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Barbra Streisand is known for her songs and movies - but this proud Jew is also a powerhouse philanthropist


(JTA) - Many people know Barbra Streisand as the awkward Jewish girl from Brooklyn who grew up to become one of the best-selling recording artists of all time - and an award-winning actor, director, producer, author, screenwriter and songwriter.

Fewer may know that Streisand is a philanthropist, advocate and activist whose charity has transformed the lives of thousands in the United States, Israel and Eastern Europe.

Over the past 37 years, the Streisand Foundation has poured tens of millions of dollars into more than 2,000 causes ranging from environmental protection to women's health. More recently, she's funded Ukrainian refugees made homeless by Russia's invasion and, since Oct. 7, has helped Israelis displaced by the war that followed Hamas's attack from Gaza. 

In recognition of her extraordinary professional achievements, philanthropic generosity, and Jewish pride, Streisand was chosen in May 2023 to receive the Genesis Prize, a $1 million award given annually to celebrate Jewish values, talent and achievement. Like the previous prize honorees - who have included Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Natan Sharansky and Michael Bloomberg - Streisand elected to allocate her prize money to an array of charities.

"I am delighted to work with The Genesis Prize Foundation to support organizations that seek to better society and our shared humanity," Streisand said upon accepting the prize. "I have always been moved by the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, to repair the world - and I hope to join and inspire others in their own commitment to build a better world."

She highlighted four philanthropic areas of focus: fighting climate change, women's health equity, combating disinformation and aiding Ukrainians. 

This month, at a June 6 ceremony in Los Angeles, the foundation announced the recipients of the prize grants in Streisand's honor: the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, the National Resource Defense Council, the Women's Heart Alliance, the Streisand Center for Truth in the Public Sphere at UCLA, the State Leadership Project, and United24, an initiative launched by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for collecting charitable donations in support of Ukraine.

In the past decade, the Genesis Prize has leveraged the annual $1 million award into philanthropic initiatives that, with additional donor support, have totaled more than $50 million, including grants to more than 230 nonprofit programs in 31 countries.

Streisand was unanimously chosen as the prize's 10th anniversary laureate following nominations from tens of thousands of Jews around the world - a sign "of the overwhelming display of support and admiration of Barbra by global Jewry," according to Stan Polovets, the foundation's founder and CEO.

Polovets said Streisand meets and exceeds each of the three criteria established by the selection committee for its prize laureates: unparalleled professional accomplishment, contribution to humanity and pride in one's Jewish heritage.

"At a time of increased antisemitism, it is important to honor Jewish role models - especially heroes like Barbra Streisand who have stayed true to their Jewish identity despite the complications one faces today when expressing his or her pride in one's Jewish heritage, which often leads to personal attacks on social media and elsewhere," Polovets said. "It is also important to celebrate what Jews have contributed to the world and remind everyone of our collective accomplishments, strength and perseverance."

The 1983 movie release of "Yentl," a musical drama starring Streisand that tells the story of a young woman in prewar Poland who disguises herself as a man in order to study the Talmud, was a key milestone of Streisand's long career - especially for Jews. Based on the novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer, the movie received five Golden Globe nominations including best director, making Streisand the first woman ever to be nominated and win that award.

Streisand is a winner of too many awards to count: Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy, Golden Globe, National Endowment for the Arts, Peabody awards, Kennedy Center Honors, the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award, the Film Society of Lincoln Center's 40th annual Chaplin award, France's Légion d'Honneur, the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton, and others. She's also won the nation's highest civilian honor: the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Obama.

"Ms. Streisand has done all of this while being extremely - and publicly - proud of her Jewish heritage," Polovets said. "While many influential people in the entertainment industry told Barbra early in her career to tone down her Jewishness, she never did, always staying true to who she was."

This was the main theme of Streisand's 1994 performance of "I'm Still Here," in which she sings: "I've kept my clothes and kept my space / I've kept my nose to spite my face."

Streisand also has been an unabashed advocate for women's health, highlighting the gender inequality that for decades excluded women as subjects of medical research and thereby resulted in treatments not optimized for women.

"Even though heart disease has been called a man's disease, since 1984 more women have died annually from heart disease than men," Streisand said in a 2011 TEDxWomen talk, noting that only 24 percent of participants in cardiovascular studies were female. "For 50 years, women have been treated based on diagnostics created for men, and only a very small percentage of research dollars spent in the U.S. focus on the treatment of women with heart disease."

In 2014, the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute in Los Angeles and the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center established the Women's Heart Alliance - the only heart-related nonprofit group that studies the impact of cardiac disease and stroke on women exclusively.

After Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Ukraine' president invited Streisand to be one of 24 goodwill ambassadors for United24, and she helped raise $240,000 for urgent medical care for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.

Streisand also directed a grant to the New York-based Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, in addition to two previous gifts, to help resettle Ukrainian refugees in Poland, Moldova, Romania, the United States and Israel. 

Streisand's gifts "are significant because of who they came from," said HIAS CEO Mark Hetfield. "That's what makes it so meaningful."

With the November U.S. election approaching, Streisand has channeled thousands of dollars into programming aimed at countering the spread of fake news. The State Leadership Project combats online disinformation and educates voters, and UCLA's Barbra Streisand Institute challenges the widespread proliferation of lies and disinformation.

After Hamas's attack from Gaza, Streisand moved quickly to send funding to Israel through a grant to the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles's Israel in Crisis Fund. The grant was matched by The Genesis Prize Foundation.

Among the other nonprofit organizations that have benefitted from Streisand's generosity in recent years are the Center for American Progress, Planned Parenthood, Mother Jones, ProPublica, Women's Media Center, People for the American Way and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

At 82, Streisand shows no sign of letting up, continuing to use her influence, renown and philanthropy to help repair the world. 

This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with The Genesis Prize Foundation, which aims to foster Jewish identity, inspire Jewish pride and strengthen the bond between Israel and the Diaspora. This article was produced by JTA's native content team.


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