At the Western Wall on Friday night, a group of stars from the hit American TV shows "Scandal" and "Once Upon a Time" found themselves immediately recognized by religious Jewish prayer-goers.
''People approached us at the Western Wall, saying they watch our shows,'' said Katie Lowes, who stars in the new American political thriller television series, "Scandal," created by Shonda Rhimes of "Grey's Anatomy."
''It has been an amazing experience, visiting across Israel. But the visit to the Western Wall and the Shabbat dinner that followed, was truly a highlight,'' she added. ''It was beautiful to hear the people singing and praying and to be part of a Shabbat dinner with a family in Jerusalem.''
The Hollywood celebrities spent a week touring Israel
in a trip which was led by America's Voices in Israel (AVI) Director Irwin Katsof and sponsored by El Al Israel Airlines and the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The group spent time in the Golan Heights, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Masada, Dead Sea and Jerusalem, from April 29-May 5.
Lowe's husband, Adam Shapiro, who also stars in "Scandal," told Tazpit News Agency that Israel had drastically changed since his last visit to the country 17 years ago.
''I came here when I was 16 with my Jewish summer camp. So much has changed since then,'' he said. ''I'm familiar with Tel Aviv and the central region of Israel, but I had never been to the Golan Heights before. It was beautiful and so were the residents – you feel the real Israeli pioneer spirit there.''
Hollywood celebrities with former Israeli Ambassador to Italy Gideon Meir at Jerusalem's King David Hotel (Photo: Ishay Abergel, Tazpit News Agency)
''There is so much to appreciate here,'' adds Bellamy Young, who plays the first lady in "Scandal." Young was particularly impressed with the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, citing its medical advancements in stem cell research.
''For such little space, there is so much scope here both historically and in every imaginable way. From a history of persecution to vibrancy, it was amazing to learn how much can be done in 65 years,'' said Young.
In addition to visiting different areas across Israel, the group met with a range of influential Israeli personalities and figures in high-tech, entertainment, media, medicine, and politics, including former Israeli Ambassador to Italy Gideon Meir, who hosted the group at a dinner in Jerusalem's King David Hotel on Thursday night.
The portrayal of Israel in the media was discussed during the dinner. ''At any given time, there are 1,000 foreign journalists here,'' Meir stated. ''However, most of those journalists are not here to cover Israel, but the conflict.''
''There is a big misunderstanding about Israel,'' said Lana Parilla, who plays the snow queen on ABC Network's "Once Upon a Time." ''There is so much more to this country than what we see back home. Seeing Jewish values like the importance of family and the pride people have in this land has been inspiring.''
''There are so many sides to everything that goes on here – it was so helpful to hear all these perspectives, coming from the outside as Americans,'' added Lowes.
The other participants in the trip included Guillermo Diaz from "Scandal" and Julie Walker, the art director of the hit CBS TV series ''The Mentalist.''
"Once Upon a Time," "Scandal" and "The Mentalist" are all aired on Israeli channels.
According to Katsof, American Voices in Israel, which is a division of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, has brought 50 Hollywood actors and actresses to Israel in the past two years.
"We have been thrilled to host this newest contingent of Hollywood stars, who have experienced an adventure of a lifetime and were exposed to the day-to-day dynamics which shape the destiny of the Jewish state," he said.
Reprinted with permission from Tazpit News Agency