Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

The Birthright Inspired Jewish Hollywood Executive Who Brought the Cast of CSI to Israel

June 6, 2012 5:17 pm 2 comments

The CSI Cast posing for photos in Jerusalem. Photo: Amotz Eyal, Tazpit News Agency.

Nine years ago, Traci Szymanski participated in a Birthright Israel (Taglit) trip that would forever change her perspective on the Jewish state. “I grew up always saying I was half and half, or nothing,” she told Tazpit News Agency. “My mom is Jewish and my dad is Catholic, and until I visited Israel with Taglit, I was never exactly certain how to describe my identity.” Her first trip to Israel on the ten-day Birthright program as a 26-year-old changed all that; sparking an interest and forging a connection with a country that made her feel that she was part of a “greater community.”

“Thanks to that trip, I realized how central Israel is to my sense of identity and it made me reconnect to Judaism.”

So much so that Szymanski, who is an executive in the entertainment industry based out of Lost Angeles, has been working since then to change the way young people perceive Israel. Her work in the entertainment industry in LA has allowed her to promote Israel through pop culture in a variety of projects ranging from indie and documentary films to organizing celebrity trips to the country. Working with the likes of Madonna and Demi Moore, Szymanski realized that drawing celebrities to Israel would help change the mainstream perspective of the country. “Every meeting, every encounter is an opportunity to change someone’s conception about Israel and the Jewish people. If we work to change the misconceptions about Israel, it will help decrease the prejudice and hate that often misconstrues the reality here,” said Szymanski.

Szymanski’s latest project has been to bring a group of stars to Israel, who she describes as friends, from the cast of CSI.

Cast members included Carmine Giovinazzo and AJ Buckley from CSI: NY, and Omar Benson Miller and Jonathan Togo from CSI: Miami. Speaking at the David Citadel hotel, Jonathan Togo described his Israel experience as “Television Birthright.” “I’ve always wanted to visit Israel. As an American Jew in Hebrew School, culturally you feel that Israel is your homeland even if you don’t necessarily celebrate the holidays,” Togo explained. Togo, who stars as Ryan Wolfe on CSI Miami said he was particularly struck by how modernity and ancient history co-exist in the country. “On one hand, the world’s religions began here and there are thousands of years worth of history, but yet the country is socially so modern, a bastion of liberal free-thought and technology in a region surrounded by fundamentalist cultures and dictators.”

“Growing up in Massachusetts, with Plymouth Rock and the Puritan history surrounding me, I can most definitely appreciate the ancient history of Israel,” explained Togo.

“For me, coming here brings everything full circle. I went to a lot more confirmations than bar mitzvahs during my childhood in the Irish-Catholic area of Boston. To be in a place where almost everyone is Jewish is mind-blowing to me,” Togo concluded. “It just makes me appreciate my Jewish identity even more. This is exactly the kind of reaction Szymanski can appreciate. “I want to make a strong impact on the way young people view Israel from all cultures and faiths,” explains Szymanski.

AJ Buckley, star of CSI: New York, explained that the trip to Israel reaffirmed his appreciation of the traditional aspects of Judeo-Christian values. Originally from Ireland and from a tight-knit Irish Catholic family, Buckley explains that what struck him most about Israelis was the “strong sense of family ties.”

“I grew up in a home where we would tell stories around the dinner table all the time,” said Buckley. “It’s where my identity developed, just listening to my mom and dad talk.”

“In Israel, I discovered that kind of life here as well, where Israelis are very centered around family, something that I think has been lost in America,” said Buckley. “It’s amazing to see how much Judaic and Christian values are similar when it comes to family being the center of life—you really feel that here.” “There is this national, collective story that parents pass to their children which really gives people their sense of identity here,” concluded Buckley.

Buckley’s CSI co-star, Omar Benson Miller, who has done extensive traveling around the world, stated that “Israel is a real jewel. I felt so accepted and I’d love to bring my mom here someday,” he said. For Szymanski, who partnered both with Noa Tishbi, an Israeli producer and actress (The Ghost of Girlfriends Past), and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism which sponsored the trip to bring the stars, the idea of Birthright style trips for celebrities is her way of thanking the Taglit program. “Birthright Israel gave me so much, and this is my way of giving back,” said Szymanski.

2 Comments

  • Birthright trips to Israel? And no man mentioned Esau, who sold his birthright to Jacob who is Israel. Judaism is religion priesthood, did Moses ever speak on that (torah)? *Hebrews 7:14* What is the difference between Semites and Israelites? Jeremiah 31:27 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man, and with the seed of the beast.

  • Fredric M. London

    The Birthright trips are among the most wonderful experiences in the world.

    I married a Gentile, with the understanding that we would not have children. But, we had a daughter, who is a true gem of a human being. Due to family warmth, she considered herself Jewish, at least culturally. In December she went on a Birthright trip and it changed her life. Since she came back, she has started working on officially converting to Judaism, and will be living in a seminary in Israel for one to two years, beginning July 1. The Birthright trips are a true G-d send. I only wish I could afford to join her!

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Theater US & Canada Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Famed actor Seth Rogen on Tuesday unveiled with typical comic fanfare the trailer for his new Christmas film. The movie “was made by Jews… and opens on Thanksgiving,” Rogen pointed out on Twitter. The Night Before tells the tale of three “ride or die homies” celebrating one last debauchery-filled Christmas Eve reunion before they become too busy to keep up their annual tradition. In an effort to make the night as memorable as possible, they set out to find the “Nutcracka Ball – the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    A June 2015 art exhibit, “The Transformative Power of Art,” at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, harnessed the universal language of art to convey an important message: “Our fragile Mother Earth faces the devastating consequences of climate change, a defining challenge of our time.” The exhibit also included sixteen portraits of people from all over the world who have “contributed to the common good of humanity in one way or another and have transformed the way we […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    A 32-year-old Circassian Israeli Muslim Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Abu Ghosh says he takes pride in fighting under the Israeli flag, Israel’s Walla reported on Sunday. Like most Circassian Israelis, Jackie “the Punishment” Gosh was born Sunni Muslim. He became observant about eight years ago, and is now scrupulous in following his religion’s tenets, praying five times a day and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Gosh is also very proud of his Israeli nationality, and sees no contradiction between […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    A new documentary explores the lives and work of Jewish and Arab rappers in Israel and how the ongoing conflict in the region has impacted their lyrics, the U.K.’s Jewish Chronicle reported on Thursday. Hip Hop in the Holy Land is a six-part series co-directed by Mike Skinner, the British frontman of hip-hop group The Streets, and produced by Noisey, a music channel published by Vice news. The first episode, published last week, shows Skinner meeting with Tamer Nafar, the founder of one of […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada 49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    New 49ers running back and Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne apologized on Wednesday for a tweet in which he raised the age-old myth that Jews were historically responsible for Jesus Christ’s death. Reaching out to his Jewish fans, and the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Hayne tweeted: “To the Jewish community @DvirAbramovich #WeAreAllOne.” Underneath, he keenly included a screenshot of a text message to elaborate on his apology: “I sincerely apologize for my tweets on July 1. I […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot reminisced about her childhood in Israel during an interview published in this month’s edition of Vanity Fair. “I don’t remember this, but my mom told me that when I was three they threw a party on the rooftop of the house. They put me to bed, and I heard people coming into the house and no one came to me. I went to the rooftop and took a hose and I started to spray water on everyone, just […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    An Israeli organization is helping wounded U.S. veterans move past their physical and psychological challenges by connecting them with injured Israeli soldiers who understand what they’ve been through. “What we discovered very early is that there’s no ‘professional, psychiatrist, social worker’ or anything like that [or] pills that can come even close to helping a soldier who fought in combat, who was wounded, who lost his friends. No one can help him like another person who’s been through exactly what he has,” Rabbi Chaim Levine, […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships World Researchers Say Women Less Likely Than Men to Kill Hitler, if They Could Travel Back in Time

    Researchers Say Women Less Likely Than Men to Kill Hitler, if They Could Travel Back in Time

    Women are less likely than men to want to kill Nazi leader Adolph Hitler if given the ability to travel back in time, a recently published research paper revealed. The paper analyzed 40 studies involving 6,100 respondents in a time-travel thought experiment, the New York Post reported on Friday. While 60 percent of men said they would theoretically be willing to kill Hitler, only 55 percent of women said they would be comfortable doing the same. The paper was published in the Personality and […]

    Read more →