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IsraAid’s Polizer receives Bronfman Prize, donates half the award to his organization

In his speech, Polizer says prize belongs to IsraAID employees around the world, tells crowd that disasters offer the opportunity for 'post-traumatic growth'

Yotam Polizer, CEO of IsraAid, was awarded the 2023 Charles Bronfman Prize, along with $100,000, half of which he pledged to donate back into his organization, at a gala event at the New York Historical Society on the Upper West Side of Manhattan last night.

In his acceptance speech, Polizer announced that IsraAid planned to more than double its budget and deepen its operations around the world in the next five years. “Five years ago, IsraAid was an organization with a small team and a budget of less than $7 million. Today, five years later, our budget is almost $21 million. So we tripled ourselves. But it’s not just our budget, it’s our impact and our growth. And five years from now we plan to reach and become an organization of $50 million,” Polizer said.

“We will focus on countries that are extremely affected by climate change, by displacement, we’ll bring much more technology, especially from Israel to these countries,” Polizer said. “The first donor to this exciting growth will be myself. I will donate half of the prize that I won, $50,000. So we only need 49 million and counting,” he said, drawing chuckles from the crowd.

In his speech, Polizer stressed the work being done by IsraAid employees around the world, saying, “This prize is first and foremost for each and every one of them.” He also highlighted the concept of post-traumatic growth, that after a disaster occurs, “there’s always an opportunity, not just to get things back to where they were before, but an opportunity for growth. There’s an opportunity for real resilience, and that’s what we’ve been seeing time and time again all over the world.”

The eponymous prize was established 20 years ago by Charles’ children, Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Stephen Bronfman, and their spouses, Andrew Hauptman and Claudine Blondin Bronfman, respectively, to honor their father on his 70th birthday.

The evening was introduced, with much applause, by Jay Feinberg, the founder and executive director of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, and the inaugural recipient of the Charles Bronfman Prize in 2004. The event was attended by many past laureates of the prize, as well as Rodaba Noori, a member of Afghanistan’s women’s robotics team who was covertly rescued by Polizer during the Taliban takeover in August 2021, as well as the former Afghani Ambassador to the U.S., U.K. and Russia, Said Tayeb Jawad.

Noori, now a student at Bard College in Red Hook, N.Y., described her harrowing escape with her brother from Afghanistan two years ago. She also described her parents’ marriage when her mother was 12 years old to avoid her mother being forcibly married to a Taliban member during the group’s first stint in power in the 1990s.

The past laureates who spoke throughout the program highlighted their current work and expressed heartfelt gratitude to Charles Bronfman.

In his remarks, Stephen Bronfman said he was proud that the prize’s judges selected Polizer for the award because IsraAid allowed “the world to see the raising of the Israeli flag at disaster sites, showing the world that Israel is there.”

Charles concluded the award presentation by introducing Yotam’s wife and young children, saying, “Behind every successful Jewish man is a Jewish mother,” to laughter and much applause.