July 14, 2005
Ambassador for a Year
Eytan Schwartz is the ambassador to Israel. He's not the real ambassador, of course, not this 31-year-old whose spiky black hair nestles hip aviator sunglasses, and whose purple oxford is untucked over trendy deep blue jeans with snaps and pockets in all the right places.
Sure, Israeli pundits have called him a "young Bibi" -- referring to Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who once served as Israel's foreign minister. But Schwartz is not that kind of Ambassador.
Schwartz is "The Ambassador" -- the winner of the mega-popular Israeli reality show of the same name in which 14 candidates competed last year, "Apprentice"-style, to become the representative for Israel on college campuses for one year, beginning in April. (He was in Los Angeles for a few days as part of his campus duties.) The show was sponsored by Israel at Heart, a four-year-old New York-based organization that brings Israeli students to American campuses to present a more personal, cultural and non-official picture of Israel.
Schwartz has been called "slick" and "smooth" by media and chat-room observers, but he doesn't mind, and he doesn't mind the comparisons to the right-wing Bibi either: "A lot of people in Israel are cynical, but the truth is, regardless what you think of Bibi's politics, when he's on Israeli TV, he's very, very effective."
Which is what the Israeli judges might have been looking for in a young Ambassador: Schwartz speaks perfect English and Hebrew -- his family moved from New York to Tel Aviv when he was 7 -- he was a child actor, he worked in Israel as an entertainment reporter and he attended to Columbia University in New York.
Now he returns to American college campuses, coordinating visits with Israeli students. This spring he traveled up the California coast with two women (Israel at Heart operates in groups of three) visiting colleges, religious groups and even high schools, to present a picture of daily life in Israel.
"The response is amazing because we aren't the government; we are not here to give you formal bullsh -- about history and that type of stuff. We are real people. We are allowed to disagree with the government and disagree within ourselves," he said leaning forward in his chair, hands gesticulating animatedly, barely pausing between thoughts.
"I learned on the show that if you go in the room talking about facts and figures and history, you lose the audience. But if you talk with emotion and humor about your personal life," he said, "it's going to haven an effect."