a-year salary during three terms as mayor of New York, is receiving the first Genesis Prize, a broadly and vaguely defined honour that has something to do with "Jewish values." The Genesis Prize Foundation announced on Thursday that Bloomberg was investing his windfall into a new broadly and vaguely defined competition Genesis will run for young "change agents" who are "guided by Jewish values."

"The new competition will strive to find – and fund – the next big idea that would measurably change the world," the foundation said before a glitzy evening award ceremony emceed by another very rich man who recently left a high-profile job, comedian Jay Leno.

Bloomberg, 72, who left City Hall at the end of last year and now focuses mainly on philanthropy, visited Israel frequently while in office and has donated millions of dollars to build a hospital wing named for his mother and an ambulance centre named for his father in Jerusalem.

Leno, 64, the longtime host of the Tonight Show on US network NBC, is not Jewish and had never been to Israel before this week, though he has spoken out against a growing boycott movement against it. He met on Tuesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and told reporters: "I love Israel; that's why I'm here."


Wayne Firestone, president of the Genesis Prize Foundation, said that selecting Leno was mainly to lend the ceremony high-wattage celebrity. He also said the prize was not "only inward-looking" and noted the storied connection between Jews and humour.

Funded by Russian oligarchs, some of them Israeli citizens, the Genesis Prize aspires to be a kind of "Jewish Nobel."

From the moment Genesis picked Bloomberg for the prize last fall, he made clear that he would give the $US1 million away, but speculation was rife as to where. By giving it back, Genesis was able to create the new competition offering 10 prizes of $US100,000 each.

Recipients of the Genesis Prize need not be Jewish, nor do entrants in the sweepstakes for the 10 new prizes. They must be 20 to 36 years old and can apply online starting from August 1.

The money will go to projects that can focus "on any subject," according to the foundation, which listed nine examples, including "environmental sustainability", "cross-cultural exchanges" and "poverty alleviation".

Asked how being Jewish had influenced his success, Bloomberg said at a brunch with Jerusalem entrepreneurs Thursday that he and his sister had learned values from their religiously observant parents at nightly family dinners.

"Jews have been persecuted for an awful long time, and that gets you to realise you have to work harder just to be equal," he said.

"But Jews aren't the only ones who have been persecuted," he added. "Just in this city, every religion is represented here, and all of those religions have values that in the end aren't that different."

New York Times