Updated: Oct 21, 2021
One of the crazy things about living in a small country like Israel is how many famous people you encounter. Tel Aviv is like the L.A. and New York City of Israel. I realized this even before I moved to Israel. I was at Newark Airport, waiting for my mother-in-law to land. She was coming to visit us in America. I started talking to a guy next to me who was wearing a jean jacket. He was an Israeli musician playing different clubs in Manhattan. We talked for about an hour—I shared my testimony, he told me of his vision for peace, etc. His name was David Broza. I didn’t think much of it, but when I told Elana she told me that he is one of the most famous musicians in Israel!
He also had the honor of being in my first dream in Hebrew. He was in a restaurant, and I approached him, reminding him that we met. But I was excited to tell him that I now live in Israel and speak Hebrew!
Just a few weeks ago, we ran into supermodel Bar Rafaeli—who, it turns out, is every bit as stunning in real life as with photoshop. Elana went up to her and had a brief conversation, telling her that she had been praying for her mother (long story).
Just after we moved to Israel, I was invited to listen to Israeli folk music and to sit at the table of a fellow named Yair Lapid. My friend was marrying Lapid’s sister-in-law. It was a raucous atmosphere that grew crazier as the night went on. People were singing while standing on tables! It was not a place I would go back to, but in that first year, I was learning “Israeli.” At the time, Lapid was a successful entertainer, writer, and journalist. Now he is our foreign minister and put our present government together, and sitting at his table was a big deal. If the government lasts, he will serve as Prime Minister in two years.
The woman leading the singing was Anat Tsaruf. You can find her on talk shows and even in movies. To show how small Israel is: When Elana’s mother and sister recently saw her in concert, she texted Elana afterward to say she met her family.
On another occasion, I had a long talk poolside with our then foreign minister Silvan Shalom. How crazy is that? We talked about foreign policy. I told him how much evangelicals love Israel.
While studying Hebrew, I used to watch a T.V. show called Yellow Peppers. Years later, I saw the star drinking coffee near Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. I reluctantly approached him and told him that I learned Hebrew watching his show. He seemed touched…or just happy that I was leaving.
You see, in Israel, the market is not nearly as big as in the U.S. If you are a pop star in America, you could spend every night of the year in a different venue and still not cover the whole country. In Israel, our biggest venues are in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Caesarea (in the ancient amphitheater—very cool!), the Dead Sea area—and that is pretty much it. You are done in a week. So even the most famous singers entertain at moshavim and kibbutzim (farm communities) and much smaller venues. They even do weddings, birthdays, and bar mitzvahs.
And, you could be successful in T.V. or music, and then find yourself working a normal job the rest of your life. There is often no longevity in the entertainment business.
I also had dinner with Netanyahu once…and by that, I mean that he was sitting at the table next to me in a restaurant. He had been Prime Minister and then lost to Ehud Barak. At the time, he was the finance minister. As he left, I awkwardly introduced myself and name-dropped my cousin, Eric Cantor, who, at the time, was the only Jewish Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was unimpressed. I shook his hand. I remember they were big and soft like he was wearing a glove.
On the street, I have seen the aforementioned former Prime Minister Ehud Barak sporting his hipster beard at 70. He was getting coffee at Landwer, also across from Rabin Square. I walked past our present minister of justice, Gideon Saar. I took a selfie for my kids with Israel’s most famous rapper of the 2000s, Subliminal. We ate sushi at the airport next to each other; he was on his way to Thailand.
While I have approached a few folks over the years, for the most part, Israelis do not run up and go crazy over famous people. One reason is that it is so common to run into them in Tel Aviv, but another reason is, Israelis are not fryers (see blog on the worst insult). Our attitude is, you should be coming up to me, not me to you! Who do you think you are? Oh…you sing…big deal. Like I used to tell my girls when they were young, “When Brad Pitt starts reading about me, I’ll start reading about him.”
Now having said all that, I am reminded of one more VIP I ran into. She was being wheeled around in a special chair—a wheelchair. And, it would appear that she lived life in that chair and had mental disabilities. I was moved with compassion. It was then that I first thought I would write about this subject. You see, those are the real big shots. At least in God’s eyes. They are his VIPs—the weak, hurting, downcast and broken. God is not impressed with fame but humility, brokenness, and grace in the midst of suffering. I trust that there are many famous folks that do please the Lord—but it is not through their gift or talent, but through their character and concern for others.
It will be interesting to one day see who is famous in heaven’s eyes.