Cityfront: Magical Crossroads

US illusionist Elliot Zimet hopes to use his skills to help make some of the problems of at-risk youth disappear.

As the 16th president of the United States famously said - in a somewhat paraphrased format - you certainly can't fool all the kids all the time. That's a sentiment that Elliot Zimet shares fully and unconditionally. "I don't try to make believe what I do is real - it's entertainment. I'm lying to them on stage, but I'm not saying I'm making real miracles happen." Zimet has become one of the best-known illusionists in the US, following a hugely successful appearance on prime-time NBC show America's Got Talent in 2006. He wowed the judges and the studio audience with a dazzling display of definitively cool magic tricks in which he produced doves and a sizable multihued parrot as he strutted around the stage in black leathers. It was the essence of in-your-face bravura. Next week Zimet will be using his considerable energy and entertainment skills to raise funds for the Jerusalem-based Crossroads Center, an organization that helps at-risk English-speaking teens who live on the street, grappling with serious life issues or struggling with drug addiction. This is the fifth time the center has produced its annual fundraising Crossroads Comedy Magical Mystery Tour. The previous four featured only comedians. The show takes place at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center on Monday (5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.), following a show at Yad Lebanim in Ra'anana the previous day. Texas-born Caryn Green, founding director of the Crossroads Center, says the change of entertainment tack was designed to offer the youngsters in her care a new perspective on their own lives and their surroundings. "Illusionism is a form of escapism that can seem to make things disappear," she says. "It's like you're saying, 'Here's the way the world looks, but it can look different' - that is, if you want it to." Green certainly has her hands full during her long working hours. The center employs social workers, teachers, group facilitators and trained volunteers to address the problems of some 1,000 Anglo youngsters (aged 13 to 21) a year with social and other problems. "It's important to address these issues while they're still young," Green explains. "The younger they are, the more chance there is of helping them make a change in their lives." This week, Zimet will be doing his best to inspire the youngsters to chart a more proactive course, as well as encouraging their parents and bringing in some very welcome cash to bolster the center's $230,000 annual budget. "I'm hoping to show my audiences in Israel that you can be creative in dealing with your issues. It's not a matter of running away from your problems but helping the kids in a positive way and showing them there are outlets that are healthy rather than destructive," he says. Twentysomething Bronx born and bred Zimet certainly has the street cred to appeal to the youngsters, and he feels he offers something unique. "Magicians have been producing birds by the millions for years, but my style is different. I have a young urban style that I think the Crossroads kids will be able to relate to." Zimet says he also delighted, as a Jew, to make his first trip to Israel and says his cultural baggage may give him some added value in the entertainment field. "Magicians and shamans have been performing stuff for thousands of years in Jewish history, and the parting of the Red Sea was pretty impressive," he adds jokingly. "I express myself fully on stage, so being Jewish also comes into it." But the New Yorker didn't exactly have a smooth ride to the top. "When I was a kid there weren't that many outlets for creativity, and I think it is important for kids and young people to be able to express themselves and who they are in a positive way, without falling into bad habits."