Israel's 'fame drain'

Is the Jewish state losing its celebrities, or gaining new cultural ambassadors?

Actress Gal Gadot poses during a photocall to promote the movie "Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice" in Mexico City, Mexico, March 19, 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS/HENRY ROMERO)
Actress Gal Gadot poses during a photocall to promote the movie "Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice" in Mexico City, Mexico, March 19, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS/HENRY ROMERO)
Academics in Israel often lament the country's "brain drain" - the phenomenon of Israelis with advanced degrees migrating to Europe or North America to pursue their careers. The Israeli government has even launched programs designed to lure them back to the country, with incentives and job placement services.
But in recent years, another effect has been shaping up - not the brain drain, but the "fame drain." After finding success locally, celebrities are increasingly setting out for Hollywood, leaving Israel's film industry behind for greener pastures.
The most recent example is comedian Guri Alfi, one of the most popular stand-up comics in the country, who transplanted his wife and four daughters to Los Angeles last month to pursue a writing and acting career.
Watching Alfi explore his new surroundings - through the aid of social media, of course - it is clear that the comedian has many like-minded friends in California. Within the first few weeks of his arrival in the United States, Alfi has hung out with Fauda's Lior Raz, singer and actress Ninet Tayeb, actor Mark Ivanir and actress and producer Noa Tishby.
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And it's not just actors looking to leave their mark on Hollywood. Directors Gideon Raff and Ariel Vromen have both put down roots in Los Angeles. Mentalists Uri Geller and Lior Suchard dart in and out of Israel so fast you'll think it's all an illusion.
And wildly popular Israeli musicians Omer Adam, and Static and Ben-El set up concert dates in North America this year. Adam was forced to cancel them over visa issues, while the pop duo Static and Ben-El followed up their US tour up by signing a huge deal with Capitol Records to produce seven English-language albums. The singers have said they want to stay in Israel, but would consider relocating to the US if work demands it.
Should Israel be celebrating its cultural ambassadors abroad, or lamenting their need to depart the country to live out their dreams?
"Everyone should live where they want to live, as long as they see Israel as their main home," said Rani Rahav, publicist to the stars and a former judge on the Hakochav Haba reality competition show. "Gal Gadot sees Israel as her home, and therefore it's so important to Israel - she is the most exemplary ambassador for the country in the whole universe." 
Gadot, of course, is the shining example of Israelis making it abroad, achieving a celebrity never before dreamed of by a native of the Jewish state. Easily the most famous Israeli in the world, Gadot spends the majority of her time in Los Angeles - where she also gave birth to her second daughter, Maya, last year. The actress was most recently in Israel in March, when she celebrated Passover with her family. But Israelis feel nothing but pride - not abandonment - at her superstardom.
"It's amazing that artists are developing careers abroad," said publicist Ofer Menachem, who represents singers like Omer Adam and Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai. "They all do it in parallel to careers in Israel, and there's no reason not to. Worldwide success is a point of pride for every artist."
There's no doubt that Gadot - who spoke Hebrew on Saturday Night Live and brought Israeli chocolate to TV host Jimmy Fallon - has hometown pride. And while she may not always find time to visit, Gadot's presence on the global stage brings no small amount of honor to the State of Israel.
While she may be the most famous Israeli in Hollywood, she is far from the first. Many decades ago, Israel loaned Tel Aviv native Chaim Topol to the world, where he delighted thousands on stage and millions on film as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Topol won multiple Golden Globes, and was nominated for an Academy Award. But Topol, now 83, lives comfortably in Tel Aviv, having retired not too long ago from the stage and screen. 
Like supermodel Bar Refaeli, so many famous Israeli faces still choose to keep their home base in Israel, even with frequent international travel. And the Jewish state is still brimming with artists of all stripes who maintain Israel's vibrant and exceptional cultural scene.