Exclusive pic: Kissin receives his Israeli passport

Exclusive pic: Kissin receives his Israeli passport


norman lebrecht

December 07, 2013


kissin israeliThe pianist Yevgeny Kissin announced tonight that he would travel in future only on his new Israeli papers. He also issued this statement:

“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.
יבגני קיסין. 

photo (c) Slipped Disc:  At Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem with Absorption Minister, Sofa Landver, Natan Sharansky and his mother


  • I am deeply grateful for the Jewish people’s love for and stewardship of classical music.

  • Marshall says:

    So he should live there.

    I respect his perspective, however isn’t the only hope for the world to move forward when our primary identity is everyone-not a particular race, religion, or tribe-

    • Sanda Schuldmann says:

      ABSOLUTELY! If this is the only country he identifies with, why doesn’t he live there?

      I find this right down disgusting. I love the country, I feel like the country, and I am glad you al live there.

      Give me a break!

  • Michael says:

    “The clarity is devastating. But where is the ambiguity? Over there in a box.”

    Monty Python

  • David H. says:

    “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

    Samuel Johnson

    Why distinguish between people in the 21st century? There are only humans, which should try to live in peace together.

    Because one considers oneself as belonging to a certain religion and culture (the “tribal/people thing” is nonsense 2000 years after the fact) it doesn’t mean much.

    Identifying with a state? That’s sad.

    • JJC says:

      While it is true that Dr. Johnson made that statement, the patriotism he referred to is not the same thing as we understand it to be in the current connotation. His reference was very specific;, the Patriots were an unruly, upstart political party split off from the Whigs whose platform and tactics Johnson found disagreeable. Seen in that narrower context, I find it disingenuous to adapt it to our contemporary usage though, heaven knows, it is done all the time. Dr. Johnson, by most accounts, was quite the British patriot himself.

      • robcat2075 says:

        That quote by Johnson is so vaguely accounted for by his biographer that such an explanation is only guesswork.

        Whatever his immediate concern, that comment is a solid appraisal of human behavior that stands up today. That is the nature of memorable quotes, they speak beyond their moment.

        Can you point me to some history on this “Patriot Party” active in Britain at that time?

        • JJC says:

          Well, that is the problem here, isn’t it? ‘Speaking beyond their moment’ is only profound if it is true and not if it is misconstrued or twisted out of shape. One is perfectly free to believe the substance of the remark but it in this case it would be perhaps better not to attribute it to Johnson because what he meant by the term is different than what we mean by it today.

          The Patriots were a fringe party led by John Wilkes, a man whom Johnson despised. This issue is addressed briefly in an article by Christopher Hitchens in the Atlantic, easily found online, and also in Peter Martin’s biography amongst others.

    • Peter M. says:

      David H.,

      Obama needs robots like you. Zei gizund.

  • David Boxwell says:

    A chauvinist who claims to “despise” chauvinism. Huh.

  • Esfir Ross says:

    If E. Kissin like and learn Yiddish, may be he should be a citizen of Jewish Autonom Region that ‘s part of Russia and the official state language’s Yiddish. This state exist since 1932 and Yiddish ‘s mandatory school language. The capital’s Birobijan. Jewish people didn’t experienced anti-semitism. Esfir Ross

    • sdReader says:

      I thought Kissin had taken U.S. citizenship ten or more years ago.

    • Mark says:

      Yiddish, which I speak and understand reasonably well, is NOT the only language of the Jewish people. It is/was the primarily, daily tongue spoken by east European Jews. Many Jews, particularly those whose ancestors lived for centuries in the middle east, spoke Arabic on a daily basis. Hebrew, however, is the official language of Israel. I don’t know if Kissin speaks Hebrew, but that is not the point of the article.

      Israel, like it or not, is the only nation on this earth where Jewish holidays, both major and minor, are an integral part of the national calendar. Kissin is making a statement with his Israeli citizenship and passport, that he is proud of his jewish background and that he is unwilling to go to countries which routinely exclude Jews. (i.e. most Arab countries — I have no idea if he is invited to play there or has done so in the past.)

      This is a gutsy move on Kissin’s part, an in-your-face declaration. Some, especially most of those who’ve commented here, appear to have some real problems with this, so Kissin’s point seems to have been well taken.

      • Neil van der Linden says:

        The Sepharad Jews of Spain apart from speaking Arabic in the times of the Caliphate and for ashore while Spanish and Portuguese until they were kicked out from Spain, after the Muslims had been kicked out before them, spoke Ladino, a language that is still being spoken among some Sephardic diaspora communities, at least until recently. In some parts of Morocco the Jews spoke Berber and not Arabic, where Berber was the main language. Of course this is in line with the North of Europe, where the Jewish communities also spoke the respective local dominant languages.

      • Neil van der Linden says:

        I don’t know whether Kissin’s opinions really matter that much. He was raised as a world-estranged nut, under the influence of his piano teacher. Moreover as a pianist he is not that relevant anymore, having been outcompeted.

  • Israel is not a Jewish state even though quite a few people claim so. At least 20% of is citizens is not Jewish by ethnic and/or religious background. Kissin talks uninformed ideology.

  • Annabelle Weidenfeld says:

    In reply to Esfir Ross I can say that when Kissin was only eight years old he had not heard about Israel but he announced to his family “I want to go to Birobijan and play for my people” When I manage to send the video of the ceremony and you hear the speeches from Sharansky and Kissin I think the sceptics and critics on this page will be left with little to say!

    Annabelle Weidenfeld



    • David H. says:

      A small Jewish boy having put “the Ghetto” already into his mind. “My people” and “not my people”… I find this actually sad. It’s a tragedy, when one has to repeat history, even when the circumstances have changed.

      Kissin is one who could tell humanity an enlightening like Beethoven and Schiller did. “Alle Menschen werden Brüder” (All mankind becomes one). Instead he tells the opposite, a tale of artificial division into “My people” and “not my people”.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        Well, it does look a little bit like Kissin is on an identity crisis/ghetto romanticism trip – he also does a lot of reciting of Yiddish poetry and you can see him online giving interviews in rather unfluent Yiddish – but why not? Looking for one’s roots and cultural background is a very human, and very interesting thing to do. It does not necessarily mean one has a chauvinist attitude towards people with different cultural backgrounds.

        But yes, I also agree that the idea of “my people” based on perceived “blood line” is…problematic, to put it mildly.

      • Anna K. says:

        Kissin is one who could tell humanity an enlightening like Beethoven and Schiller did. “Alle Menschen werden Brüder” (All mankind becomes one). Instead he tells the opposite, a tale of artificial division into “My people” and “not my people”.

        EXACTLY David!! Sad, so few people can see it…..

  • Leon Romuald Sztern says:

    Israel is a Jewish state ,was created ad recognized as such which does not mean that it should not accomodate sizeable minorities whose members ideally should have equal rights as the majority.That is the basis of nationalism still the leading principle structuring the international order. As is the basis of all Anti-semitsm the nationalism that people accept in China , Estonia or contemporary Germany provokes a knee-jerk negative response as soon as israel is mentioned .the same applies to capitalism , communism , atheism , Kissin shows courage and strength of principle when acting the way he does. identifying with the jewish people he wants to stand by that peoples national embodiment ,the state of Israel in a time when this state is singled out for . attempts at delegitimation. if he chooses to live in Israel is a thing between him and the state of Israel . Henryk Szeryng Polish-Jewish violinist travelled his whole lifeproudly on a Mexican passport . The hostility of the comments above show how important it is for Jews to support the existence of Israel (whis does not entail te support of all Israeli politics ) . A Jew forcefully “coming out “as a Jew specifically not precluding other cultural loves still provokes . it should still be the ethnical iand political identity “that does not dare speak its name.

  • cabbagejuice says:

    It’s interesting to read some of the objections that Kissin is being too nationalistic or even chauvinistic by choosing a country he wants to fully identify with. These are usually the same people that aggressively promote and celebrate diversity yet would really like to reduce everyone to an amorphous mass and genderless, too.

    At base, the ultimate PC crime is discrimination that no one wants to be accused of, so have been cowed into massive immigration to Europe and the UK over the past 30 years. All for one and one for all is a socialist canard that does not translate well into the realities of the vast differences of cultures and mentalities.

    • David H. says:

      You make the mistake of not differentiating between “differences of cultures” – not argued here and worth preserving and nourishing – and claimed “blood” differences, imagined ethnic differences, which create nothing but division, hatred and war.

      One doesn’t have to hate his human brothers and sisters to celebrate and protect one’s cultural achievements. But a Rabbi walking around telling young men that they have to marry a Jewish girl, is nothing but a hate monger and enemy of mankind. There is no cultural value in that.

      Likewise for other religious or pseudo ethno-religious fanatics.

      • cabbagejuice says:

        And if a Moslem father wants his daughter to marry another Moslem, he would be also an enemy of mankind? It’s strange that critics of Islam are called racist when the religion is spread all around the world. It’s already known and admitted that Judaism is not predicated solely on blood lines. Converts have been admitted from the time of Ruth.

        It’s interesting to note how deep the Romantic fallacy has penetrated ideas. “All you need is love” as in the words of the Beatles or “Imagine there is no religion”. Sure, we’ll make a (socialist) utopia on earth.

        Meanwhile, a common ground of communication and agreement how to bring up children still make for better and more stable marriages.

        • David H. says:

          You are beating an awful lot of straw men to make your argument. “enemy of mankind” is a bit overdramatic choice of words by me, but of course, the muslim father would be the same.

          The difference is the absolutely racist and inhuman attitude that is prevalent in the “blood line” myths. It’s particularly bewildering, if such blood lines don’t even exist (anymore), as is the case for most people of Jewish faith.

          Love is not all you need, but it is essential. Love to your human brethren. Ideologies that preach division of mankind into “my people” and “not my people” are dangerous because they ultimately create violence between humans.

  • Anna K says:

    David H. thank you for your open mind & heart

  • Kissin’s action is very timely. All you have to do is read the papers to see the new rise of anti-jewish sentiment, especially in Europe. Hating Israel is the “new” antisemitism.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      “Hating Israel is the “new” antisemitism.”

      Do you see that as a primarily racist phenomenon? Do you think legitimate criticism of the policies of Israel can exist without the racist component?

    • Neil van der Linden says:

      Criticism of Israel has little to do with antisemitism, but the attitudes and acts of the current Israeli government, moreover claiming – uninvitedly – to act on behalf of all Jewry, deliberately try to blur lines.

      Meanwhile as Kissin was always known as a somewhat world-estranged personality, and as his career has been on the decline, one may wonder why his statements are so important.

      • Albert Landa says:

        Career i

        n decline? Really? I heard him this year at Carnegie Hall. Packed.5 encores. The year before in Sydney.Chopin E minor concerto. Again 5 encores and a standing ovation.

        What makes you think that his career is “in decline”?

        • Neil van der Linden says:

          I am sure Kissin can still play the piano but there is not much glamour left comparatble to that of his magnificent years of rise

        • Neil van der Linden says:

          It is always good to realsise that Jews lived in comparatively favourable conditions in all Middle-East countries for over two milliennia while for centuries in Europe pogroms raged, resulting in the Holocaust. Only when the inernational powers started to carve up the region after the scecond world war suspicion about the loyalty of Jewish fellow-countrymen started to rise, here and there resulting in tragic hatred. Still nothing even remotely comparable to what had happened in Europe happened. However given the new artificial creations of states a narrative of the small tiny Israel surrounded by bloodthirsty people had to be invented. Western nations gladly joined this narrative, able to cover up some of their guilt.

    • David H. says:

      In addition to the previous comments, also Zionism and Judaism are not to be understood synonymously, far from it. Zionism – like many “-isms” – is an extremist and racist ideology and criticizing it is absolutely legitimate.

      • I suggest you read A LOT more about Zionism before you call it racist, it has absolutely nothing to do with racism or extremism, quite the contrary. Keep an open mind please.

        Israel as a nation is not above criticism and neither are the US or any other nation, but anti-Semites (who sometimes don’t even realize they are anti-semites) find it far too convenient to criticize Israel.

        • David H. says:

          The main pillar Zionism is constructed on, is the transformation of Judaism and Jewish culture into a “constructed” ethnicity/race, the existence of which is claimed as a dogmatic prerequisite for Zionism. The whole ideology of Zionism is by definition racist. Also remember that Zionism was and is a secular movement, it wanted to invent a Jewish identity without the religion at a time where the religious roots were fading. So the racial/ethnical identity was invented.

          • Esfir Ross says:

            Completely agree with David H. comments and thank you for bringing S.Johnson quote. I heard it 40 years ago from my future husband in Russia, land of patriotic scoundrels. We’re often say it. I’m Jewish and speak Yiddish and Hebrew. Esfir Ross

    • @Jacques – Just a moment, now. I’m European and the hate directed towards Jews and Israel certainly ain’t coming from the likes of me…