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R15 mil 'Jewish Nobel' for Perlman

  • Perlman Itzhak HOME
Violinist Itzhak Perlman, named 2016 winner on Monday, joins previous recipients: former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and actor-director Michael Douglas
by ANT KATZ | Dec 16, 2015

Gives $1m prize away



“Itzhak Perlman is the embodiment of everything an ideal Genesis prize laureate should be,” said Stan Polovets, chairman and co-founder of the Genesis Prize. Perlman’s music had been “an incredible source of inspiration” for people with special needs and had “given back to society” with his teaching and advocacy work.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will present the award to Perlman at a ceremony in Jerusalem on June 23.

The prize was inaugurated in 2014. The former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg was the recipient of the prize, and actor Michael Douglas was this year’s winner.

Perlman Itzhak violin


RIGHT: Israeli-born disabled violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman plans to use his R15 mil prize money on projects that help people with disabilities and develop young musicians with special talents

“I was totally dumbfounded,” the humble genius and philanthropist said on learning he was this year’s winner. “I’m a musician. I play the fiddle,” he said, and had been “totally taken aback and I was obviously so incredibly honoured they would even consider me. It was very exciting.”

The Genesis Prize was established in 2012 by a consortium of Russian Jewish philanthropists and is presented annually to someone who has achieved international renown in their professional field and serves as a role model through their commitment to Jewish values.



Know who I am

Perlman, 70, has won 16 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award in 2008. He played the violin solo in John Williams’s Oscar-winning soundtrack for the 1993 film Schindler’s List.

He has also performed with, or conducted, the world’s top symphony orchestras, and has been a regular guest at White House events.

“I just know who I am,” Perlman said. “In other words, in our family, we are traditional Jews. My entire family is involved in one way or another, whether we go to shul, celebrate Shabbos or whatever it is. We are always in touch … That’s one of the things this prize will bring forth. I don’t have a problem with who I am. I live it. And my family lives it.”

Perlman has shared his love of music with diverse audiences, appearing on late-night comedy programmes, the children’s TV show Sesame Street, and special programmes on US public television.

Perlman Itzhak


LEFT: Itzhak Perlman is a regular guest at the White House. But, pictured here last month, he was there to receive the US presidential medal of freedom, that nation’s highest civilian honour - Chip Somndodevilla/Getty Images


All three winners to date have taken an ecumenical approach to disbursing their prize money.

  • Bloomberg initially said he wanted to promote Israeli-Palestinian business co-operation, but later backed away from that at the urging of the prize committee, instead funding nine projects “guided by Jewish values to address the world’s pressing issues”. More than half the recipients were non-profit organisations based outside the United States and Israel.
  • Douglas, who is not Jewish in the traditional sense, is the son of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother. He pledged to use his prize-money to promote outreach to the intermarried.
  • Perlman this week said he is not yet certain how he will use the funds – but said it would likely have some connection to music and helping those with disabilities.

Perlman - cart


RIGHT: Perlman himself was diagnosed with polio at age four and gets around with a motorised cart and walks with crutches

 

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s what this prize is all about - the opportunity to do good in the world, to do good as a Jew, to do as they say tikkun olam - to make things better for people,” Perlman said.

He has played for multiple heads of state and appeared in commercials and television shows.

“My involvement obviously, first, is as a musician, and second, or even first, as a person who has a disability. So these two aspects of what I’m interested in is something that I’m thinking about.”

Born in pre-Israeli Tel Aviv in 1945, Perlman has achieved a level of celebrity rarely seen in the classical music world. Identified as a musical prodigy from a young age, he appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” as a teenager in 1958, and went on to study at New York’s Juilliard School.

Perlman’s haunting violin solo on the “Schindler’s List” soundtrack won both a Grammy and an Oscar. Less heralded is his violin solo in the Billy Joel hit “Downeaster Alexa,” which went uncredited on the 1989 album “Storm Front” and only came to light earlier this year. The two performed the song together at Madison Square Garden in March after Perlman wheeled himself onstage and was greeted with a kiss from Joel.

The 70-year-old Perlman maintains a gruelling global performance schedule, teaches young musicians through the Perlman Music Programme (initiated and founded by his wife, Toby), which provides for players of rare talent. The Perlmans have five children.


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