Some of the biggest stars in the Latin American entertainment constellation spent March 13-20 exploring Israeli society, culture, historical and religious treasures.

The trip was sponsored by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs in cooperation with America’s Voices in Israel, which organizes week-long missions to Israel for prominent headline-makers.

Grammy Award-winning Puerto Rican entertainer Luis Fonsi, 2006 Miss Universe and actress Zuleyka Rivera, Spanish model Águeda López, Telemundo and Univision director Luis Alfonso Borrego and Telenovela actresses Ana Brenda Contreras, Sherlyn González and Andrea Escalona were among the group that got guided tours of Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Nazareth, Safed (Tzfat), Jerusalem, Masada and the Dead Sea.

The trip to Haifa was highlighted by an emotional visit to Rambam Health Care Campus, where the celebrities handed out gifts and took pictures with Jewish and Arab youngsters being cared for by Jewish, Druze and Israeli-Arab doctors and nurses.

“There are times when you have a chance to experience a life-changing opportunity. Coming to Israel and seeing and experiencing the different cultures and religions all living together in this small country has given me a completely different perspective,” said the Mexican-born Contreras, who is also a pop singer.

“The coexistence of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as their cultures in places like Haifa and Jerusalem, has not only been a positive thing but actually shocking because that’s not what I expected,” Contreras continued.

Telenovela actress Sherlyn Gonzalez comforting a young patient at Rambam Health Care Campus. Photo courtesy of America's Voices in Israel
Telenovela actress Sherlyn Gonzalez comforting a young patient at Rambam Health Care Campus. Photo courtesy of America’s Voices in Israel

“Who knew that Jewish and Arab doctors work side-by-side to save the lives of Jewish and Arab children on a daily basis? We had no idea that Jews and Arabs have lived together in peace for so many years. This was a real eye-opener for all of us.”

Ana Brenda Contreras took a selfie with her mother, Blanca, at Haifa’s Baha’i Gardens. Photo via Facebook
Ana Brenda Contreras took a selfie with her mother, Blanca, at Haifa’s Baha’i Gardens. Photo via Facebook

Mystical and musical inspiration

Several of the stars, who like Madonna are devotees of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), especially relished their tour of Safed, where Rabbi Isaac Luria, the father of contemporary Kabbalah, lived and preached to his followers in the 16th century.

In addition to Nazareth, the stars on this pre-Easter trip went to Christian sites in Jerusalem and the Galilee including the Church and Garden of Gethsemane, Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha (traditional location of the miracle of the loaves and fishes) and the Yardenit baptismal site on the Jordan River.

Zuleyka Rivera posted this picture with the caption: “Y sigo disfrutando de Israel y su energía!! Aquí desde el monte de la Bienaventuranzas” (“And I'm still enjoying of Israel and its energy!! Here from the Mount of Beatitudes).” Photo via Facebook
Zuleyka Rivera posted this picture with the caption: “Y sigo disfrutando de Israel y su energía!! Aquí desde el monte de la Bienaventuranzas” (“And I’m still enjoying of Israel and its energy!! Here from the Mount of Beatitudes).” Photo via Facebook

They also toured sites of Jewish significance including the Western Wall tunnels and the City of David.

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs adviser Ashley Perry told the stars about crypto-Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition and converted or were forced to convert to Christianity. Many of their descendants are part of the Latino and Hispanic communities in the Americas.

Participants had a private visit to the Kfar Saba home and studio of Israel’s internationally renowned musician Idan Raichel, who sang several songs with Fonsi and Contreras.

Luis Fonsi looking out at the Western Wall and Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo via Facebook
Luis Fonsi looking out at the Western Wall and Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo via Facebook

The stars sampled some of the country’s best culinary offerings at the five-star hotels where they were staying and in renowned eateries such as Dr. Shakshuka in Old Jaffa and Eucalyptus in Jerusalem.

Using traditional and social media, they sent followers firsthand accounts of their experiences in Israel.

Bracha Katsof, America’s Voices in Israel Interim Mission Experience Director, praised the group for being open-minded and interested in every aspect of the trip.

Zuleyka Rivera posted on Facebook: “Day One: Walking tour of old Jaffa & a delicious Mediterranean feast!” Photo via Facebook
Zuleyka Rivera posted on Facebook: “Day One: Walking tour of old Jaffa & a delicious Mediterranean feast!” Photo via Facebook

“These high-profile Latin American stars were extremely inquisitive and receptive to everything Israel has to offer — from the people and the religions, to the food and lifestyle. The excitement to photograph and capture every moment was an exhilarating experience in itself,” Katsof said.

“I am confident that during this week, we forged a partnership and the ‘guests’ of America’s Voices in Israel have now become ‘ambassadors’ of Israel.”