Eytan Schwartz is "The Ambassador," also the name of the mega-popular Israeli TV show/competition won by the 30-year-old this past year. The show, which airs on Israel's Channel 2, begins its second season this month.
In addition to all the acclaim and recognition he received as the so-called "Israeli Apprentice" - since the show, created by Keshet Production Company, Tel Aviv, bears a striking similarity to "The Apprentice" of American TV - Schwartz's real prize was to travel the United States and Canada for one year to promote Israel, as an ambassador of good will, mostly on college campuses, which he continues doing through April.
"I was reading the paper one day when I saw that a production company was working on a new reality show that would focus around creating better [public relations] for Israel," explains Schwartz. "Like all Israelis, I was always frustrated by the way my country is perceived abroad, so I knew I had to join."
The rest is history, as the saying goes, but a fascinating one worth an in-depth look at the engaging young man, who is an entertainment reporter in Israel for www.wnetnews.com .
'The Most Exciting Moment'
When it all began, Schwartz - who was born in New York and immigrated to Israel with his parents when he was 7 - was one of 14 contestants engaged in a grueling 12-week competition. When it ended, he was the last one standing. (Actually, he was sitting nervously at a conference table with two other young finalists - another man and an Ethiopian woman - when the judges declared him the winner. It was during the show's climactic episode, broadcast live from an El Al hangar at Tel Aviv International airport.)
"Winning was probably the most exciting moment of my life," he confides. "The adrenaline in my blood reached amazing levels, and it took many days to disappear. I think some is still there," he jokes during an interview, following a Taglit-Birthright Israel event in Center City.
The group hosted Schwartz, who spoke to its members and showed clips from the show, as well as answered questions.
(Taglit-Birthright Israel provides educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults between the ages of 18 and 26. To date, more than 85,000 young adults from 40 countries have traveled to Israel for the first time on such sponsorships.)
What has left Schwartz so excited and happy was winning a competition that in its last stage had a men's and women's team working on crafting its own TV tourism commercial about Israel.
No Donald in Sight!
Each team was judged by a panel of three on its ability to excel at a number of tasks, including handling a broadcast interview by CNN's Paula Zahn; talking to and being graded by 60 students at Thomas Jefferson High, a school with a rough-and-tough reputation in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and, of course, creating the tourism ad that had to focus on an aspect of what living in Israel is really like. The winning advertisement was shown on MTV Europe.
"Our ad shows a beautiful girl being lured by a great-looking guy to come sit by him on the beach, but she keeps refusing and goes walking on until she runs into a pole. We chose the content because of three main points," he explains.
"First, it addresses the issue of Israel being 'dangerous,' but essentially puts that claim in a humorous perspective. Second, it displays the country's amazing beaches and the people of Israel, and, third, the ad has no text, so people of different European countries can understand it."
Since winning the competition, Schwartz estimates that he's been to 25 American states, with more to go - journeys whose purpose he relishes. "It has been a great, great experience so far that has me meeting and talking to Jewish and non-Jewish students at colleges and universities, but also going to speak at places within the Jewish community. I never say no to any group because it gives another opportunity to deliver the message about what Israel is really like and all about."
As winner of "The Ambassador," Schwartz is working for Israel at Heart (www.israelatheart.org ), the New York-based group that awarded the prize and acts as the show's advisor on tasks performed by contestants, according to Joey Low, a native New Yorker and founder of Israel at Heart.
"The sole purpose of our organization is to promote the well-being of Israel around the world. We do that by sending Israeli university students between the ages of 22 and 27, all of whom must have served in the Israeli army, on the road for two weeks to talk at universities, churches, synagogues and high schools, as well as to other people, including politicians," explains Low.
Some 60 percent of the groups the students meet are non-Jewish, he adds, since they are the ones that need to be educated the most about Israel.
Telling Them Something New
In talking to his various listeners, Schwartz insists that he can tell them something about Israel they didn't know, even if the group is a Jewish one. He also says that he's pleased and amazed to learn just how much American Jews do for Israel and how much they seem to care about the country.
"I hope to leave the room with people saying 'Hey, I didn't know that,' and, if possible, to expose as much as I can about the nonpolitical, fun, cool aspects of Israel, such as the culture, people, food, parties, sites and society. The groups to whom I speak don't always need me for the politics. They know where to find that info, but sometimes, they know very little about everything else," comments Schwartz.
Has he encountered any opposition to Israel from those he's met?
"Yes," he admits, "there has been a little, but it's been mostly in the form of tough questions and not open hostility.
"In general, reactions in the U.S. are good," he insists.
"Most criticism about Israel is found on campuses, where anti-Israeli sentiment is prominent among groups that are considered liberal, and usually tied to anti-globalization, anti-war and anti-Bush sentiment," he adds.
As his tour continues, a film crew from "The Ambassador" has been on the road with him to document his travels and talks. Plans are to air the documentary as part of the show's second season.