If you’re the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles and you want to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary with a big Hollywood- style bash and call it “Hollywood Salutes Israel,” then you’re going to have to pull out all the stops and reel in some big names.
On June 10, that’s exactly what Consul General Sam Grundwerg did – at a private VIP reception for 700 guests at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
Along with congratulatory video messages from Barbra Streisand, Robert de Niro, Michael Douglas, Bill Maher, Gal Gadot, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there was also some serious Hollywood wattage on stage, including Kelsey Grammar, Mayim Bialik, Metta World Peace and Billy Crystal.
The event also managed to corral some heavyweight Israeli stars, including Yael Grobglas (Jane the Virgin), Noa Tishby, Lior Raz, Avi Issacharoff, and singer Ninet Tayeb.
The evening was an interactive, immersive experience, with the celebrities walking attendees through a visual and oral history of seven decades of Israeli history. As they spoke, video montages flashed on a giant overhead screen.
Kelsey Grammer introduced the 1940s and the dream of the nascent state, accompanied by video footage of David Ben-Gurion declaring the establishment of the State of Israel. “With this declaration,” Grammer said, “the dreams of a hundred generations of Jews were realized: The modern State of Israel was established.”
The 1950s – billed “Nation of Immigrants” – was introduced by Consul General Grundwerg who said, “The 1950s cemented Israel as the haven and homeland for the Jewish people. The country launched operations to rescue people facing violence and persecution in Yemen and Iraq, and welcomed displaced persons from the Holocaust.”
The video portion of the 50s highlighted Golda Meir’s initiative, Mashav, the Israeli Agency For International Development Cooperation.
THE GREATEST cheers were reserved for Fauda creators Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz (who also stars). Raz spoke of the 60s being a time of change; of Shai Agnon receiving a Nobel prize; Israel television launching its first broadcast; the opening of the Israel Museum; and the establishment of the Batsheva Dance Company.
Issacharoff received resounding applause when he spoke of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem. He also noted that in the 60s, “Israel emerged as a leader in water technology.”
He then invited Mayim Bialik onto the stage.
Bialik quipped that she assumed she was invited to talk about Israel’s water technology “because I hold a PhD in Neuroscience and play a scientist on a popular television show about scientists (The Big Bang Theory). Well, it turns out they just wanted me because my name – Mayim – is the Hebrew word for water.”
On a more serious note, Bialik spoke about how much of Israel’s history has focused on water, “how to find it, how to conserve it, how to clean it and distribute it.” She noted that Israel’s drip-irrigation company Netafim has transformed the world.
Maccabi Tel Aviv star David Blu and NBA star Metta World Peace introduced the 1970s. Billed the era of “Resilience in the Face of Adversity,” the two touched on the massacre of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, the Yom Kippur War and the peace treaty with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
In a moving tribute, actress Noa Tishby and actor Guri Weinberg, whose father Moshe was among the athletes killed at the 1972 Olympics, read Sadat’s address to the Knesset in 1977 and selections from Prime Minister Begin’s address.
The readings took place against a video backdrop of the actual readings in the Knesset.
For the 1980s – “Striving for Peace” – Yael Grobglas spoke of the revolution of Israel’s wine and tourism industries, the country’s problems with inflation and the economic recovery plan of 1985.
The 80s segment was amplified by Ninet singing a moving rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in both English and Hebrew.
Heading into the 1990s – “An Innovation Nation” – Sherri Shepherd spoke of how nearly a million Soviet Jews came to Israel following the fall of the Iron Curtain and the daring Operation Solomon airlift rescue of 14,000 Ethiopian Jews in 36 hours. She also spoke of the peace treaty with Jordan and how “the whole world mourned with Israel over the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.” Nonetheless, Israel moved forward, and Shepherd spoke of Israel being named the “Startup Nation” with its visionary innovation in everything from instant messaging to firewalls.
COMEDIAN ELON Gold expounded on Israel’s hi-tech innovations in the 90s with some well-timed jokes. “They tried to get the other Elon (Musk),” Gold said.
“But he was busy trying to get to the only place in the solar system less habitable than the Negev.”
He also said it was understandable why Israelis were willing to take the risk with startups. “This is what happens when you give every Israeli three-year-old a dreidel and a pile of gelt.” He added, “Who needs Bitcoin? The Maccabees were doing initial chocolate-coin offerings 2,000 years ago. I knew I should have invested in chocolate coins.”
The 2000s focused on Israel’s humanitarian aid in disasters from Nepal, Mexico and Haiti, to helping Syrian refugees, presented by LA Rams running back and NFL Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson.
The 2010s – dubbed “A Hub For Culture” – was presented by actor Mike Burstyn, who spoke of Neta Barzilai’s Eurovision song-contest win, top Israeli chefs receiving recognition and Israeli television shows like Homeland, Fauda and In Treatment garnering huge success.
Of course, a great deal of praise was also heaped on Israel’s very own “Wonder Woman,” Gal Gadot.
Going off script briefly, Burstyn noted that he had been monitoring the Tony Awards, which were happening in New York, where the Israeli adapted movie The Band’s Visit had already won nine awards and was poised to take home the biggest prize for Best Musical – which it did in fact win.
Just as it appeared the evening was wrapping up, Grundwerg introduced Billy Crystal.
“I’m so glad to be with my fellow Jews – Metta World Peace,” Crystal said to raucous laughter. “We were in bar mitzva class together.”
Crystal touted many amazing Israeli innovations, including the Iron Dome, which, he said, “was Dick Cheney’s Secret Service code name.”
He summed up the evening by saying “I have a lot in common with Israel. We both turned 70 this year, and we’re both a little cranky at this point in our lives.
But we also have something important in common and that is hope. Hatikvah.
Hope for a brighter future and a better world. If a nation can be built out of desert sand, if a homeland can be created out of the worst tragedy of human history, if a democracy can thrive in a region that has none, then anything and everything is possible. And that is Israel.
Happy Birthday, Izzy!”