The mentalist

Lior Suchard was No. 28 on ‘People Magazine’s 2010 list of the Sexiest Men Alive, and can read your mind perfectly, 98% of the time.

lior suchard_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
lior suchard_521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Lior Suchard doesn’t need to pay a penny for your thoughts – he can take them for free. I’m sitting across from the charismatic, 28- year-old, self-professed “supernatural entertainer” in a Jerusalem eatery, and he’s eager to give a little demonstration – a taste of the talent that in 2007 won him the reality-show title of heir apparent to longtime kinetic king Uri Geller and has since propelled him into an international attraction with appearances on The Jay Leno Show, stints in Las Vegas, corporate trade shows, being named one of People magazine’s “sexiest men alive” and generating general astonishment from all those who’ve witnessed his performances.
He takes an index card and pencil out of the black jacket which he stylishly wears over a T-shirt, and begins scribbling something on it.
“This is going to be the beginning of your article,” he smiles in his gentle voice as he finishes writing, puts the index card on the table and sticks his hand out with the pencil. “Hold this pencil and look into my eyes, think of a two-digit number and tell it to me.”
A few numbers rattle in my mind – 24, another fuzzy combination beginning with 2 – until after a couple seconds, I blurt out my answer, “46.”
Suchard picks up the index card and hands it to me. I look at the printed words in a rudimentary English scrawl and read them aloud. “David will say 46.” I lean back and attempt to let it sink in, while next to me, Suchard’s father, Eddi, is tackling the remains of a grilled chicken breast, long immune to the wonder of witnessing the startling feat it seemed like his son had just performed.
“How does this make you feel?” asks Suchard.
“A little freaky to be honest,” I answer. “I was actually thinking of a different number at first...”
“But you changed your mind,” he interrupts.
“That was me changing your mind. That’s what I do.”
WHETHER WHAT Suchard does is actually enter people’s minds or instead just engage in the long-honored entertainment tradition of illusion and trickery is part of the debate that’s been going on since Israeli mind master pioneer Uri Geller’s ascent to spoon-bending stardom in the 1970s.
While everyone can enjoy the magician sawing the lady in half with the full realization that what you’re seeing is not what you’re getting, the field of mentalism is far shadier. Whether you believe that someone picking the correct number you were thinking or flipping over a pair of eyeglasses without touching them (which Suchard also did to me) is simply sleight of hand and mind or the true manifestation of a supernatural skill is kind of... well, tricky.
It depends on how you feel about supernatural experiences, and it seems that today, even more than in Geller’s heyday, there’s a growing mass acceptance that something else may exist beside the everyday consciousness we experience.
The new Clint Eastwood film The Hereafter deals with near-death experiences, and its main character, played by Matt Damon, has the ability to communicate with the dead. The issue of whether he can speak with the beyond is never an factor – it’s a given that the viewer needs to internalize to accept the engrossing plot, an element that a couple of decades ago would have caused the film to be filed under the science fiction category.
Suchard doesn’t claim to possess such otherworldly talent, but he does profess the ability to read minds, influence thoughts, make predictions and perform telekinesis. Among his regular routines, beside the number crunching, are being able to guess the names of audience members’ first childhood love, moving or bending objects without touching them and transferring feeling from one person to another (taking a couple, placing them on opposite sides of the stage, tapping one’s head and the other – alone and with eyes closed – feeling the touch).
They’re skills Suchard’s realized he possessed of in some form or other since he was six. Growing up in Haifa as a welladjusted child but suffering from attention deficit disorder, he discovered that he was equipped with certain abilities that other kids – or adults – lacked.
“I started to understand even then that I have a very sensitive intuition about things. I could tell when people were lying. And I could always tell in which hand my two older brothers were hiding an object,” says Suchard. “I used them as guinea pigs and started to develop it more, and I realized I could do more things with it.”
Suchard’s parents accepted their son’s distinctive after-school activities and, while encouraging him, were more puzzled than worried.
“I knew he was a curious kid, he was interested in every little thing, and got involved with so many things that someone his age wasn’t doing, like magic and technology,” says Eddi.
“Looking back I sometimes got angry at him for taking something apart to see how it worked, but I just didn’t understand him. But now I see him in a totally different light.”
Suchard credited his parents with allowing him to follow his dreams, even if like Superman’s adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent, they were wary of the supernatural powers he seemed to possess.
“They always told me to do what my heart was telling me to do, which was very encouraging. They were totally supportive, and maybe only a little scared when I started moving objects without touching them,” he says with a chuckle.
By the time he reached high school, Suchard was already a something of a local celebrity due to his mental feats, and even worked out a deal with his math teacher to avoid disruptions in class.
“He told me that I could perform five or six minutes at the end of every class as long as it was something pertaining to math,” he said. “So I would write something on a piece of paper and then ask the teacher to write any exercise on the board. No matter what answer or formula he came up with, I had written the answer beforehand.”
In between classes he would entertain classmates in the halls or outside, and he told friends if they were looking for him, they just needed to find the gathering of people looking at something, and he’d be in the middle – the point of attraction.
That led to his first performances when he was only 14. Gaining experience as a performer, Suchard took a detour during his IDF service in the air force which he called “an amazing experience,” but upon discharge in 2002, he launched his career in earnest.
His big break came in 2007, when Geller launched the reality show The Successor to ostensibly choose his next in line among nine Israeli competitors.
“I was performing in Stockholm and got a phone call asking me to compete in the show. I wasn’t famous in Israel, but my name had started to get around due to the corporate shows I was doing, so I thought it would be a good opportunity,” says Suchard, who discovered that he was right.
“It was a really amazing experience, because all the other competitors were my friends. In every reality competition, there are usually fights and anger between the competitors, but there is a very small gang of mentalists in Israel and we’re all friends. We meet often to talk about new ideas and techniques.”
Suchard emerged victorious in the 12-week competition, and then went on to win the follow-up show in Germany to crown the best mentalist in the world. Suchard left a lasting impression on Geller, who took the job of anointing his would-be successor seriously.
“I preferred to have my producers choose the contestants so my impressions of them would be equal at the beginning of the competition, wondering if they could create an act that could blow my mind, and had more charisma, character and personality than the others,” said Geller from his home in England.
“Lior had it all – he was charming, young, good looking, had a unique talent. I sought a great performer who would deeply impress me, and I found Lior Suchard. I think he’s going to climb up the ladder.”
SUCHARD HAS managed to ascend that ladder of success without missing any rungs yet, building on the exposure afforded by the Geller show to forge a hectic career performing here and worldwide at corporate events for the likes of Hewlett Packard and Microsoft, private parties given by Alisters like Jerry Seinfeld and Leonardo DiCaprio, international trade shows, Las Vegas engagements opening up for Joan Rivers and the aforementioned Leno TV appearance.
He wins over his audience with a show combining not only his extraordinary telepathy, mentalism and extrasensory capabilities, but a lighthearted, comedic approach full of self-deprecation, a dose of Israeli bravado and dollops of good, old-fashioned charm.
“I was the first Israeli to appear on Jay Leno [in July 2010],” says Suchard, not afraid to toot his own horn. “He’s a very skeptical, cynical guy and I read his mind. He was freaking out.
“Zac Efron was on the show and I told him the name of his first girlfriend when he was eight years old. They were amazed. As a result of that, I got a five-week run at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas.”
Even a great baseball player only gets a hit about once every three times at the plate, and Suchard’s skills have occasionally backfired. However, he’s always used it to his advantage, and it endears an audience to him even more than if he was always right.
“It’s okay to be wrong, nobody’s right 100 percent of the time. And because of the comedic undertone of the show, I know how to handle those situations and turn them into funny moments poking fun at myself,” says Suchard.
“I’ll say something like, ‘Ah, Uri would have done it better than this,’ or if I’m asking an audience member to think of someone from his past and I ask if she had blonde hair and he says no, I’ll respond, ‘Okay, she probably dyed her hair blonde since you last saw her.’ But, I don’t have to do that often. I’m right 98% of the time.”
Sometimes, Suchard’s self-confidence comes in handy, as when he performed in Geneva last year for an audience of Swatch retailers, including Dubai citizens, right after the alleged Mossad assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al- Mabhouh in Dubai using forged passports.
“At the beginning of my shows, I always say that I’m from Israel and what a beautiful country it is and everyone should come and visit,” said Suchard. “There were three audience members from Dubai who stood up in anger and started to leave, and I called out, ‘Excuse me, people usually leave at the end of the show.’ The audience started laughing, but they angrily said they were leaving because I was from Israel. I asked one of the Dubai people before he left to pick a number between one and 1,000, and of course he picked the number I had already written down. They started laughing, sat down and watched the rest of the show. A half hour later, we were sitting in the bar with whiskey and cigars and talking about Dubai. And today, we’re still in touch.”
Back home, Suchard’s star is rising too, with companies like Bezeq hiring him for conferences and trade shows, and steady demand for private engagements. And sometimes he performs just for fun.
When a family friend, Ra’anana resident Allison Kaplan Sommer, threw a bat mitzva bash for her daughter in December, invitee Suchard got up and performed for the gathering, which included celebrities like Idan Raichel and Yael Bar- Zohar.
“Everyone was stunned,” said Kaplan Sommer. “There were a lot of lawyers, professors and highbrows in the audience, and after he read someone’s mind, he invited up someone else who was very skeptical. He said, ‘I love skeptics!’ and proceeded to do the same thing to him. There were also two very pregnant women there – including Yael Bar-Zohar – and in both cases he guessed the names they had decided to name the baby.”
With water-cooler-worthy moves like that, it didn’t take long for the buzz about Suchard’s skills to reach the corporate world, and companies as diverse as Deutsche Bank, Coca-Cola and Bank Leumi have been banging down his door to hire him for events and promotions. Rather than spurn the work as a “sellout” in favor of the “purer” art form of non-sponsored performances, Suchard has embraced the corporate world with a levitated bear hug.
“I take the concept of infotainment to the next level,” he said. “Now, it’s basically my bread and butter. I build each show from scratch and sit with the company’s marketing team, sometimes for weeks, coming up with a theme. For HP in Belgium, I used its printers to print out the names and numbers, and for BMW I drove a car blindfolded to transmit the message that you can rely on its cars.”
But for every mind read, baby name guessed or car driven blindfolded, there are just as many skeptics and debunkers on the horizon offering plausible explanations – collaborators on the inside feeding information, a Google search to find the name of that first love, plants in the audience – anything beside the scary notion that someone can actually get inside your mind.
Geller endured a long line of debunkers following his every move and obsessing about him throughout his career. While Suchard hasn’t picked up any serial anti-fans yet, in the academic world there is not much support for his line of work.
Psychology experts like Hebrew University professor Shlomo Bentin are not convinced that the feats Suchard and his colleagues purport to perform are not just illusions or prehatched schemes.
“I can tell you that many studies have been done at different universities in the world, including Tel Aviv University, and all the actions that people like Uri Geller claimed to do were found to be a fraud,” said Bentin, who said he wasn’t familiar with Suchard’s act.
“They’re nothing more than regular performers, magicians who play with the attention of the audience and create an illusion. Everything they do can be done by magicians who know how to manipulate an audience.”
Geller said he primed his protégé to brace for criticism and the inevitable backlash that would arise questioning his authenticity and to use it to his advantage.
“All the skeptics who tried to derail my career were my fulltime unpaid publicists, and I said to Lior that he should simply ignore those who attack him,” said Geller. “I always remind young people who encounter negativity to remember what Oscar Wilde said a hundred years ago: ‘There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.’”
PEOPLE ARE certainly talking about Suchard these days, between his supernatural feats and the pop culture status – like being included in People magazine’s 2010 list of the Sexiest Men Alive, coming in at No. 28, ahead of such beefcakes as David Beckham and Antonio Banderas.
Suchard admitted that he was a little embarrassed by the honor and said that such by-product notoriety was never his goal. Instead, he claimed to have loftier aims beyond the tsunami-sized fame and fortune that appear headed his way.
“In what I do, I’m trying to transfer the message of positive thinking to people to enable them to start believing in themselves and their gifts,” he said.
“There’s something there – some energy. In China, it’s chi, in Japan, it’s ki, and in Israel, it’s hai. I don’t know if it’s connected to religion or Kabbala. Everyone can have the experience of thinking about a song and it suddenly comes on the radio.
We see these little glimpses of the special powers people have all the time – the key is just about learning how to use it and believe in yourself. I believe that many people can do what I do if they truly want to – many things I do are just changing the way of thinking and using energy.”
Although he said he couldn’t provide details, Suchard acknowledged that he’s cooperated more than once when approached by security forces and police about helping to locate missing people.
He’s also been asked to help people stricken with illness, but conceded that he’s not a miracle worker.
“I can’t use my abilities to heal people, but I can heal people with my abilities,” he explained. “I can show them some amazing things, cause them to laugh, think positively and be under the influence of a placebo effect. Ask soldiers in the hospital what happens after I visit – it’s amazing.”
Amazing is the world that continues to follow Suchard around as he performs his feats around the world, winning legions of believers and leaving others convinced he’s nothing more than a charlatan. Even those closest to him – like his father, Eddi – don’t want to get too deep inside his head.
“I’ve never asked him how he does what he does, I just enjoy it. And each time he surprises me with something new,” said the elder Suchard.
Ra’anana mother Kaplan Sommer, who experienced his act close up, is convinced Suchard is truly gifted.
“I don’t know if he can read minds, but he can definitely read faces. He’s reading something; the question is what?” she said.
Geller is also certain that he picked the right person to be his successor, but had one last word of advice for him. “He should keep using his natural charisma and personality, because those are things you cannot buy. Those are the real gifts and that’s what made Uri Geller – rather than my very narrow repertoire of bending spoons and keys and reading minds.”
And even resident skeptic Bentin from HU said he could understand why people would want to believe that Suchard is the real deal.
“It’s human nature that some people might be very excited by the existence of somebody with what they think is super powers, or whatever it’s called. There are so many people going to palm readers, coffee-grounds readers and different types of cards – those same people would definitely accept somebody with supernatural powers.”
Near the end of our time together, when Suchard flipped my eyeglasses without touching them by holding his hands a foot over them with my hands on top of his, I was duly impressed, but not to the extent of the earlier number guessing. I skeptically asked him, “Does your watch have a magnet?” “Of course not,” he said, holding it out for me. I inspected it, but who knows? I never worked at Swatch and wouldn’t be able to differentiate a magnet from a microchip.
Ultimately, maybe it doesn’t really matter how Suchard flipped my glasses or if he used some devious subterfuge to guess I was going to say 46 – unfathomable I think, because I’ve spent every day since trying to figure out a fathomable explanation besides the obvious elephant in the room of mind manipulation and haven’t come up with a plausible one yet.
Regardless of whether he has special gifts that most mortals don’t or if he just is able to fool 98% of the people 98% of the time, the upshot is that Lior Suchard is thrilling – planting seeds of possibility in almost everyone who witnesses his feats that humans do indeed hold inside them the potential for superhuman deeds.
He is able to fill cynical, jaded adults with feelings that some of them haven’t experienced since they were children and the circus or sword swallower came to – a sense of wonder and awe. In the end, that may be his greatest gift of all.
Little red Corvette
Even Lior Suchard’s apparent supernatural talents were of little use when his beloved sporty red Corvette was stolen outside his Tel Aviv home almost two years ago.
Suchard thought that the distinctive vehicle, one of the fringe benefits of his upwardly mobile career, was apparently gone forever. Then out of the blue, he received a phone call a few weeks later, allegedly from one of the thieves, offering an “arrangement” to return the car.
Thus began a nearly two-year adventure of negotiations over ransom terms that included police involvement, and last month finally led Suchard and his father, Eddi, to the Atarot industrial area outside Jerusalem to pick up his kidnapped child.
A few hours later, “after a lot of bureaucracy,” said Suchard, the car was back in its overjoyed owner’s possession, albeit in a bright yellow hue, instead of its original crimson.
Showing it off outside a Jerusalem eatery, Suchard didn’t disclose what he had to pay, but acknowledged that he didn’t regret it for a second.
“I just can’t wait to paint it red, though.”
– D.B.