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December 18, 2015  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

Itzhak Perlman named winner of $1 million ‘Jewish Nobel’

By BEN HARRIS JTA news service

Itzhak Perlman, the Israeli-born violin virtuoso, was named the third winner of the Genesis Prize.

Perlman was named the winner on Monday, Dec. 14, of the annual $1 million prize that has been dubbed the “Jewish Nobel.” He joins former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the actor-director Michael Douglas as recipients.

“I was totally dumbfounded,” Perlman told JTA about learning he had been selected as winner. “I’m a musician. I play the fiddle. So I was so totally taken aback and I was obviously so incredibly honored they would even consider me. It was very exciting.”

Perlman, 70, said he was mostly unfamiliar with the prize when he first learned he was being considered. Established in 2012 by a consortium of Russian Jewish philanthropists, the prize 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.

“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.”

Past winners have taken an ecumenical approach to disbursing the prize money. Douglas, the son of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, pledged to use the funds to promote outreach to the intermarried. Bloomberg funded nine projects “guided by Jewish values to address the world’s pressing issues.”

Perlman said he is unsure how he plans to use the funds, though he indicated it would likely have some connection to music and helping those with disabilities. Perlman was diagnosed with polio at age 4 and gets around with a motorized cart.

Born in 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. He has won 16 Grammy Awards, played for multiple heads of state and appeared in commercials and television shows.

Perlman also performed the haunting violin solo on the Schindler’s List soundtrack, which won both a Grammy and an Oscar. In November, Perlman received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.

In addition to maintaining a global performance schedule, Perlman teaches young musicians through the Perlman Music Program, an initiative founded by his wife, Toby, to provide instruction and community for players of rare talent and includes an annual winter program in Sarasota.


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