Israel Matters! – October 2023

Sabra Celebs!

Too frequently, what the world sees, hears, and thinks about Israel is negative (frequently with a not-so-accurate and anti-Israel slant). But on the other end of the public opinion continuum, Israel has a number of internationally-known “celebs” (a “celeb” or “סלב” in Hebrew is just what you might expect – a celebrity), who routinely shine a bright spotlight on the country. Israel Matters is proud to devote this month’s issue to highlighting a few of these famous folks of Israeli descent who, through their exemplary work, bring a positive feeling about the State of Israel to many around the world.

Let’s begin with our very own Natalie Portman. We say “very own” because Portman used to live in the New Haven area and even attended Ezra Academy!!!

(FWIW, Natalie’s dad was a Yale doctor who treated at least a few members of TBS!)  Portman was born in Jerusalem as “נטע-לי הרשלג” (Natalie Hershlag) – with her parents changing her last name to that of her paternal grandmother’s in order to protect her privacy as a child actor.  This talented actor has appeared on Broadway in several productions, including as Anne Frank in the Diary of Anne Frank. But Portman is perhaps best known for her roles in blockbuster movie hits. Her break-through to international fame was in the role of Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars movies – the first of which was released while she was in her senior year of high school! Her versatility as an actress is demonstrated by the huge range of roles she’s played, in movies like Black Swan, Thor, Zoolander, Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, and Jackie. and working with stars like Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts. Portman has been nominated for and won Golden Globe and other acting awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actress (Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role).  Maybe even cooler… Natalie has hosted Saturday Night Live! Not only is Natalie talented and beautiful, she’s smart.  Her senior paper in high school was “A Simple Method to Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar.” (We have no idea what that even means.) After high school, Natalie attended Harvard University, studied advanced Hebrew Literature and Neurobiology, and served as research assistant to Alan Dershowitz. Portman has also done her part in “tikun olam” (repairing the world). Natalie supports animal rights, anti-poverty causes, environmental charities, women’s rights and education of children and women (particularly in third world countries). She’s also used her notoriety to publicly stand up to “anti-Israel” boycotts and bigotry on college campuses and in the media.

If you’ve flown on El Al in the past five years, you’ve seen the brilliant (and fun!) safety video shown before the flight – starring Lior Suchard. Born in Haifa, Suchard is a self-proclaimed “mentalist” (sort of a combination between a mind reader and a magician). Suchard’s performances are not just entertaining, but truly mind boggling! (This writer had the opportunity to be a participant in one of his shows in Eilat – and was truly in disbelief at what happened!) In 2007, internationally celebrated psychic Uri Geller (also Israeli!) declared the then 25-year-old Suchard as his official successor – which brought him instant attention.  What exactly is a mentalist? That’s hard to explain – but in his performances, Suchard will tell you things that only you could know, write things down and show the audience things that you are about to say but haven’t uttered yet, and read the audiences’ minds in many other completely impossible demonstrations. You really have to see him in action to believe it!

Suchard has performed on television shows and in special appearances throughout the world for celebrities, royalty and others with sufficient resources to book this phenomenal entertainer. In the United States, television spots include performances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The View, Good Morning America, The Late Late Show with James Corden, Dr. Phil and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Google calls Suchard “The most successful, recognized, and best mentalist in the world today.” Check out videos of a few of his appearances on YouTube – and don’t ever miss an opportunity to attend one of his shows if you have the chance. You will be totally mystified by what you see (or don’t)!

Probably the first opportunity the world had to be introduced to Gal Gadot was about 20 years ago, when she was crowned “Miss Israel 2004” and represented Israel in the Miss Universe 2004 pageant in Ecuador. Gadot served in the Israeli military as a combat fitness instructor, and Gadot believes this military experience probably helped her get several of the tough, strong woman roles she played in movies. Speaking of movies, Gadot has been in dozens of hits and they just keep-on-coming. Although she began acting in Israeli movies, Gadot was introduced to American movie-goers in 2009’s Fast & Furious movie as “Gisele,” and appeared in that same role in several other movies in the franchise.  Of course, most of us really fell in love with Gal Gadot as the superhero Wonder Woman – kind, innocent, beautiful and inhumanly smart and strong. The movie Wonder Woman was the top-grossing movie of the year. Gadot has continued this superhero role in the sequel and also many of the Marvel Comics spin-offs. In 2022, she co-starred with a list of celebrities in the whodunit movie “Death on the Nile,” So what’s next? Watch for Gadot in the soon-to-be-released “Evil Queen” in a live action adaptation of the 1937 Disney animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” She’ll also star in a remake of Alfred’ Hitchcock’s 1955 film, “To Catch a Thief.” (So much for the superhero image!)  Gadot has kept her place on the list of “10 highest paid actresses in the world” for the past 5 years, currently holding the #6 spot. In addition to acting, Gadot face has been featured on many magazine covers, including Glamour, Entertainment Weekly, and Cosmopolitan magazines and also the New York Post. She became “the face” for several companies, including Gucci Fragrances. 

Gadot has frequently shown her love and support of Israel. During the 2014 Gaza War, Gadot posted on Facebook a picture of herself and her daughter praying in front of Shabbat candles in support of the IDF, accompanied by a comment that quickly accumulated over 200,000 likes as well as more than 15,000 comments of both support and criticism:

“I am sending my love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens. Especially to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas who are hiding like cowards behind women and children … We shall overcome!!!”

During the 2021 Israel-Palestine crisis, Gadot called for peace in a statement that drew backlash for expressing support for Israel and referring to the Palestinians as her “neighbors” instead of calling them by name. In June 2023, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced that Gadot would receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, class 2024, making her the first person of Israeli descent to receive the honor.

There is perhaps no violinist more famous today than Itzhak Perlman. Perhaps you remember the Ed Sullivan show – or have seen recordings of this iconic show on YouTube.  If yes, you might have seen a 1958 performance of a 12-year-old boy playing his violin. That performance was the world’s introduction to the Israeli-born, violin-playing phenomenon Itzhak Perlman. He appeared several times on the show (once on the same show as the Rolling Stones!), and each time, the live and television audiences were smitten by him, especially while watching his fingers fly during his performance of Flight of the Bumblebee. The child of parents who had emigrated from Poland in the 1930s, Perlman was born in Tel Aviv. He first fell in love with the violin and classical music as a toddler after hearing it on the radio, but at age 3, Perlman was denied entry to a music school for young children because he was thought to be too small to hold the violin. So, he taught himself to play, using a toy fiddle. A few years later, he was admitted to Israel’s Shulamit Conservatory where he began formal training.  At 13, he moved to the United States to study at the Julliard School of Music. Still in his teens, Perlman was sponsored by the Zionist Organization of America to perform in cities throughout the US and Canada. This tour really made Perlman a highly sought after virtuoso, and he was invited to be a soloist with orchestras like the London Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic, and then as a soloist worldwide in the years that followed.  Perlman has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the White House on numerous occasions, for Queen Elizabeth II, and on television in many specials and even on Sesame Street and in the Movie Fantasia 2000! It’s hard to name a famous venue anywhere in the world where Perlman hasn’t performed. In addition to playing the violin, Perlman teaches others his craft, and has a faculty post at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College and Juliard School of Music. in the early 2000s Perlman began conducting, and has served as guest conductor to many orchestras. Perlman has been honored with over a dozen Grammy Awards including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, medals from Presidents Reagan (Medal of Liberty), Clinton (National Medal of the Arts) and Obama (Presidential Medal of Freedom), and hundreds of other awards in Israel and from other countries around the world. For many years, Perlman has played the Soil Stradivarius violin of 1714, considered to be one of the finest violins ever made. As of this writing, Perlman is 85 years old and currently on tour throughout the US. If you are lucky to snag some tickets, you can catch him at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford on March 16, 2024!