Grantee in the News | Jan 2023

IsraAID CEO Yotam Polizer wins Charles Bronfman Prize

By IsraAID

Originally published in IsraAID press release

Yotam Polizer aids a refugee in Lesbos, Greece in 2015.
Photo courtesy of IsraAID

Yotam Polizer, the CEO of Israel’s leading humanitarian aid organization, IsraAID, has been named the 2023 recipient of the Charles Bronfman Prize. The annual award is presented to a humanitarian whose work, informed by Jewish values, has significantly impacted the world.

Polizer, 39, first joined IsraAID as a volunteer in 2011, leading the organization’s relief mission to Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that left 20,000 people dead. Polizer soon became the organization’s second full-time employee, leading emergency missions to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, Sierra Leone during the 2014 Ebola crisis, Nepal following the 2015 earthquake, and Greece and Germany during the 2015 Mediterranean Refugee Crisis, before becoming co-CEO in 2017 and Global CEO in 2019. In 2021, he led the complex evacuation of 205 vulnerable refugees from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover of the country.

Under Yotam’s leadership, the organization has more than doubled its budget and grown its global team, expertise, and impact. In 2020, IsraAID launched its first truly global emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since February 2022, IsraAID has been engaged in the organization’s largest humanitarian relief operation to date in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

The Charles Bronfman Prize is an annual award of $100,000 presented to a humanitarian under fifty whose innovative work, informed by Jewish values, has significantly improved the world. The Prize was founded by Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Stephen Bronfman, together with their spouses, Andrew Hauptman and Claudine Blondin Bronfman, to honor their father on his 70th birthday.

Yotam Polizer said:

“I’m humbled and thrilled to join the incredible family of Charles Bronfman Prize winners. It is truly an honor, not just for me but for the entire IsraAID team and the incredible communities that we work with.

Above all, IsraAID’s work is about community. Our team members have dedicated their lives to supporting communities in moments of crisis, working together to rebuild, and fostering resilience in the face of future challenges. We strive to provide immediate relief as soon as a disaster strikes. Then we build relationships with the local community and provide support throughout the recovery phase – wherever we are needed, however long it takes.”

Ellen Bronfman Hauptman, said:

“As we present the prize for the 19th year, it is especially meaningful that Yotam’s work reflects so much of our dad’s values. I look forward to introducing him to all of the exceptional humanitarians who received the prize before him.”

IsraAID’s Chief Humanitarian and Resilience Officer, Naama Gorodischer, said:

“Yotam’s approach reflects how IsraAID, as an organization, is always willing to take on challenges that may seem risky or impossible. He led IsraAID’s mission to Sierra Leone in the early days of the Ebola crisis. He personally led the evacuation of 205 Afghan refugees after the Taliban takeover of Kabul. He was on our initial mission to Ukraine before any other organizations were on the ground. In that sense, Yotam never asks our colleagues to do anything he isn’t willing to do himself. Under his leadership, we have had the courage to be at the forefront of aid, in the most challenging circumstances, and address emergencies that are often neglected.

Yotam is not working for awards. He isn’t motivated by hierarchy or power and meets every person he interacts with at eye level, whether they are donors, partners, project participants, or staff. He leads by example, and that humbleness and commitment to genuine relationships foster an organizational culture that puts communities first. We are there to serve them. We are the guests at their show, so we let them guide us, listen, and plan together.”