|What Israel Means to Me|
I was born in India, and I am not Jewish.My connection with Israel, however, goes back over 30 years.In 1961, I went to Israel to substitute at the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) for the great conductor Eugene Ormandy, who was ill. Immediately after the performance, the concert master said to me, "I am sure we are going to be together for the next 25 years." He was more than right. I have been music director of the IPO since 1969, far more than the 25 years he predicted. And through these years, my love and admiration for, and solidarity with, the people of Israel has only grown stronger. I'm constantly being thanked for what I've done for Israel, my leadership of the IPO and my devotion to the people of Israel. But Israel has given me back tenfold what little I have offered of myself.
I have grown up with modern Israel and have taken the IPO all over the world, enabling people of many different countries to see and hear the incredibly talented, artistic side of Israel. For me, being Music Director of the Israel Philharmonic is a unique honor. During my tenure with the IPO, I have given over 1,600 concerts, and, naturally, a few stand out. Especially vivid in my memory are the Victory Concert in Jerusalem after the 1967 Six-Day War and the first time the Israel Philharmonic played in Germany in 1971. And, in 1981, the concert we gave on the northern border for Lebanese, who danced with our musicians afterward, hugging them, saying Arabs and Jews are brothers. In 1991, I returned to Tel Aviv as Iraqi Scud missiles began to fall. I needed to show my solidarity with Israelis under attack. It's where I had to be. These are all moments I will never forget.
Most special for me was the realization of my twenty-five year dream when I played with the Israel Philharmonic in India, the country of my birth. That was an intensely emotional experience for me, and one that I shared with Israel and India, my two countries. But I have one more dream to realize: to play in Cairo and in Amman.
The road to peace with Israel's neighbors may be difficult, but I am sure the struggle for peace will continue. As a friend of Israel and of the Jewish people, I wish with all my heart for a complete and lasting peace in this country that I love so much.