Going to the Fortress of Solitude for Jedi training
by David Lonner
When I am in Israel, I feel like a light socket plugged into an energy source. There is a bounce in my step, I feel intellectually and spiritually stimulated. I see in Technicolor.
My roots are in Israel. My late mother, Sassi Lonner, was born in Bat Yam in the early 1940’s. Her fondest memory growing up there was Yom Hatzmaot – Israeli Independence Day 1948. Twenty seven years later, I was a Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem, joined a teen tour with USY at 16, backpacked through the Sinai with my best friend before college at 18 and studied at Tel Aviv University my junior year of college.
I was learning about the Arab/Israeli conflict with Professor Itamar Rabinovich who ultimately became Yitzhak Rabin’s Ambassador to the U.S., Israel’s chief negotiator with Hafez al-Assad of Syria when there were talks of peace and ultimately, the President of the University. He was the best professor I ever had and I discovered through his class that when I have passion for something, I excel. That epiphany led me to show business, as besides Israel, there was nothing that I was more passionate about than movies, music and television. After graduation, I packed my bags, moved to Los Angeles and luckily scored a spot in the William Morris training program where my professional heroes of the time all started.
In my thirties, I met Rabbi Danny Landes as he was leading my group through the ultra orthodox area of Mea Sharim during my Wexner Heritage studies. It was the first time I had been back in Israel since my junior year. My mother had recently died and I was in a lot of pain. I was struck by Rabbi Landes’ extraordinary wisdom, sharp wit and deep compassion. I had found my Obi Wan Kenobi. He introduced me to the Pardes Institute (where he serves as director) where I have studied Torah for the past decade. Each year at Pardes, I chart the roadmap of my life depending on what personal or professional challenges I have at the time. Rabbi Landes has taught me the joy and energy one feels just by walking the streets of Jerusalem where every step contains an important piece of history. My favorite place on earth is Machane Yehuda – Jerusalem’s central market. The smells, tastes and vibrant colors are the essence of life. It’s the happiest place on earth.
In 2006, post Lebanon War, there was little interest from the entertainment community to travel to Israel and I felt an urgency to connect the two passions of my life by putting together my own version of Birthright Israel for the tastemakers and influencers of the Hollywood community. It was a simple plan: bring important artists and executives who build the critical mass in Hollywood to Israel. Just get them there and they will fall in love. I am thrilled to see that today, the connection between Israel and Hollywood has never been stronger.
I travel to Israel as much as I can to connect to my past and to see my future. The more I learn about my roots, the better I understand myself. I have recently joined the board of Yemin Orde whose philosophy with integrating the immigrants that come to Israel from around the world is that children must understand and know where they come from in order to move forward in their lives. When the country airlifted thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, Yemin Orde built grass hut replicas of the homes they had just left to give them comfort. The students who have graduated from there have become generals, Knesset leaders and exemplary citizens of the country representing the best of Israel.
As often I go, there is always something new to discover. A few weeks ago I travelled to the Ramon Crater for the first time and was astonished by its quiet power. Think of the Grand Canyon meets Joshua Tree. Its silence was like a beautiful symphony. Its vastness felt like standing on the moon.
I took a day trip to Akko and realized the culinary hotspot that it has become and shining example of Arabs and Jews co-existing.
Though I have a lousy sense of direction here in Los Angeles, I have an internal GPS when in Israel and instinctually always know where I’m going. By plugging into my past, I am able replenish and invigorate. It allows me clarity for the present and the future.
For me, going to Israel is going to the Fortress of Solitude for Jedi training.Tags: David Lonner, Entertainment industry, Hollywood, Hollywood and Israel, Israel, Itamar Rabinovich, Machane Yehuda, Pardes Institute, Rabbi Daniel Landes, Ramon Crater, Yemin Orde