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group of eight Hollywood TV and film stars completed a week-long tour
of Israel Sunday as guests of the Tourism Ministry and the Public
Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry.
The star-studded group included Anna Lynne McCord (90210 , Nip & Tuck
), Omar Epps (House
), Paul Johansson (One Tree Hill
), Holly Robinson Peete (21 Jump St., Hanging With Mr. Cooper
), Mekhi Phifer (ER, Tuskegee Airmen
), Holt McCallany ( Lights Out
), Zach Roerig (Vampire Diaries
) and Paget Brewster (Criminal Minds
group of actors was led by Rabbi Irwin Katsof, the director of
America's Voices in Israel (AVI), which is part of the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Katsof described the
celebrity mission as part of an "on-going initiative to expose the
Hollywood community to a wide-range of thought-provoking cultural,
historical, religious and personal encounters throughout the Holy Land."
And while the participants pointed to many highlights, faith and spirituality played a starring role amongst the stars.
Holt McCanally told Travelujah
that he was baptised a Roman Catholic in Ireland but that issues
within the Catholic Church had caused him to view himself as an
"Being at the holy places has allowed me to
re-familiarize myself with my faith and it has opened certain questions
in my mind," he said. " It was a wonderfully transformative experience
for me," Holt McCannaly told Travelujah
. "I would encourage anyone who hasn't been to Israel to come here," he said.
Roerig commented, "We've been busy seeing this beautiful country. I'm
not walking away from Israel with a renewed sense of Christianity, I am
walking away with a renewed relationship with God." He thanked Israel
and said "I will forever be grateful to your country."
McCord is the daughter of a Christian pastor and she grew up reading the
Bible two hours each day. McCord was touched to see the sites of
told Travelujah that being on the Via Dolorosa was extremely powerful
but it wasn't until this morning, when she was alone in her own hotel
room, listening to "My Sacred King", by a band called Hillsong, that she
began to process the impact, and the tears just flowed.
lyrics talked about the scars in his hand and I was imagining Mary, his
mother, and today being Mother's Day... and thinking about her and how
she walked beside him. ....And I thought about myself. What if I was
there? What would I be thinking and doing?.... And then it just washed
over me. I realized he did all of this for me, for us."
Holly Robinson Peete, the highlight was visiting a family on the Golan
Heights and seeing first hand how Israelis deal with autism. "There is a
sense of compassion in Israel that doesn't exist in America," she said.
Omar Epps and Mekhi Phifer spending Friday night with the family of
Martin and Rivka Rappaport and their ten children in Jerusalem, and
seeing first hand how people are welcomed into homes of strangers for
the Shabbat meal created a strong emotional connection to the country
and both plan to come back and bring their own children with them to
"I was very privileged to be here for Shabbat. It was
nice to dance in a circle [at the Western Wall]. My kippa kept falling
off. I didn't expect that emotional connection at the Wall", said
McCallany commented on the disconnect between the
portrayal of Israel and the Middle East in American media and the
reality one encounters visiting here. "You only read about the conflicts
- with the Palestinians, with Iran, the uprising in Syria. But when you
come here and have a chance to meet Israeli people and experience their
vibrancy, it makes you an optimist," McCallany said.
Johansson was overwhelmed by his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust
Memorial in Jerusalem. "My experience was visceral. I never went to the
Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles where I live. I was afraid. Coming to
Yad Vashem I was floored."
stars traveled around the country, visiting an IDF base, Caesarea, the
Na'Lagaat Theater in Tel Aviv, Safed, the Galilee, Golan Heights, the
Dead Sea, and of course, Jerusalem. Along the way they participated in a
variety of "meet the people" experiences including Shabbat fellowship
at the home of Martin and Rivka Rapaport and their ten children in
Jerusalem, and meeting with a family in the Golan Heights where they
learned a bit about the unique ways in which Israel educates autistic
children. The group also spent time at a Meir Panim soup kitchen in
Tiberias, which operates as a bill-less restaurant.
actors had an opportunity to meet-up with some of Israel's best known
TV, movie and pop music stars, for many visiting Jaffa's Na Laga'at
Theater - the world's only stage company for deaf and blind actors - was
a unique highlight.
"We had the opportunity to experience our
art from a different perspective. Those actors have to work a million
times harder to express something," noted McCord. She added that after
seeing a performance at Na Laga'at, she is now hoping to establish a
theater for the deaf and blind in Southern California.
the Hollywood stars were "Twitter-ing" to their legions of fans about
their experiences in Israel, leading Public Diplomacy and Diaspora
Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein to remark "Israel has become a very sexy
destination. You're the best ambassadors for the State of Israel."Elisa Moed and Gil Zohar write for Travelujah,
the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy
Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy land tour and travel
experiences on Travelujah.