Citizen Kissin

Why does the government not proactively offer Israeli citizenship to prominent Jews across the globe?

December 15, 2013 05:52
4 minute read.
Evgeny Kissin receives his Israeli identification card and passport.

Pianist Evgeny Kissin gets Israeli citizenship. (photo credit: Lior Daskal/Courtesy The Jewish Agency for Israel)


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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.”

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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 lead.

“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 Israeli.’”

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 Israel.”

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 Conservatory.

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 Israeli.”

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 passport.

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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