Shira Haas, who plays Esty in the Netflix mega hit “Unorthodox,” hosted a one- hour, online star-studded show in celebration of Israeli Independence Day April 29.
The Jewish Federations of North America and over 30 partner organizations sponsored the global celebration of Israel’s 72nd birthday during a virtual one-hour on YouTube. Featuring celebrities, members of the Jewish community from across the world and surprise guests, the star-studded event highlighted Israeli scientific achievements and stories of Israel’s past and present.
Eric Fingerhut, CEO of JFNA, co-hosted the ceremony from Washington, D.C.
With the popularity of “Unorthodox,” the allure of seeing 24-year-old Haas au natural, out of her dramatic role, was a big draw. With makeup and groomed hair – or any hair at all considering her shaved head on the show – she was modest, not particularly star-like, and rather surprised at all the fuss and fawning made over her when her own excitement was seeing her Instagram crush, Tony Award winner Ben Platt.
Platt, the star of “Dear Evan Hansen,” was part of a musical performance with his brothers, including fellow Broadway actor Jonah Platt. All three harmonized with an angelic acapella rendition of “Ahavat Olam.” Other guests were Broadway star and Canadian Caissie Levy, who originated the role of Elsa in “Frozen,” Israeli pop singer Rita, Jewish rapper Matisyahu, West Wing actor Joshua Malina, and Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
An especially entertaining segment was four famous Israeli chefs touting the benefits and unique preparations of the country’s most favored food, falafel, which is healthy, cheap and available. Some tips offered were: dress it with green tahini, use hands to form balls, five balls is the correct service number, never eat falafel cold, it’s best to singe the pita edges first before inserting the balls, and don’t overdo it by adding too many salad trimmings.
A timely video, which caused Jewish chests to swell with pride, was on the coronavirus scientific developments Israel is pursuing to help the world. The most impressive projects are using artificial molecules to behave like virus antibodies, making low-cost emergency ventilators, using a protective cream to replace gloves, and employing shrimp to mimic human reactions. Note that these scientists were moved off their regular projects to focus on COVID-19.
Mark Wilf, co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings and chair of the board of trustees of JFNA, made a heartfelt presentation. He spoke of his family’s rescue out of Eastern Europe during World War II. Wilf, who is also a real estate magnate with family-owned Garden Homes, was the first North American chair of the March of the Living. “The declaration of a Jewish state is one of the greatest feats of our time and cause for celebration. Amid the hardship and tragedy that has been brought on by this pandemic, we welcome a moment to share our love for Israel with our brothers and sisters from around the world. Together, we can sing and join together in a new way to mark this glorious moment.”
Isaac Herzog, son of former Israeli President Chaim Herzog, recounted Israel’s War of Independence and paid tribute to former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who put his imprint on immigration and the equalization of Israeli society.
Included was exclusive footage of Israel’s official Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl.
The ceremony in Israel, emphasizing the sacrifices and resiliency of the Israeli people, had a low attendance because of social distancing. Netanyahu wore a mask, and Benny Gantz carried a torch.
Haas recalled that the torch-lighting was her favorite part, as the 12 torches represented the Tribes. One of those honorees was Lori Palatnik, mother of five who founded Momentum, a program like Birthright Israel for young mothers with the goal of strengthening connections to Israel.
The orchestration of “Hatikvah” from “new normal” rectangle Zoom boxes was moving and perfectly timed. It was sobering to see the drummer performing alone from his own home.
An upside to virtual shows is getting 20 more minutes in the hour of programming sans commercials.
Next year we should all be hugging. And nominate Gal Gadot to co-star.