The Charles Bronfman Prize Awarded to Refugee Advocate Rebecca Heller

The 12th annual Charles Bronfman Prize was awarded to Rebecca Heller, Director and Co-Founder of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) at the Urban Justice Center, Monday, April 4 at the New-York Historical Society. In conversation with Tina Brown at the Awards Ceremony, Heller told Brown that “This wave of refugees isn’t that different from people going from port to port during World War II…I think what’s different is we’re calling them terrorists.” She went on to say that refugees are “survivors” and “that’s exactly who you want coming here.” The conversation was one of the highlights of the Awards Presentation, which was hosted by Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Stephen Bronfman, and included powerful and moving remarks by Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella and Farah Al-Khafaji, an Iraqi refugee helped by IRAP. Read the complete transcript of the Brown and Heller conversation here.

Heller was honored for creating and enforcing a system of legal and human rights on behalf of refugees who are at risk. The Charles Bronfman Prize – and an accompanying $100,000 award – is presented annually to an innovative and dynamic humanitarian under the age of 50 whose work is informed by Jewish values and has global impact that changes lives and inspires future generations. The Prize was presented to Heller by Charles Bronfman.

“Countless people have been helped by Becca’s tireless efforts, and I’m thrilled to recognize someone with such vision, aptitude and a proven track record of success. My hope is that this Prize will allow her to impact the lives of many more people on a global scale,” said Charles Bronfman.

IRAP is the first organization to provide comprehensive legal representation to individual refugees seeking resettlement. Under Heller’s leadership, IRAP has helped the most vulnerable refugees in countries including Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Turkey, Syria and the United States, leveraging a network of over one thousand law students and pro bono attorneys to provide more than $10 million in legal aid each year.

To date, IRAP has successfully enabled the resettlement of more than 3,000 at-risk refugees to nine countries – including Iraqis and Afghans at risk for their work as interpreters with the U.S. military, children with medical emergencies, women who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence, survivors of torture, and men and women whose lives are threatened simply because they are part of the LGBTI community. For more information, please visit the International Refugee Assistance Project site.


About The Charles Bronfman Prize


Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Stephen Bronfman, together with their spouses, Andrew Hauptman and Claudine Blondin Bronfman, established The Charles Bronfman Prize to honor their father and his commitment to applying Jewish values to better the world and to inspire the next generations.


Previous recipients include Jay Feinberg, Founder and Executive Director of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation; Dr. Alon Tal, Founder of Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies; Dr. Amitai Ziv, Founder and Director of the Israel Center for Medical Simulation; Rachel Andres, Founder and Director of Jewish World Watch’s Solar Cooker Project; Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, Co-Founders of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP); Sasha Chanoff, Founder and Executive Director, RefugePoint; Jared Genser, Founder and President of Freedom Now; Karen Tal, Former Principal of The Bialik-Rogozin School and Co-Founder of Education Insights; Eric Rosenthal, Founder and Executive Director of Disability Rights International; and Sam Goldman, Founder of d.light.


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Nora Wolinsky / Linda Lipman