The Shmooze

Elie Wiesel And Evgeny Kissin At YIVO Gala

By Masha Leon

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The piano was tuned, the vodka was flowing and world renowned pianist Evgeny Kissin posed for photos with noshers and nibblers at the pre-concert reception of the YIVO Institute for Yiddish Research’s 12th Annual Heritage Gala at the Center for Jewish History on May 7. “Just as there is love at first sight, there is friendship at first sight,” said Elie Wiesel as he recalled his first meeting with Russian-born Kissin, the evening’s honoree. Recalling the cultural oppression of what he once dubbed, “The Jews of Silence,” a smiling Wiesel told the festive crowd that there is currently “ a million-strong Russian diaspora in America…in Israel. How can you not believe in miracles?”

Touting Kissin as “one of the greatest pianists in the world today who loves Yiddish,” Wiesel urged:“Listen to his poetry… What it meant to be a Jew in Soviet Russia!”

Karen Leon
Marion and Elie Wiesel and Evgeny Kissin

Following a dazzling performance of M. Milner’s “Farn Opsheyd” (Before Separation), Kissin, elegant in a tuxedo, stood in front of a background projection of a roster of Yiddish poets and their poems in English translation. In beautifully measured and articulated Yiddish, Kissin recited — from memory — ten love poems, ”each dedicated to a language—Yiddish.” The translated titles included Moyshe Kulbak’s “I Saw Yiddish Words,” Moyshe Nadir’s “Mother-tongue,” Itzik Fefer’s “Yidish,” Avrom Sutzkever “Yidish,” Binem Heler’s “In the Wonderful Language” and Evgeny Kissin’s own creation “Bobe-loshn” (Grandmother’s Tongue) and Forvert editor Boris Sandler’s “Moshl-kaposhl-shprakh” (Moshl-Kaposh Language).”

Addressing the assemblage, YIVO executive director Jonathan Brent, recognized a roster of local political personalities as well as guests from Israel, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Poland, Russia and guests from ”as far away as New Jersey and Brighton Beach.” He described YIVO’s breadth and multi-faceted range, informing that its heritage “is in many languages: Yiddish, Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Rumanian, English — from Hassidism to Bundism, from psychoanalysis to phenomenology, from nigunim (melodies) to jazz. A single document can be in three or four languages, this is the texture and context of our world.”

“We honor Evgeny Kissin this evening because he embodies so much of this great heritage, so many dimensions of this invisible world, and [he] is living proof of its vitality and creative strength.”

The evening’s sponsors, noted Brent, were “The Russian Tearoom and Stolichnaya [vodka].”


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