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    « BACK to Raquel Hecker's portfolio

    Posted 10.07.05
    Israel's Answer to The Apprentice
    A Dangerous Place

    A Dangerous Place

    "You will now surrender the briefcase and go home."

    It doesn't have the same ring as "You're fired," does it?

    But at a cocktail party at Serena last Thursday night, Eytan Schwartz, recent winner of the Israeli television phenomenon called The Ambassador, was getting his 15 minutes of fame, just like Kendra Todd of Apprentice fame.

    Mr. Schwartz told the crowd, which had been invited to the historically hip bar under the Chelsea Hotel by the National Jewish Democratic Council, that being the last survivor on The Ambassador and winning the briefcase wasn't such great shakes.

    "It was a horrible and very cheap brief[case]!" he said. "My prize is you guys." Awww.

    As the crowd inhaled such traditional Israeli noshes as pita and hummus and guacamole and chips, Ambassador Schwartz, who has the face of Sean Astin and the soul of Clay Aiken, regaled The Transom with his life story.

    As a native New Yorker, he was a dead give-away. In approximately five seconds, the spry guy in pinstripe black pants and a gray button-down-who seems younger than his 30 years-accelerated through his peak in Israel as a child actor, his de rigueur term in the Israeli army, a stint as an actor in Paris, his lowest point as an adult actor in New York (auditioning for a show in a midtown deli), and his highest point as an actor in New York: dancing with Sylvester Stallone on Saturday Night Live.

    "What I did to become an extra-it's crazy!" said the exuberant Ambassador.

    He was obviously the center of attention in the room. Luckily, his girlfriend, Reut Heifetz, was out of earshot when a party-crasher, seemingly unaware of the purpose of the event, asked him flirtatiously whether it was "his gig" and if it was a party for a "dating Web site."

    Mr. Schwarz set the confused woman straight.

    While the American Apprentices did things like sell lemonade, the Israeli Ambassadors had to sell Israel. One of their tasks was to create MTV Europe commercials promoting Israel, which Mr. Schwartz played for the crowd on the flat-screen television behind the bar.

    Mr. Schwartz's group came up with a spot that featured a sexy, bikini-clad blonde walking by a hot guy sunbathing on the beach.

    The blonde, so distracted by the shirtless man, walks into a pole.

    "Indeed, Israel can be a dangerous place," a voiceover intones as the blonde is shown with a Band-Aid on her forehead.

    Mr. Schwartz's job during the production of the spot was to rub the chest of the male model in the commercial with suntan lotion once an hour.

    The Ambassadors also had to sell pricey Israel tour packages on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

    Mr. Schwartz had a leg up on the other Ambassadors for this task: He was already in the public eye as a television reporter on Israel's version of Entertainment Tonight, Good Evening with Guy Pines. (That's pronounced "PEE-nis.")

    So what exactly does the Ambassador do now?

    "A lot of this stuff," said Mr. Schwartz, gesturing to the surrounding crowd. He is now an employee of Israel at Heart, a nonprofit P.R. group dedicated to sexing up Israel's image in the eyes of college kids. "We send out good-looking, cool, hip young Israelis to promote Israel," said Mr. Schwartz, with an emphasis on the fact that Israelis love to party and can smoke and drink in bars at 18.

    There were murmurs in the crowd that back in Israel, The Ambassador didn't measure up to The Apprentice.

    "It was a big flop," Heeb Magazine photographer Joe Kohen told The Transom. A native Israeli with long brown hair held in check by a thick head wrap, Mr. Kohen said, in fact, "[ The Ambassador] was crucified by the press."

    Then what did Mr. Kohen make of Ambassador Schwartz's claim that the show was the highest-rated reality-television show in Israel?

    "Maybe it improved later on?" Mr. Kohen offered, admitting that he himself had seen only a few of the early episodes last winter before relocating here to New York City.

    "My brother lives in Israel, and he's never seen it," another partygoer piped in. "But then again, he doesn't have a television."

    -Raquel Hecker

    Content was originally published in The New York Observer