‘Ambassador’ visits St. Louis area

‘Ambassador’ visits St. Louis area

BY KEREN DOUEK, STAFF WRITER

It’s Donald Trump, Omarosa and Bill Rancic all over again, except this time Omarosa is a soft-spoken Ethiopian Jew named Mehereta, Rancic is an American who moved to Israel with his parents at the age of seven, and rather than competing to become Trump’s right hand man, the participants of the Israeli version of The Apprentice, called The Ambassador, are competing for the opportunity to be a spokesperson for the State of Israel. And while Rancic manages the construction of a hotel and residential tower in Chicago for Trump, Eytan Schwartz, the winner of The Ambassador, tours the world, speaking about the state of Israel.

“One thing in Israel that we are very concerned about is that a lot of people read a lot of stuff about Israel and the Middle East, but we think it tends to be negative. There is not such great stuff coming out of the country,” Schwartz said.

ADVERTISEMENT
New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

As one of seven congregations in the JCRC Congregational Israel Committee Network that received mini-grants to assist in developing Israel advocacy programming — funded by the UJC/JCPA Israel Initiative, United Hebrew Congregation’s Israel Committee brought Schwartz to St. Louis to speak at United Hebrew, where Marcy Cornfeld, co-chair of the Israel Committee, said there were approximately 70 people in attendance.

“He presented sort of a new way to approach telling people about Israel,” Cornfeld said.

In addition to speaking at UH, Schwartz also spoke in the general community on campuses as well as for a St. Louis Israel Connection program at Brennan’s Wine Bar in the Central West End, and for a group at the Jewish Federation.

Judy Hoffman, international affairs associate for the JCRC said Schwartz brought his message to “quite a diverse group of people, and in a very effective and engaging way.”

“In the Jewish community, he reinforced the point that we can all learn to advocate for Israel with friends or colleagues during every-day types of interactions. During our campus visits, he introduced the topic of ‘Israel’ to students who had never thought of Israel as a thriving and vibrant democracy, and never had the opportunity to meet an Israeli.”

At St. Louis Community College Florissant Valley, Schwartz asked a packed room of college students, professors and others, “When I say ‘Israel,’ what do you think comes to mind for most people?”

Members of the crowd shouted out, “Middle East conflict,” and “War” and “Terrorism.”

Schwartz explained that he is part of an Israeli movement aimed at changing all of that.

He played for the audience a commercial that he and his teammates had created for one of their tasks.

“Each team had to shoot a commercial for television promoting Israel,” he said. “We had two days to do the commercial. We had one day to write the script and one day to shoot the commercial with absolutely no budget, and then both teams had to present their commercial to the heads of MTV in London.”

The commercial Schwartz’s team came up with featured a bikini-clad woman, flirting with a topless Israeli guy on a beach, and walking straight into a pole, followed by a male voice-over: “Israel can be a dangerous place. If you thought you knew about Israel, think again.”

Schwartz’s team won and the commercial aired 60 times on MTV in London.

“To me, this is the best way of showing people my Israel,” he said.

Schwartz spoke to the diverse audience, and tried to convey a different Israel than many of them may envision.

Schwartz spoke about the diversity of Israel, and about the beautiful landscape.

“It is a tiny little country,” Schwartz said. “If you lifted Israel with a cable from a huge helicopter, and you flew it over Lake Michigan, and you dropped it into Lake Michigan, Israel would sink into Lake Michigan. It’s that small.”

He spoke about the beach and the skyscrapers, about holy Jerusalem, the Mecca for the three major religions of the world, about the spas of the Dead Sea and about the Sea of Galilee and the rich history bound up in Israel.

Schwartz also spoke about Israel’s role as an immigrant country.

“If you look at the population of Israel,” he said, “it absorbs more immigrants than any other country in the world.”

Schwartz described how Israel was born, as a safe-haven to many Jews escaping World War II, and about how his own grandmother traveled to Israel to seek refuge from the war.

Schwartz also described the major technological advances Israel has made.

He asked the audience how many of them use Israeli technology on a daily basis, and one woman raised her hand.

“Okay, now how many of you guys use a cell phone on a daily basis?” he asked, and all hands went up.

“So all of you guys use Israeli technology,” he explained. “The cell phone was invented in Israel. Eighty percent of the technology used on cellphones today comes out of Israel. If you guys use AOL Instant Messaging, that was invented by four Israeli guys … Most XP Microsoft applications come out of Israel. Voicemail was invented in Israel.”

Schwartz described a beautiful, advanced and diverse country that he believes many who have never visited would be surprised to find.

Schwartz also fielded some tough questions from the College crowd at Florissant Valley.

“Are you going to talk about why they (the UN) chose that land and if there were any people living there at the time?” one woman asked. Another member of the audience asked Schwartz of his opinions on Munich, and a third asked about the settlers who were living in what was considered Palestinian territory.

Schwartz answered each question in turn, explaining the history of the birth of Israel, and that “the Palestinians never actually had their own country, it was their country that was taken over by their Arab neighbors.” He said that Munich was one of the most traumatic events in Israeli history, and that “in Israel (Spielberg’s) type of telling the story we found very offensive.” He said that he is absolutely for the creation of a Palestinian state, but in no way accepts violence as a means of getting what one wants. He also attempted to explain to the crowd the point of view of the settlers, while announcing that he thought the Israeli government was very courageous in moving its settlers and that most Israelis recognize that a compromise must be met in hopes of achieving peace.

Keren Douek is a staff writer and can be reached at [email protected]