The Latino celebrities who enjoyed a week-long tour of Israel will likely be vocal about their admiration for the country, as is former Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera.

It’s not everyday that a group of Latino pop mega-stars, Telenovela actresses and a former Miss Universe are seen belting out Spanish-language hits while cruising on a boat on Israel’s Sea of Galilee (in Hebrew, the Kinneret). Yet that was the scene on Wednesday, during the celebrity mission’s week-long tour of the Holy Land.

The mission was organized and funded by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, headed by Minister Gilad Erdan, in conjunction with America’s Voices in Israel. The trip was graced by the presence of celebrities such as Puerto Rican pop-star Luis Fonsi, Mexican singer and actress Ana Brenda Contreras, and Miss Universe 2006 Zuleyka Rivera.

“We are bringing Latino celebrities and opinion-makers to Israel to show the reality here to the Latino community all over the world,” a Ministry of Strategic Affairs representative told TPS, adding that their pictures and videos have already been shared thousands of times on social media platforms.

The celebrities traveled across the country, shooting selfies in Haifa’s Baha’i Gardens, bringing gifts to Jewish and Arab children in Rambam Hospital, and posing at Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation in addition to visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem as well as the Western Wall and the City of David.

The group had dinner with former Israeli government adviser Ashley Perry (Perez), who is now president of Reconectar, an organization dedicated to reconnecting the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities and the Jewish world, and director-general of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Communities. He related to his guests the history of the Jews from Spain and Portugal who were forcibly converted during the Inquisition period, yet continued to practice their religion in secret, many of whom eventually settled in Latin and North America.

This history “actually shocked them,” Perry said. “They were very surprised and intrigued to hear that they, as Latinos and Hispanics, might have a deep connection with the Jewish people.”

The Latino stars, many of them musicians, also had a chance to collaborate in the studio with Israeli global music icon Idan Raichel.

The Israeli government is betting that the hugely popular celebrities will be vocal about their admiration for Israel and will improve its image in the Latino world. Rivera already is; she posted a photo to Twitter of herself standing on a boat at the Sea of Galilee, with the caption: “Sometimes what you are most afraid of doing is the very thing that will set you free,” followed by the hashtag #Israel.

By: Jesse Lempel/TPS and United with Israel Staff

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