Mad about Israel

Actor and writer Paul Reiser has finally made it back here after 25 years.

Paul Reiser 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Paul Reiser 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's the voice that gets you first. His hit TV series, Mad About You, may have wound down some 10 years ago, but the moment you hear Paul Reiser's familiar, gently ironic voice, you're waiting for a punch line. And Reiser is quick to oblige. Even when he's making a serious point, there's a joke hovering somewhere in the background about to be made. Reiser first came to Israel 25 years ago, to visit his then-girlfriend, Paula Ravets (now his wife), who was studying for six months at Tel Aviv University. They swore to visit often, but it was only this April that he and Paula finally came back. As Reiser discovered, 26 years have made a big difference to Israel. "It's looking better than I do," quips the 52-year-old. "It looks better, it looks younger, snappier. I look a little tired." Reiser came to Israel on a family visit, with his two boys, Leon (eight) and Ezra (13). With family scattered all over the country, they went touring - from Haifa to the Dead Sea, Masada and Jerusalem. "It's amazing. It's like no other place," Reiser says. "When we told friends we were coming here, numerous telephone numbers were shoved in our hands - relatives, friends, friends of friends. We have billions of cousins here, but everyone told us we just had to meet their friends and relatives." Reiser, an actor and writer, began his career as a stand-up comedian. His first breakthrough into movies came in the classic 1982 movie Diner. He went on to star in a number of films including Bye, Bye Love, The Marrying Man, Aliens and Beverly Hills Cop I and II. Reiser is best remembered, however, for his role as Paul Buchman in the comedy series, Mad about You, with costar Helen Hunt as his wife. The popular seven-year NBC series, which Reiser helped create, write and produce, was critically acclaimed and won many awards. By the final season in 1999, Hunt and Reiser were making $1 million per episode. In the wake of this, Reiser starred in a few films, including My Beautiful Son, One Night at McCool's and Women vs. Men, but he preferred to take a lower visual profile, focusing on writing and producing instead. He set up his own production studio, Nuance Productions, named after a speech his character gives in Diner. He has also written two books, Couplehood, which sold over two million copies and reached the No. 1 spot on The New York Times best-seller list, and Babyhood, the follow-up, which describes his experiences being a first-time father, which also made The New York Times best-seller list. REISER, WHO was born and raised in New York but now lives in Los Angeles, admits that his real joy in the past 13 years has been being a father, and spending time at home with his boys. "I've been taking it easy in the last few years, staying home, being with the kids," he explains. The trip to Israel is the first trip abroad Reiser and his family have made in some time. "I haven't traveled in a while, and getting out into the world was kind of invigorating," he says. "There's something about Israel that opens your eyes. Seeing the vibrancy of the community and realizing what a lot is going on." Before he left LA, Israeli friends told him that the Israel he sees on the news is nothing like the real Israel, and he admits this is true. "I'm interested in human stories and the human side," he explained to ISRAEL21c. "My brain doesn't understand the big stuff, but I understand people one on one. When you're in the comfort of your home and you read about Israel - this explosion, that bomb - you get a picture in your head. But there's much more to it than that. "People have misconceptions about Israel. If you just read the headlines, it looks like constant crisis, but when you are here, you get a different feeling," says Reiser. "The threats are real, but you don't see it. Instead, you see a thriving, active world where people are getting on with their lives, taking their kids to school, and going to work," he says. "There's such a wealth of humanity that isn't reflected in the headlines. It's an infinitely positive experience." During his visit he was able to meet Israeli comedians and writers, and also chat to young Palestinians and Jews involved in coexistence projects through the organization OneVoice. "I'm friends with the founder, and we've been talking on a number of occasions about coming out to Israel and doing something, so he arranged the meeting," says Reiser, who is a member of the OneVoice Entertainment Council. "It was great just to get the chance to talk to these kids and to see what creative and courageous steps people are making to bring both sides together. No one is aware that there are people with really different stories, wishes and dreams," says Reiser. THE TRIP to Israel also proved enjoyable for his children. "They're eating it up," says Reiser, whose trip coincided with Pessah. "It amazes me how they can hit the ground running. It was a great opportunity for them to meet their extended family, and for the next generation to get to know each other. It's hard traveling with kids, you move at a different pace and it takes a long time to do things, but it's more fun." During the vacation, his family also visited the start-up Argo Medical Technologies. First featured in ISRAEL21c in the summer of last year, the article shot the company to worldwide attention. Since the item appeared in July, Argo has been filmed by 12 TV networks around the world, including CNN. It has also featured in dozens of newspapers, from The Washington Post to The Teheran Times. "A friend showed me the article and it looked like such a cool technology," admits Reiser. With his visit to Israel already planned, he decided to meet the Haifa-based company during his trip. ISRAEL21c provided the contacts and a visit was arranged. He was impressed by what he saw. Argo has designed a quasi-robotic ambulation system that enables wheelchair users to stand and walk upright. The device was developed by Dr. Amit Goffer, an electrical engineer who was paralyzed in an auto accident. He developed the prototype at home, and then set up the company to take it commercial. "It looks like some cool Robocop mechanism," says Reiser. "It's a tremendous innovation and a remarkable piece of technology. It's amazing to see such a cool innovation with fabulous commercial potential coming out of this tiny little office with just a handful of guys. "There's obviously something brewing in Israel," he adds. "There's so much innovation taking place in the country, in so many different areas and there's a very active hi-tech community. There are obviously a lot of very clever people here." Today, Reiser continues to produce pilots and write occasional screenplays. He also blogs from time to time on politics in The Huffington Post. "I'm having a lot of fun," he says, adding that he has no present plans to return to acting. "I'm taking it kind of slow and enjoying it," he says. He is now working on a new pilot, not yet named, which he believes has good potential. "I've just started it, but I think it will do well. I've got to do some work now. It's time my kids saw me go out to work. They're like 'Dad, aren't you ever going to go to work?'" So will he set one of his screenplays or pilots in Israel? "Maybe I'll do a special episode in Israel," he says. "I'll keep it in mind." And what about a new book - on "teenage-hood" perhaps? "It's all so interesting and funny to raise kids," replies Reiser. "It's so rich. You look at your kids and everything you do seems more interesting with them than it would be without them. "I have been jotting down some things in case," he admits. "I'll see if it comes together as a book. If the worse comes to the worst, I'll give it to my friends as a napkin." Next time, Reiser hopes he'll make it back to Israel sooner rather than later. "It's been an exciting trip and we'd love to come back," he says. "I haven't got too many more 25 years left in me."