Over the past 13 or so years some 340,000 young Jews from all over the globe
have gained firsthand experience of this country as part of the
However, it unlikely that there has ever been
a more entertaining bunch of 18- 26-year-olds on a 10-day whirlwind tour of
Israel than the one which was here around three weeks ago.
The group was
led by US-born comedian Avi Liberman, founder of the Comedy for Koby
entertainment-philanthropy vehicle, and managed to cover numerous geographical
bases around the country and, naturally, get some idea of what we have to offer
on the performance front, too.
The whistle-stop round of the country was
a real eye-opener for 23-year-old actor-singer Jenny Harrisonberg, from
Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I have heard about Israel since I was little,
things like the Dead Sea and Masada, mainly through friends and family that had
been to Israel before, and they said ‘you absolutely have to go,’ and this
opportunity came up, and here I am!” said Harrisonberg when we met up on
Jerusalem’s jam-packed Ben Yehuda pedestrian street. “I knew about Jerusalem and
the other major places in Israel, but I knew absolutely nothing about the
entertainment business here.”
Harrisonberg and her cohorts on the Taglit
trip got some inkling of what Israeli show biz has to offer when they went to
see a performance of the Ah Jerusalem! musical comedy. “It was interesting to
compare the similarities and differences between American theater and Israeli
theater,” she says. The Americans also got something of a handle on the music
education scene here.
“We went to Rimon [School of Jazz and Contemporary
Music in Ramat Hasharon],” continues Harrisonberg.
“They had some kind of
high school camp going on, and we got to hear a small group play some jazz stuff
and that was pretty cool. We also heard a lecture there, which was very
The Taglit group included some budding entertainers, and
also experienced professionals. Among the latter was 27- year-old Alexa Green, a
New York Citybased singer, actor, dancer and recording artist best known for her
role as Glinda in the Los Angeles and San Francisco productions of hit Broadway
musical Wicked. She also appears alongside Neil Patrick Harris and Patti LuPone
in the cinematic release of Stephen Sondheim’s multi-Tony Award winning musical
comedy Company, with The New York Philharmonic.
Green, for whom, because
of her age, this was a “last chance saloon” Taglit foray, found the Rimon
lecture highly enlightening. “I applied for Taglit when I was 26, so I sort of
got in the back door,” she notes. “The lecture was about the history of Israeli
music, and about trends and what is popular right now and that sort of thing. A
lot of the elements were the same [in Israel and the US], but I think the
history is pretty different.
It was also interesting to see where the
artists came from, what cultural stuff they brought with them, and to hear about
artists who came here from America.”
Green says she sees a cultural
melting pot common denominator between the two countries. “They are both
countries with a large immigrant population, and that influences the way that
the arts and culture have evolved.”
Green has the professional experience
and insight to compare the corresponding entertainment sectors. “I graduated
from college in 2008 and I worked in Los Angeles for a while. Now I live in New
York and I do a lot of voice over and recording work, and I am now working on my
own, developing my own music and my own cabaret show,” she said.
and musician base notwithstanding, the Taglit trip wasn’t all about learning
about how Israeli artists strut their stuff. The group members spent time on the
“We started in Caesarea, literally right after we got off the
plane,” says Harrisonberg.
“After that we went to Netanya overnight, we
went to the beach there and we got our soldiers” (Several boys in khaki
accompanied the group on its trips around the country).
The Golan Heights
was next on the agenda. Considering all the talk about the possibility of an
impending American strike on Syria, and all the violence going on across the
border, were the Taglit guys and gals at all apprehensive about that part of the
10-dayer? “Our tour guide was so open about things that are going on here, and
he explained everything so well and I think that put us at ease about all the
issues over the borders and things,” Harrisonberg continues. “I found it
interesting, and also comforting to have this entire group of 40 people plus
staff that were so close to the border, but I felt so safe. I think [tour guide]
Zak was a huge part of that because he could have easily have just said ‘there’s
the border’ and left it at that. But he explained things really well, and I
think that helped that process for a lot of people.”
Seeing the situation
with their own eyes, rather than filtered through agenda- oriented media
channels, was an important element of the group‘s visit here.
“I was so
inspired and blown away by everything I have seen. Coming here is just so
different from the things you see on the news in America,” says
“And having our soldiers with us changed my mind about a
lot of things.
It was so inspiring to see they were so different from us,
but also the same.
They were so passionate and had such pride in Israel.
They showed us so many good and wonderful things about Israel that I hadn’t even
So, after spending 10 very intense days here will we see
Green or Harrisonberg treading the boards at some stage in the future? Green
says she is considering it, and is grateful for the pointers she got from the
cast of Ah Jerusalem. “We talked about things like agents and how to get jobs
here, and how to make a living. Of course the market for English speakers is
much smaller here and I’d be a bit nervous about getting my Hebrew up to
I might come to live in Israel and see if I could start up a
musical theater here.”
Maybe Green, Harrisonberg and co., if they made
aliya, would help to expand the musical and English-speaking entertainment
sector and – who knows? – even start exporting stuff from here to the US. “That
would be amazing,” says Harrisonberg.