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Jewish Journal

Hollywood delegation explores Israeli politics, culture

by Michele Chabin

November 22, 2011 | 5:35 pm

Patricia Arquette

Patricia Arquette

A group of high-profile Hollywood professionals was in Israel last week to learn more about the complicated challenges Israel faces.

The delegation met with Israeli and Palestinian policymakers and counterparts in the arts, business and cultural spheres.

A delegation from The Creative Coalition — a Los-Angeles-based organization that seeks to inform and engage members of the entertainment industry — included well-known actors, producers, directors and television, studio and publishing executives.

The visit was coordinated in conjunction with the American Israel Education Foundation, an independent, nonprofit charitable foundation affiliated with AIPAC.  

Patricia Arquette, Matthew Modine, Alfre Woodard, Griffin Dunne, Joe Pantoliano, Rob Morrow and Stephen Baldwin were among the professionals who met with President Shimon Peres and representatives from the prime minister’s office (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not meet with the group because he was sitting shiva for his father-in-law).  

Robin Bronk, CEO of the Coalition, told The Journal that its mission “is to educate, motivate and activate” the entertainment industry “on issues of social importance,” and that Israel was chosen “because it is a country that supports the arts and the efficacy of the arts in spectacular ways.”

Bronk said the art program at Kirshorit, a kibbutz in the Galilee that is home to dozens of Israeli adults with special needs, is a case in point.

“Kishorit uses art as a tool for teaching and socializing. Here was a specific example of how the arts can teach,” Bronk said.

The trip also included a visit to Hadassah Medical Center, where they were briefed on the latest advances in stem cell research; Sderot where, just a couple of weeks ago, rockets were falling; and to an immigrant absorption center just outside Jerusalem.

Bronk, who is Jewish and has visited Israel “many times,” said that “many of our members had never visited Israel.” Roughly a quarter of the mission participants were Jewish.

One of them was Richard Schiff (“The West Wing,” “Ray,” “Solitary Man”). During a Tel Aviv press conference — the mission’s only interaction with the media — Schiff  called this, his first visit to Israel, “quite moving.”

“Everywhere we go here, I see there’s a mission that’s clearly related to the absolute necessity for security and survival that we forget about in the rest of the world. I’m grateful to witness it firsthand and bring those stories back to America,” Schiff said. Kaycee Stroh (“High School Musical”), said Israel was a lot calmer than anticipated, despite its security concerns.

“To the outside world, the ‘two-state issue’ makes you think that in the streets of Israel there would be conflict. I assumed people would spit on each other, and yet on the ground level I’m amazed at how respectful everyone is. I didn’t expect that.”

“This has been a remarkable learning experience,” said Andrea Bowen (“Desperate Housewives,” “Boston Public”). “I talked with friends and peers, and there’s a lack of knowledge about what it is really like over here.”

Bowen said she now feels a “responsibility” to go back and inform young Americans what Israel is like.

“I’m trying to be a sponge for information. I don’t want to leave,” she said.

Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad,” “Homicide: Life on the Streets”) said many in the group were “very intensely overwhelmed by this beautiful country and the tenacious, focused spirit of its people. I have never before seen people able to live in that kind of strange and difficult situation and call it normal, to move forward and teach their children how to love and not hate, and to remain hopeful there will be peace in this land.”

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