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!”
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].”
French film star Gerard Depardieu failed to show up in court to face drink driving charges on Tuesday because he was preparing to play disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a film, his lawyer said.
The no-show means the case will turn into a full trial - guaranteeing yet another day in the spotlight for the garrulous actor currently caught up in a scandal over his tax status.
It could also lead to the rotund, 64-year-old star of “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Asterix and Obelix” getting a tougher sentence if convicted - in theory up to two years in prison.
“Despite wanting to be there and meet the judges and in no way to escape justice, Gerard Depardieu absolutely could not be present,” his lawyer Eric de Caumont told a throng of reporters outside the Paris courtroom.
He said his client was in Montenegro preparing to play Strauss-Kahn, who was seen as the next Socialist president of France before a U.S. sex scandal bought down his career last year.
Depardieu is accused of crashing his scooter in Paris with more than three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. No one else was injured in the accident.
Former French screen goddess Brigitte Bardot on Friday threatened to follow Gerard Depardieu in asking for a Russian passport, in protest not at tax hikes, but at the treatment of two circus elephants.
The animals, named Baby and Nepal and owned by a touring circus, are thought to be carrying tuberculosis and were ordered to be put down by a court in Lyon, southern France, on Friday as a precautionary measure.
Bardot’s threat comes a day after fellow actor Depardieu caused a storm in France by becoming a Russian citizen in protest at high tax rates proposed by the Socialist government, which he accuses of penalising success.
“If those in power are cowardly and impudent enough to kill the elephants… then I have decided I will ask for Russian nationality to get out of this country which has become nothing more than an animal cemetery,” Bardot said in a statement.
Owners Cirque Pinder also said on Friday they would appeal to save the elephants, which first tested positive for tuberculosis in 2010 but have since been kept in a zoo in Lyon away from the general public.
They’ve largely disappeared as residents, but Russia’s Jews now have their own museum.
Billed as the first Jewish museum in the country, the Moscow center opened recently following several years of planning. Exhibits are divided between two general themes, focusing on either Jewish practice or on Jewish history in Russia.