Our crazy, joyful (dare I say exhausting?) autism fairy tale continued last week in Israel. A producer, Eyal Shiray, bought the rights to Keep the Change and invited us to the Israeli premiere of the film in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ra’Anana. We landed in Tel Aviv on April 19th and returned home on April 26th after 6 screenings, multiple interviews with Israeli TV Channel 13, Ha’aretz and the Jerusalem Post. Somehow, we also managed to visit the Masada, the Wailing Wall and traipse through its tunnels, Old Jaffa, The Dead Sea, and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. Samantha and I even managed to squeeze in a camel ride.
What was NOT on the itinerary: eating regular meals, getting a good night’s sleep or having a single hour of down time to catch our breath. We had a fabulous experience and our hosts were warm and welcoming, but our trip to Israel has left me yearning for a staycation to recover from jet lag and life on a seemingly endless adrenaline high. Highlights from this April include Samantha singing in EPIC’s Cabaret sponsored by HBO on April 2nd; ringing the opening bell at the NYSE on April 3rd; speaking at the United Nations’ World Autism Awareness Day on April 5th; answering questions after a special screening of Keep the Change at Columbia University; (also April 5th!) and appearing in her first commercial for SPARK’s Autism Awareness Project, which went live on the internet all month. All wonderful stuff which happened BEFORE we left for Israel, almost (but not quite) too good to be true.
Speaking of wonderful, audiences in Israel loved the movie and showered Samantha with praise for her talent and performance. Everyone mobbed her for selfies and hugs at all of the sold out screenings. Samantha and Brandon received standing ovations at every screening (except in Jerusalem, where the audience was older and tickets are discounted on Tuesdays). But the most special of all the screenings was a matinee in Tel Aviv for an audience of young adults with autism. This audience might not have understood every joke (but they sure laughed hard at the sexual humor). In the scene where David tells a horribly inappropriate joke to his date about the “LA Rapers,” the audience on the spectrum laughed after the girl fled to restroom. They totally understood that David’s date was rejecting him, even though they probably didn’t relate to basketball or the Kobe Bryant references.
For nearly two hours after the film ended, most of the autistic audience stayed for an extended discussion and Q and A. I will never forget the looks on the faces of these young adults with autism who thanked Samantha and Brandon for inspiring them and serving as role models. One young man ran up to Samantha asking for a picture and telling her she was beautiful. I felt like we had cast a spell over the audience. No one wanted to leave. So many questions were asked; so many thanked us for showing the movie, I was afraid we would miss our evening screening. Eyal had tears in his eyes, but it was time to move on.
We did not stay in typical tourist quarters, like a Marriott or Hilton in Tel Aviv. Our hotel, The Diaghilev, was a small hotel off the beaten path. There was no sign and no address posted. Inevitably, we were constantly lost when we ventured out on our own—especially as we searched for a quick meal and were turned away from full, nearby restaurants. So why the hidden hotel, aside from price? Apparently, The Diaghilev is not legally zoned to be a hotel, although its lobby and rooms resemble a small motor inn.
For our one night in Jerusalem, we stayed in equally unusual guest quarters, which are mostly used by artists and writers. We descended a flight of stairs to our room and walked down a long hallway with glassed in areas, like mini-exhibit spaces you might pass at the Museum of Natural History. Our room had domed ceilings and casement windows, with a king-sized bed in the entry way and twin beds in an adjoining room. There were several steps up or down between each room and the bathroom. Fortunately, nobody fell.
Our last two screenings were in Ra’anana. One extra screening had to be added because the first one sold out so quickly that many people were irate and called to complain. In order to squeeze in the final screening without disrupting our schedule, the screenings occurred at overlapping times, so that Samantha and her co-star could go from the first Q and A to the second one which was just ending.
So many special memories. Our host Eyal and his wife Tinker, a former actress herself, could not have extended a warmer or more enthusiastic welcome. Experiencing the juxtaposition of modern and ancient architecture alongside the vivid history of the Masada. Watching Keep the Change with Hebrew subtitles. Wearing our winter coats to the Wailing Wall in unexpectedly cold weather. Floating on my back in the Dead Sea and persuading Samantha to try it. (We were cautioned NOT to go in forward, so as not to drown or get the salt water in our eyes). Hanging onto the camel for dear life as Samantha clung to me, both of us giddy with laughter. Seeing one child’s red Mary Jane on a mountain of scorched black shoes displayed at Yad Vashem.
Most memorable moment? A man with autism stopped Samantha on the way out of the theater to ask her whether she felt more comfortable with neurotypical people or those with autism.
“I like to mix and match,” she answered. “I feel comfortable with both neurotypical people and people with autism. I like them both.”
Could there be a better message to take away from Keep the Change? So proud of Samantha for delivering those words. I hope the world is listening.
PS The movie opens in theaters throughout Israel on May 10th. Tell your friends and relatives!