Actress Renee Willett defies the missiles, spends week in Israel

“Plus, the handsome men don’t hurt.”

Jay Leno accepts the Humanitarian Award. (From Left) Actress Renée Willett, Esti Ginzburg, Jay Leno, Marc Gerson, Eli Beer. the 1st Annual Los Angeles Gala for Friends of United Hatzalah. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jay Leno accepts the Humanitarian Award. (From Left) Actress Renée Willett, Esti Ginzburg, Jay Leno, Marc Gerson, Eli Beer. the 1st Annual Los Angeles Gala for Friends of United Hatzalah.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you spotted a glamorous and talented young Hollywood actress with a dazzling smile in the Promised Land this week, it was probably Renee Willett.
At 26, the New York-raised Willett has appeared onstage and on the screen in The Comedian, Blind  and SharkNado 3 with the likes of Robert DeNiro, Edie Falco, Alec Baldwin, Demi Moore, Jennifer Aniston, Jay Leno, Val Kilmer and more, leading to her receiving the Rising Star Award 2019 at the NYC International Film Festival.
But Israel, and Jewish causes are at the crux of her philanthropic activities – she’s served on the Young Leadership Board of charitable foundations such as United Hatzalah, Shalva Children’s Center, The USC Shoah Foundation started by Steven Spielberg, The Robin Hood Foundation, Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program, UJA-Federation, The Michael Milken Prostate Cancer Foundation, The China Institute, The Jewish Museum of New York and The Yiddish Theater.
Proudly Jewish, Willett also boasts a large online following with close to half a million followers on her Instagram account, making her one of the most prominent pro-Israel influencers in the acting and comedy business, and she never hesitates to spotlight the best side of Israel.
Willett’s hectic schedule here this week included involvement with a tech summit aimed at expanding the Israeli tech scene, moderating sessions with firms such as Google Israel and interfacing with Facebook Israel CEO Adi Soffer Teeni, setting up and heading a visit of international tech leaders to the Shalva National Center, and attending an event with United Hatzalah, where she is the organization’s global ambassador.
“I like that United Hatzalah responds rapidly to everything, not only disasters: heart attacks, pregnancy, falling down the stairs -- anything. I like that the rescuers are a mixture of everyone -- men, women, Christians, Jews, Moslems –  working together to help people and save lives,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
“My father was involved with Shalva and my mom and I decided to take it to another level. We helped them establish a new center and get international support. We also have a young family member with special needs and we know the challenges families face. This visit my mom was moved to see for the first time an atrium they dedicated to her. I visit Shalva a lot and feel a special connection with kids there. Over the years, we encouraged the Shalva Band to go professional. To this day when they sing, I am moved to tears.”
Spending the week in Israel during the barrage of rockets from Gaza was an eye-opening experience, said Willett.
“It was weird being woken up and having to run to a bomb shelter. It was a little scary.  It’s incredible that this is what life is here and everyone has to deal with it. I visited places where we had only a 30-second warning; it’s the most unbelievable thing that they have to live like this. It definitely opened my eyes. I knew it happened and saw videos, but living it was definitely different.
“I continue to pray for peace in the Middle East, but until that day comes, any bit of light we can shed in the darkness is necessary. Having generosity of spirit and a love for Israel is really all you need to feel connected to this incredible place.
“Plus, the handsome men don’t hurt.”