Today the President of Israel Isaac Herzog presented the Genesis Prize to Dr. Albert Bourla at a ceremony in Israel’s capital Jerusalem.
The gala event brought together hundreds of dignitaries from Israel, including government ministers, heads of business and philanthropic organizations, as well as prominent representatives of the Jewish Diaspora and leading members of the global medical community.
The annual $1 million Genesis Prize, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel” by TIME magazine, honors extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity, commitment to Jewish values and the State of Israel.
Dr. Albert Bourla was announced as the 9th Genesis Prize Laureate in January 2022. The award recognizes his leadership in delivering a vaccine against COVID-19, which saved millions of lives during the pandemic. The Genesis Prize also celebrates the boldness of his vision and willingness to assume risks, which enabled delivery of the vaccine in record time.
In addition to honoring the vast humanitarian impact of Dr. Bourla’s leadership, the award also celebrates his pride in his Jewish identity and heritage, and his strong support for the State of Israel.
The President of Israel Isaac Herzog said: “Albert Bourla was not deterred by high stakes, by naysayers, by conspiracy or by politics. He believed in the vaccine, and invested every ounce of himself in realizing what seemed at the time a far-fetched fantasy. The vaccine was developed in record speed, utilizing the technology of tomorrow to successfully hold back a devastating pandemic. A study published by The Lancet just days ago, points to nearly 20 million lives saved by COVID vaccines. Indeed, the vaccine gave us freedom we thought we lost. Albert, I congratulate you and your colleagues and counterparts, who are making such a critical impact on humanity, while embracing your Jewish heritage and values, and inspiring Jewish pride.”
Founder and Chairman of The Genesis Prize Foundation Stan Polovets added: “To save a human life is a fundamental Jewish value. Today we honor Dr. Bourla – a living embodiment of this ancient Jewish principle. We also celebrate the immense contribution of Jewish doctors who were on the frontline of the COVID pandemic for two years and who continue to save lives of people suffering in Ukraine today.”
The ceremony opened with a moving tribute to the people of Ukraine and appreciation to the many Israeli and international Jewish organizations who are providing humanitarian aid. The Genesis Prize Foundation premiered a video “Jews in Medicine”, exploring the roots and impact of Jews on the medical field from biblical times to the modern-day fight against the COVID pandemic (LINK TO VIDEO; for more details, please see section Jewish Contribution to Medicine).
2022 Genesis Prize Laureate Dr. Albert Bourla said: “I am honored and deeply humbled to receive the Genesis Prize. Honored because I never set out to be famous, and I never imagined that I would one day be up here with the illustrious nominees and past awardees—artists, philanthropists, and statesmen and stateswomen who show the world the best that the Jewish people have to offer. And humbled because this is not my award—it belongs to all Pfizer colleagues who worked tirelessly in the middle of a global pandemic to make the ‘impossible possible’ and give the world a chance to return to normalcy. Every life is precious and we must confront our challenges with courage, humility and perseverance. My Pfizer colleagues lived these values, and I am proud to be here in Israel to celebrate them and their extraordinary achievement.”
Following the tradition established by the inaugural Genesis Prize Laureate Michael Bloomberg, Dr. Bourla announced that he will forgo the $1 million prize award and has asked the Foundation to donate the funds toward establishing the Holocaust Museum of Greece to be built in Thessaloniki.
Albert Bourla was born in Thessaloniki, home to an ancient Jewish community that traced its roots to antiquity. The vibrant Jewish community of 55,000 was almost completely wiped out during the Nazi occupation. Dr. Bourla’s young parents narrowly escaped death and were among only 2,000 survivors. The Greek Holocaust Museum will immortalize the history of the Greek Jewish community from antiquity to modern age.
About Jewish contribution to medicine
Celebrating the impact of the work of Dr. Albert Bourla and other Jewish physicians and scientists, the 2022 Genesis Prize Ceremony also highlighted the scale and scope of Jewish contribution to medicine.
Announcing the Laureate in January, the Genesis Prize Committee noted the contribution of Jewish doctors and scientists to saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic – mentioning Dr. Drew Weissman, whose scientific discovery enabled the creation of mRNA vaccines; as well as Jewish chief scientists and researchers at Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and Gamaleya Institute, whose vaccines helped bring the COVID pandemic under control.
The Genesis Prize Foundation premiered “Jews in Medicine,” a video exploring the roots and impact of the outsize contribution of Jewish doctors and scientists to the medical field.
Throughout history, Jews have excelled in medicine and have been represented in the field far beyond their minute percentage of the world’s population. The Jewish tradition places an emphasis on health and hygiene, viewing the body as an essential vessel for the soul. As early as biblical times, many rabbis and Jewish scholars served as healers and advocates for preventative medicine.
During the Middle Ages, Jews turned to the medical profession in large numbers because it was one of the few occupations that did not bar Jews. It also offered them social and physical mobility, allowing a degree of protection against the constant danger of expulsion. Jewish doctors like Maimonides became trusted court physicians to popes and princes, developing extensive medical texts in Hebrew.
In the modern era, Jews have been responsible for some of the most important medical breakthroughs, including chemotherapy, anesthesia, penicillin, aspirin, oral contraceptives, the classification of blood types, the breaking of the genetic code, essential medicines for multiple sclerosis, tuberculosis, and AIDS, and vaccines for polio, cholera, and hepatitis. In recognition of these breakthroughs, Jews have received 26% of Nobel Prizes in Physiology and Medicine, despite making up just 0.2% of the world’s population.
Thirteen Israelis have won Nobel Prizes, including six in chemistry—a remarkable achievement for a small country only 75 years old. Israeli medical innovations have included the pill camera, advanced surgical lasers, computerized non-radiation diagnostic tools for breast cancer, and innovative equipment for CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasounds.
About the Genesis Prize Foundation
The Genesis Prize is a global award that celebrates Jewish achievement and contribution to humanity. Launched in 2013, the Prize is financed through a permanent endowment of $100 million established by The Genesis Prize Foundation.
Previous Genesis Prize laureates are former New York City Mayor and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg (2014); actor, producer and peace activist Michael Douglas (2015); Itzhak Perlman, virtuoso violinist and advocate for individuals with special needs (2016); sculptor and advocate for the rights of refugees Sir Anish Kapoor (2017); Oscar-winning actress and social activist Natalie Portman (2018); owner of New England Patriots and founder of a new foundation to combat antisemitism Robert Kraft (2019); legendary Jewish leader and human rights activist Natan Sharansky (2020) and filmmaker Steven Spielberg (2021). In 2018, The Genesis Prize Foundation honored U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to social justice and equal rights. In 2021, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was honored with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his life-long work as a teacher of Jewish values and proponent of inter-religious and intercultural dialogue.
All previous Laureates have re-gifted their monetary awards to philanthropic causes about which they are passionate. The $1 million prize award, along with matching funds, have been donated in their honor to various initiatives, including: support of social entrepreneurship based on Jewish values, inclusiveness of intermarried families in Jewish life, improving the lives of individuals with special needs, helping to alleviate the global refugee crisis, advancing women’s equality, combatting antisemitism and efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel, assistance to those affected by the COVID pandemic, and non-profits fighting for racial and economic justice in the United States.
Since inception in 2013, The Genesis Prize has leveraged the annual $1 million award into philanthropic initiatives totaling $45 million, with grants going to 197 nonprofit programs in 31 countries, directly impacting the lives of tens of thousands of people.