Love for Israel? It’s all in my genes, says Simmons

Jewish Telegraph, November 2011

ISRAELI-born singer and musician Gene Simmons is shouting out loud at the string of musicians who refuse to perform in his homeland.
“They’re fools,” the legendary Kiss founder said on Tuesday during his first return to Israel since leaving as a child more than 50 years ago.
Simmons — born Chaim Witz in Haifa — described the visit as a “homecoming”.
He offered a description of himself that might shock his legions of fans who know him as the God of Thunder, prone to spitting blood and sticking out his exceptionally long tongue.
Simmons stated: “I’m Israeli. I’m a stranger in America. I’m an outsider.
“I was born here and I’m proud of it.”
And he had harsh words for musicians like Elvis Costello and the Pixies who have recently cancelled concerts to protest at Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters has gone further, joining an organised movement dedicated to boycotting Israel and its exports, although he appeared in Israel in 2006.
“The countries they should be boycotting are the same countries that the populations are rebelling,” Simmons explained.
“People long to be free . . . and they sure as hell don’t want somebody who’s a ruler who hasn’t been elected by them.”
Simmons is in Israel as part of his reality show, Family Jewels, which follows the adventures and musings of the rocker, his long-time girlfriend, Shannon Tweed, and their two children.
While situations on the show are generally light-hearted, he said his stop in Israel has deep personal significance.
“Coming back to Israel is a homecoming,” he added.
The normally extravagant musician, known for his demonic make-up and stage pyrotechnics, grew subdued as he described his early life in the town of Tirat Carmel.
He recalled his carpenter father taking his assault rifle and heading off to military service on weekends.
And he said his mother, a survivor of the Holocaust, taught him that “every day above ground is a good day”.
The family was “dirt poor,” scraping by on meagre bread and milk rations available in what was then an underdeveloped country.
Simmons earned money by selling fruits he collected from cactuses.
He moved with his mother to America when he was eight.
Although Simmons has climbed to the highest levels of the entertainment world and lives with a former Playboy playmate of the year in Beverly Hills, he said he still considers Israel his home.
Over the years, Simmons cultivated an extravagant personality, often boasting of his sexual conquests and his fortune and fame.
While he did not hide his immigrant roots, they were never emphasised — but this appears to be changing in recent years.
Simmons laced the interview with Hebrew phrases. “Where were you born?” he asked in somewhat halting, but serviceable Hebrew.
He made local headlines during Israel’s 2006 war against Lebanese terrorists by sending a televised message to a wounded Israeli soldier, calling him a “hero”.
Simmons co-founded Kiss in the 1970s with American Jew Paul Stanley (Stanley Eisen).
The group has sold 100 million records, and four decades later, remain one of the best-selling concert draws.
Last year, they played a series of sold-out shows in the UK to support latest album Sonic Boom.
Simmons insisted that his busy schedule has been the only reason he never made it back to Israel before.
“America allowed me to climb the highest levels of success, and I never wanted to stop,” he explained.
“When you reach the top, you can rest — I’ve reached the top.”

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Mike Cohen

Jewish Telegraph deputy editor and arts editor. Email Mcohen@jewishtelegraph.com with your Jewish arts stories