Thousands and thousands of screaming fans, including an exceptionally large number of nostalgic mothers, attended the three sold-out Backstreet Boys concerts held in Ra’anana two weeks ago. Peppering their performances with “We love you, Israel!” and adjusting the lyrics of their hit song to “I want it Israel’s way,” the five members of the popular ’90s boy band also took the time to tour the country, happily sharing some of their experiences with their adoring fans.But while Nick Carter, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean, Kevin Richardson and Howie Dorough took center-stage during their performances, a young blond woman by the name of Traci Szymanski was the person working behind the scenes to ensure their Israel visit was a success.Szymanski, who works in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, first visited Israel when she was 24, on a Taglit-Birthright trip. Her family on her mother’s side is Jewish, while her father’s side is Catholic. “My first trip to Israel in 2003 made a strong impact on me. Soon after I returned to the US, I felt a very strong connection to Israel on a spiritual, social and cultural level,” she told the Magazine in an exclusive interview.
“I had an amazing tour guide on my first trip to Israel, and I chose to have her again as a tour guide for the Backstreet Boys on this trip 12 years later.”Szymanski’s career in the US has always involved working with celebrities, both as an agent and producer and in the realm of public relations. She says that a substantial percentage of what she does is to work especially with celebrities who want to make a positive difference in the world.“Celebrities can continue to get rich or more famous, but it’s the ones who want to give back to the world who make a mark on it. It became a very natural path for me to merge my worlds of celebrities, entertainment and Israel together,” she revealed.Other personalities that the Hollywood executive has been involved in bringing to Israel include Paula Abdul, the cast of CSI and Verne Troyer, as well as Madonna, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher through the Kabbalah Center.“I’ve always believed it is important for celebrities and people with the power of influence to see things for themselves. Education is so essential for us to create a better world, and celebrities can be a great tool for sharing a message.”“When I returned to the US from my first trip to Israel, it hurt me to see all the misconceptions about Israel in the media and what is said by people who are not educated enough to speak. That’s why it became so crucial for me to encourage people to visit and see the country for themselves,” Szymanski explained.“What you rarely see in the media is how Israel contributes to the world in a positive way. As the only democracy in the Middle East, there are many who don’t know about Israel’s work in emergency response for devastated countries, its progress in medicine, technology and promoting human rights while welcoming tourists with open arms.“The negative social media, propaganda and poor media reporting has had an influence on people. Ultimately, this only creates more negativity in our world that really needs more good in it. I don’t want people to accept what they hear from these sources.”Szymanski believes that celebrities who are not educated about Israel and do not know have personal experience with it should not make pronouncements about the Jewish state. “Celebrities and high-profile people must speak and act responsibly, and they need to understand how their messages reach people and what effect they can have. If they are going to create more negativity, they shouldn’t be speaking.”Referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement’s campaign to stop international musical artists from performing in Israel, Szymanski says that music and the arts must encourage unity and be used for positive experiences.“The BDS Movement attempts to silence the arts and creates more negativity and conflict. I wish people could see this is not a good direction for anyone,” she emphasized. “Music can be used to bring people together and help create a better future.”She cites iconic American music artist Alicia Keys, who responding to BDS pressure against her performance in Israel, declared, “Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show.”Others like Lady Gaga, who performed in Israel for her second time in September 2014 following the summer war, stated, “Tel Aviv was magnificent. The world view of Israel is just not reality. It’s in a beautiful place; the people are in good spirits. I had a very emotional show with those fans – it was wonderful.”And progressive rock music pioneer Alan Parsons, in responding to demands by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters that Parsons reconsider his Tel Aviv performance in February, told another organization that Szymanski is involved with, Creative Community for Peace, that “Music knows no borders, and neither do I. [The] language of music has nothing to do with the language of politics. I have no aspirations towards political statements, contrary to what certain musicians do.”As for the Backstreet Boys, Szymanski has been good friends with members of the group for many years. “I’ve been close friends with some of the guys in the Backstreet Boys group since 1998. After I first visited Israel, I began talking to them about it. I actually started talking to everyone about it! “I began encouraging all the artists and celebrities I know to go visit.”According to Szymanski, the Backstreet Boys have long wanted to visit Israel, but the timing had always been off. Even this visit was paved with previous challenges, as the group was forced to cancel its original summer show in 2014 due to Operation Protective Edge. “They promised they would reschedule when it was possible, and I knew they would,” said Szymanski.Upon arriving in Israel from a concert tour in Australia, Szymanski created an itinerary for them, giving the band a taste of Israel within the short time they had. “With three sold-out shows, it was not easy to show them the entire country!” The Backstreet Boys ended up touring Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the Dead Sea, the Galilee and Lake Kinneret. “I could see the guys were really engaged while sightseeing; they truly wanted to learn about the country. From a historical, spiritual and social perspective, they each were impacted in a different way,” Szymanski enthused.“Take a look at their posts on Twitter and you will see that each of them made a genuine connection with the county.”Indeed, during one concert, Backstreet Boys singer McLean gave Szymanski a shout-out, thanking her for making the band’s first trip to Israel “unforgettable” and for the “mind-changing experiences and warm welcome.”And in a statement emailed to the Magazine, Backstreet’s Dorough wrote that “we truly had the most amazing, spiritual, enlightening trips of our lives visiting Israel. We can’t wait to come back again soon to visit this beautiful Holy Land. Thanks again to Traci for making this such a special experience for all of us.”Other contributions to Israel Szymanski has made include her involvement with the Friends of the IDF gala dinner last November. Working with billionaire media mogul Haim Saban, they were able to bring in dozens of celebrities, magnates and high-profile figures, including Oracle’s Larry Ellison; philanthropists Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, and Michael and Susan Dell; brothers Maurice and Paul Marciano of Guess Jeans; Steve Tisch, famed producer and chairman of the New York Giants; singer Ricky Martin; composer/songwriter David Foster; the Canadian Tenors; “governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger; diva Barbra Streisand; actors Sylvester Stallone and Chris Tucker; actresses Pamela Anderson and Joanna Krupa; model and entrepreneur Kathy Ireland; and professional basketball player Jordan Farmar. Over $33 million was raised for the FIDF, including a $150,000 donation from superstar TV talent judge Simon Cowell.Szymanski is also involved with Creative Community for Peace, an organization representing members of the entertainment industry devoted to promoting the arts as a means to peace and to countering the cultural boycott of Israel.Reflecting on her success in her pro-Israel initiatives and projects, Szymanski says that people of all races, religions and backgrounds can relate to her. “I am heavily involved in pop culture, and not the picture of what people label as stereotypically Jewish. I traveled to Israel over 25 times, saw the country for myself with a completely blank slate and then was able to share my own experiences.“I will continue doing these trips in the future as long as I have the right partners in Israel to do them with,” she vowed. “Whether it is bringing celebrities out for shows, ad campaigns or just to visit, it’s important to continue.”