Barbra Streisand: A Genesis Prize Luminary in Art and Advocacy

Barbra Streisand's legacy shines as a Genesis Prize laureate, celebrating her multifaceted career and lifelong commitment to improving the world.

By: May. 22, 2024
Barbra Streisand: A Genesis Prize Luminary in Art and Advocacy
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Written by Tom White

Barbra Streisand’s name is synonymous with excellence in entertainment, but her enduring legacy extends beyond her record-breaking achievements in that field. It also includes her unwavering commitment to social justice, advocacy for underrepresented voices, and profound influence on Jewish and global communities.

“I follow what’s in my heart and what I feel are urgent, important issues that deserve attention,” she said in an interview with the Harvard Business Review.

Streisand's connection to her Jewish roots is profound and personal. Raised in an Orthodox Jewish household, she has consistently embraced her identity, allowing it to inform her artistic expression and public persona. Whether through her music or her roles on-screen, she has brought a nuanced representation of Jewish life and culture to a global audience. Her performance of "Avinu Malkeinu," a traditional Jewish prayer, and her portrayal of Jewish characters in films like Yentl, where she played a young woman challenging gender norms within her religious community, highlights her deep connection to her heritage.

“I’ve always needed a creative outlet, whatever form it takes. And when I am passionate about something, I take it on with intense commitment. By the way, I was an actress first and only started singing to pay my bills,” she told the Harvard Business Review.

Her stance against antisemitism and advocacy for Jewish causes have been stalwart. Following the tragic events of Oct. 7, 2023, and the ensuing war, Streisand voiced her distress and called for peace and unity, reflecting her lifelong commitment to humanitarian issues and the Jewish community.

“It’s sad about what’s going on today — meaning people have to live together, even though they’re different religions or whatever,” she said during an appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. “People are people, it’s true. We all want the same thing. We all want love in our hearts. We all want family. We all want to feel secure. I hope for the best because it is heartbreaking what’s happening now with these people, the children, the mothers — it doesn’t matter what religion they are. This is beyond religion. This is insanity for us not to learn how to live together in peace.”

She continued, “I could easily cry about this. Where is God in this time? Where is he or she?”

Her philanthropic efforts, notably her support for the Barbra Streisand Women’s Cardiovascular Research and Education Program and her contributions to Israeli universities and cultural institutions, further demonstrate her commitment to nurturing her heritage and supporting Jewish communities worldwide.

Genesis Prize: A Recognition of Jewish Values and Humanitarian Work

In 2023, Streisand's profound impact was further recognized when she was named the 10th Anniversary Genesis Prize Laureate by The Genesis Prize Foundation. The Genesis Prize, often called the "Jewish Nobel,” is bestowed upon individuals who have made significant contributions to humanity while exemplifying Jewish values.

“It is a great honor for our Foundation to celebrate Barbra Streisand — one of the world’s most beloved and admired performers. In addition to delighting audiences all over the world for the past six decades with her amazing talents, Barbra has dedicated her time, resources, and passion to numerous important causes, speaking out whenever and wherever she saw injustice,” stated Stan Polovets, CEO and co-founder. “Her sense of responsibility to heal the world grows out of her Jewish values and her Jewish identity, which Barbra has displayed proudly since the very beginning of her extraordinary career.”

Streisand, known for her philanthropy and activism, directed her $1 million award toward causes that align closely with her values: environmental protection, women's health, combating disinformation, and supporting Ukraine amid ongoing conflict.

Streisand stated, “I am delighted to be honored by the special 10th Anniversary Genesis Prize and to work with The Genesis Prize Foundation to support organizations that seek to better society and our shared humanity. I am very proud of my Jewish heritage and have always been moved by the Jewish tradition of ‘tikkun olam,’ which is to repair the world. I hope to join and inspire others in their own commitment to build a better world.”

Streisand’s foundation has supported over 2,000 nonprofit organizations, focusing on areas such as health, civil liberties, and the arts. Her commitment to these causes speaks volumes about her dedication to using her platform for the greater good, particularly in advocating for women's rights and environmental sustainability.

“Through my foundation, I make many small grants throughout the year, but I usually have one priority area where a majority of the grant-making is focused,” she said.

A Career of Unprecedented Achievements

Her journey began in New York City nightclubs, including Bon Soir in Greenwich Village. “It was a wonderful job. And I met Phyllis Diller. You know, we shared a tiny, little dressing room together. She was great. She was a great friend to me,” Streisand said during an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air.

Streisand’s illustrious career sparkled early with two Grammy Awards in 1964 for her debut album, The Barbra Streisand Album. Her magnetic stage presence earned her Tony nominations for her unforgettable performances in I Can Get It for You Wholesale and Funny Girl on Broadway. These roles paved the way for her film career, highlighted by her first Oscar win for the movie adaptation of Funny Girl.

Streisand's achievements in the music industry solidified her status as one of the bestselling recording artists of all time. In 1983, she shattered glass ceilings with Yentl, becoming the first woman to write, produce, direct, and star in a major studio film, underscoring her unparalleled versatility and pioneering spirit in the entertainment world. And she did it all on her terms. “I arrived in Hollywood without having my nose fixed, my teeth capped, or my name changed. That is very gratifying to me,” she said.

As of 2024, she is one of only 19 entertainers to achieve the prestigious EGOT status — winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Her influence extends beyond traditional success metrics; she has shaped the music and film industries, pushing boundaries and being in the vanguard, particularly for women in directing and production roles.

“I’m very grateful to still have my voice, which has served me when I want to work. And I am grateful to have such loyal fans who want to come see me perform,” Streisand said.

As a trailblazer in the arts and a dedicated philanthropist, Streisand continues to inspire future generations to pursue their passions, advocate for meaningful change, and uphold the values that define them.

Photo Credit: The Genesis Prize Foundation