Bringing Hollywood to the Holy Land

US TV stars experience a week-long tourism boot camp as guests of America’s Voices in Israel.

January 3, 2017 20:31
4 minute read.
A GROUP of Hollywood TV actors including Mark Pellegrino (above, standing sixth from left) take part

A GROUP of Hollywood TV actors including Mark Pellegrino (above, standing sixth from left) take part in an American Voices in Israel tour, which included a meeting with the Black Hebrews community in Dimona as well as a visit to the City of David.. (photo credit: MINISTRY OF STRATEGIC AFFAIRS AND PUBLIC DIPLOMACY)

‘I feel like I’ve lived four or five lifetimes,” says Mark Pellegrino. He’s in the lobby of the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, getting ready to head out for a tour of Yad Vashem on his last day of a week-long trip to Israel.

The rugged TV star, who has been featured in roles on Lost, Dexter and Supernatural, was on his maiden exploration of Israel together with almost a dozen members of the American entertainment industry.

Among the delegation were Sonequa Martin- Green from The Walking Dead, Daniel Dae Kim from Lost and Hawaii 5-0 and Meagan Good from the films Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and Saw V.

They were hosted by America’s Voice for Israel, a US-based organization that has been bringing delegations of celebrities, athletes and taste makers to Israel for the past decade.

Pellegrino said that he had been impressed by the breadth and scope of the Israel he had seen, specially lauding Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and the African Hebrew Israelite community of Dimona where he said he saw people “integrating philosophy with life and using knowledge to make the world a better place. In that respect I feel like Israel is unique in this region.”

Pellegrino, who debates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with his followers on Twitter, weighed in on the morality of supporting Israel: “I think that where you stand on this issue [of Israel’s existence], and this could be a naive supposition on my part... tells the world a lot about your moral compass.

“To me, if you stand for freedom and the right of people to live under a structure that promotes liberty, you have a good moral compass, and there’s nothing that I’ve seen here that contradicts that.”

Coming from Hollywood, a community widely seen as liberal and distancing itself from Israel, or even pro-Palestinian, Pellegrino said that the trip “certainly balances out what people ingest on a daily basis in the States. What we get in the States is a pro-Palestinian point of view.”

When asked how to counter that, he said, “The most important thing is to get intellectuals here. Those are the guys that tell the culture what to think and what to say.”

Writer and film producer DeVon Franklin was also on the trip, calling the experience something that “starts the journey, it doesn’t end it.”

He called encouraging other people to visit Israel “important” and said that he’d already told his brother, a pastor, and a good friend, a gospel recording artist, that they had to visit.

“If you’re a Christian, you have got to come and connect. It’s the foundation of our faith... if you haven’t experienced it you don’t understand fully what you believe.

Coming here brings what we believe to life...

it’s a deepening of the faith. We are in 2017 and the message is still alive because of what happened in this place 2,000 years ago.”

Acknowledging that the media makes Americans wonder if Israel is safe and that the “safety piece is what keeps people away,” Franklin said that the trip showed them “not only that it is safe, but it is actually more peaceful than you’d think,” a comforting thought for people who might want to visit, but in Franklin’s words, “[they] think they’re not going to be OK.”

That response was the desired one for America’s Voice for Israel, which has hosted celebrities including journalists, movie and TV stars, as well as religious and political leaders from the Latino and African- American community for visits to the country as part of its self-described mission to “counter distortions and misrepresentations about the Jewish state.”

The organization works in cooperation with Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister Gilad Erdan, whose Strategic Affairs Ministry plays a vital role in helping to facilitate the trips. Recent trips saw a different demographic, hosting telenovela stars and even Ms. Universe 2006. Upcoming missions will include players from the National Football League.

Actress Sonequa Martin-Green, who is set for a banner year in 2017 after being cast as the lead role in a TV reboot of the Star Trek series, came with her husband Kenric, who also has a role in The Walking Dead.

They were excited to be in “such a spiritual land, where [so many] of the worlds’ beliefs reside.”

For Kenric and Sonequa, touching the rock of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, was their most “impactful moment,” but the couple also raved about their experience seeing doctors in action at Rambam Hospital in Haifa and being baptized in the Jordan River.

Acknowledging that the people they met along the way were just as impressive as the historic and religious sites they saw, Sonequa said, “All the people that we’ve met from all the different walks of life here, they’ve all said something that we can carry with us.”

And what was her advice for friends and family interested in visiting Israel? “Run, don’t walk.”

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