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On Weeklong Visit, Hollywood Stars Laud Israel

Guillermo Diaz (left) and Adam Shapiro (center) at MESHI in Jerusalem, a community outreach center that assists severely disabled children. (Photo by AVI)

Guillermo Diaz (left) and Adam Shapiro (center) at MESHI in Jerusalem, a community outreach center that assists severely disabled children. (Photo by AVI)

JERUSALEM – Despite heightened tensions with Lebanon and Syria, including Israel Air Force sorties over Damascus, a group of stars from two ABC-TV hit shows, “Scandal” and “Once Upon A Time,” participated last week in numerous indoor and outdoor activities in northern Israel, including the Golan Heights. The stars said that the American public is served a steady diet of warped images of Israel.

“There is a true misunderstanding about Israel in America. It’s most certainly not as people think and how it is portrayed in the media, which depicts only the violence and tension in the region, and why some of my friends and family were indeed nervous about us coming to Israel,” Brooklyn-born actress Lana Parrilla (“Once Upon a Time”) told The Jewish Press.

“In reality, Israel is such a wonderful place and no one in our group felt any kind of tension. In fact, we were able to go wherever we wanted and felt safe, whether it was walking on the streets of Jerusalem, jeeping across the Golan Heights, sampling wine at the beautiful Galil Mountain Winery – which is close to the Lebanese border – and even during our visit to an air base in northern Israel, which was on constant alert. The pilots and ground personnel were very friendly and went about their business in a calm manner,” Parrilla said. “The reality is that Israel is such a wonderful place, where we all felt like we had instant families wherever we went, as people were so open and friendly to us.”

Parrilla, along with Guillermo Diaz, Bellamy Young, Katie Lowes, and Adam Shapiro (all from the series, “Scandal”) and Julie Walker, the art director for the TV show, “The Mentalist,” participated in the weeklong America’s Voices in Israel (part of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations) mission, directed by Irwin Katsof. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and El Al Airlines sponsored a portion of the AVI mission.

Bellamy Young examines a hi-tech medical device at Rambam Medical Center. (Photo by Pioter Fliter)

Bellamy Young examines a hi-tech medical device at Rambam Medical Center. (Photo by Pioter Fliter)

“Each and every day we were exposed to some fantastic experience that very few people know about or understand back home,” claimed Young. “For me the visit to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, where we saw a beating heart muscle that was developed from stem cell technology, was the highlight of this trip. Amazing things that will benefit humanity are taking place in those laboratories.”

To Diaz, of Washington Heights, climbing Masada was a very spiritual experience. “The creativity and the artistic talent of the people of Israel, who want to live life to the fullest, is amazing. I was even more amazed by the people who knew who I was and came over to me at the Western Wall on Friday evening – and chatting with them. Just touching the wall was a heightened experience. I felt as if the Wall had preserved all of this spiritual energy over the ages.”

The overwhelmingly positive reaction from the stars to their visit to Israel has reinforced the mission’s objectives, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference.

“Dollar for dollar this is the most cost-efficient hasbarah [public relations] program of its kind. It is a minimal investment with a huge return,” Hoenlein told The Jewish Press. “You cannot take public opinion for granted, even though there is a pro-Israel bent across America. There are negative images on occasion out there, and once they catch on it is very hard to uproot them. These trips give the stars a unique opportunity to not only experience things but also a chance to interact with their fans.

“Young people today can’t relate to a Henry Kissinger,” Hoenlein continued, “but they can relate to a black, Hispanic or Asian authority figure or TV star who can speak directly to them via new media, etc. During the course of these AVI trips the stars are constantly Twittering to their fans or posting on Facebook. Social media is a great way to speak directly to millions of their fans. And when the stars come back to Hollywood, they also have an opportunity to circulate among friends, family and influential people, where they will speak about their encounters in Israel in a positive manner.”

According to Hoenlein and Katsof, the trip’s director, several other AVI missions are being planned for this year and beyond.

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