Israel basked in pride last Tuesday night when Professors Arieh Warshel and
Michael Levitt were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Both men have Israeli
citizenship but live in the United States. This is their right, but if they can
still be proud Israelis, why can’t other Jews who live outside the Jewish state?
A case in point is that of the famous Russian-born pianist Evgeny Kissin, who
became an Israeli citizen
at a ceremony in Jerusalem last Saturday night. When
asked how he felt about becoming an Israeli, Kissin said, pithily, “I feel more
at harmony with myself.”
Speaking to a few dozen people, including his
mother, at Jerusalem’s Touro Restaurant, which is affiliated with The Jerusalem
Press Club, Kissin made a point of calling on others to follow his
“I would like to use this occasion to appeal to other Jews who live
in the Diaspora to join my example,” he said in English. “If Israel is so dear
to us, no matter where we live, let us be Israelis!” Then, switching to Hebrew,
he added emotionally: “I am with you, State of Israel, I am with you, my people.
Now I can tell the whole world not only ‘I am a Jew,’ but also ‘I am an
At the short ceremony, Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa
Landver and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky gave Kissin an Israeli
passport and ID card.
“It isn’t every day that so acclaimed a musician
joins the fight for Israel,” Sharansky said. “Evgeny Kissin’s exceptional desire
to be a part of Israel is the most powerful answer to those young Jews who ask,
‘Why be Jewish?’ or ‘Why be connected to Israel?’”
Acknowledging that he would
not move to Israel, because he spends most of his time playing abroad, Kissin
told the audience: “I’ve cared about Israel my whole adult life, and I felt I
couldn’t continue to enjoy my success with the growing hatred toward Israel all
over the Western world. Then I thought, ‘Which country do I represent, which
country do I fully identify with?’ And the only answer was
Kissin, one of the world’s best classical pianists, was born in
Moscow 42 years ago. He began playing piano at the age of two, started studying
at the Gnessin State Musical College at the age of six, and at the age of 12,
played Chopin’s two piano concerti in the Great Hall of the Moscow
He performs at major international music festivals and has
won many awards, including two Grammys.
About a year ago, Kissin wrote a
letter to Sharansky in which he expressed interest in acquiring Israeli
citizenship to enable him to “fight for Israel not only as a Jew, but also as an
In a public letter that is worth printing here in full, he
wrote: I am a Jew, Israel is a Jewish state – and since long ago I have felt
that Israel, although I do not live there, is the only state in the world with
which I can fully identify myself, whose case, problems, tragedies and very
destiny I perceive to be mine.
If I, as a human being and artist
represent anything in the world, it is my Jewish people, and therefore Israel is
the only state on our planet which I want to represent with my art and all my
public activities, no matter where I live.
When Israel’s enemies try to
disrupt concerts of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra or the Jerusalem Quartet,
I want them to come and make troubles at my concerts, too: because Israel’s case
is my case, Israel’s enemies are my enemies, and I do not want to be spared of
the troubles which Israeli musicians encounter when they represent the Jewish
state beyond its borders.
I have always deeply despised chauvinism and
have never regarded my people to be superior to other peoples; I feel truly
blessed that my profession is probably the most international one in the world,
that I play music created by great composers of different countries, that I
travel all over the world and share my beloved music with people of different
countries and nationalities – but I want all the people who appreciate my art to
know that I am a Jew, that I belong to the People of Israel. That’s why now I
feel a natural desire to travel around the world with an Israeli
Although Kissin was not based in Israel, Sharansky recommended
that the government present him with Israeli citizenship “due to his significant
contribution to Israel in the international arena.”
Now he is an Israeli.
We welcome him with open arms and urge others to heed his appeal and apply for
Israeli citizenship too. In fact, why does the government not proactively offer
Israeli citizenship to prominent Jews across the globe? Who knows? It may even
encourage them – and others – to make aliya.
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