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...

  • Blogs Book Reviews The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    Romirowsky and Joffe’s book Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief is an important volume for those interested in truly understanding the origins of the Palestinian refugee issue. Utilizing a treasure trove of newly released documents, the authors link UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine) origins to the Quakers/American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). For those readers who thought they knew most of the Middle East story, Romirowsky and Joffe’s version provides another twist. The authors meticulously [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.