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...

  • Book Reviews Personalities How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    JNS.org – What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer metastasized to his liver, and that he had [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater 10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    Last month, my one-man show Hoaxocaust! Written and performed by Barry Levey with the generous assistance of the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran ran in the New York International Fringe Festival, where it won an Overall Excellence Award. The play has now been selected to run in the Fringe Encores Series at Baruch College’s Performing Arts Center, for four performances which started on Thursday, September 11. Getting the play to the stage was not easy, however. Here are [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Phenomenon: Tel Aviv-based musician and “sampler” extraordinaire, Kutiman (aka Ophir Kutiel) has hit another one out of the park with “Give It Up,” a fully-functioning song in its own right, assembled from hundreds of ameteur and instructional music videos. The Jerusalem-born musical prodigy is best know for his diverse online musical projects. In the latest video, uploaded to YouTube on Sept. 12th, Kutiel thanked most of the musicians and individuals he chose to include in the meticulously-edited clip, which opens with [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    A recently released behind-the-scenes reel of Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Exodus: Gods and Kings shows just how far the director has gone to portray one of the Bible’s most famous narratives. In the clip, which shows scenes involving up to 4,000 extras, the visionary director discusses what drew him to the biblical tale of Moses. “The Moses story was a massive challenge, which I really love. I wanted to explore the complexity of his character and I was stunned by [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    JNS.org – Since 2006, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable and satellite TV network has hosted “The Projected Image,” a month-long showcase examining how different cultural and ethnic groups have been portrayed on the big screen. At last, after previously covering African Americans, Asians, the LGBT community, Latinos, Native Americans, Arabs, and people with disabilities, the annual series is delving into Jewish film this month. “The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film,” whose first segment aired Sept. 2, runs [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    The sight of young girls in pinafores and young boys wearing peyos – sidelocks – dangling over their ears is a sure sign that you have entered the enigmatic precincts of the Hasidim – the pious ones. Veteran New York Times journalist Joseph Berger’s new book, THE PIOUS ONES: The World of Hasidim and their Battles with America, takes the reader on a journey into the enclaves where various sects of Jews live a seemingly outmoded way of life in [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.