When Michael Douglas learned that he had been chosen to receive the “Jewish Nobel Prize,” he pointed out a small problem: Under strict religious law, the Oscar winner isn’t Jewish.
Douglas, who only recently has embraced his Jewish roots, vows to use the $1 million Genesis Prize to build bridges between Israel and increasingly assimilated Jewish communities around the world.
“Abraham’s tent had its flaps open and so hopefully, since approximately half of the Jewish population in the world is outside of Israel, we can find ways to better understand each other and to grow together,” he said.
Douglas, accompanied by wife Catherine Zeta-Jones and their two children, was in Israel on Thursday to accept the prize. Jay Leno was host of the high-powered event, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented the award.
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Douglas’ father, Kirk Douglas, was born Issur Danielovitch to Russian immigrant parents and raised as an Orthodox Jew. But he drifted away from his faith. Michael Douglas’ mother, Diana Dill, is not Jewish.
Douglas said he began to be drawn to Judaism after his father survived a 1991 helicopter crash that killed two others. Douglas said that his father began studying with a rabbi. “I was certainly touched by that and the spirituality it brought to him,” he said.
Under Orthodox Jewish law, only people with a Jewish mother are considered Jewish.
However, Douglas said the Genesis Prize Foundation was interested in him because he represented so many other people in similar positions.