November 22, 2019

From Diplomacy to Slapstick

In the hallways of Sheba Medical Center’s burn unit sit three children: a Charedi boy, a secular girl and an Arab boy. All three are giggling. A medical clown has given them each a party horn and is conducting them like musicians in a band. The medical clown thinks, “Well, this is cool. No politics. Just people being human.” 

A funny thought coming from a clown who, two decades earlier, was deeply immersed in politics — playing cameo roles in both the historic White House lawn handshake between then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat and, the following year, being a part of then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ White House delegation surrounding the signing of Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan. 

The day that Julie Rothschild Levi left politics was the day Rabin was assassinated (Nov. 4, 1995). But it would be many years before she would don a red nose and rainbow wig. 

Very active in pro-Israel campus politics while at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rothschild Levi pursued a political career, first at the American Jewish Committee and later at the Israeli embassy. Those were the heady days of the Oslo Accord, when hope sprang eternal and the air hung thick with dreams of peace in the Middle East. “I was swept up in it. There was this feeling of everything’s possible. I was very excited to be a part of it,” Rothschild Levi, who was tasked with editing Rabin’s White House speech for the media, said. 

Two years later, Rothschild Levi came to Israel. After arriving at her accommodations and showering, she turned on the news to learn that Rabin had been shot. Memories came flooding back. She relived a moment when she and Rabin had placed their hands on each other’s back after the prime minister had sat through an interview with “Nightline’s” Ted Koppel. “I’ll never forget the feeling of my hand on his back — it was hot and sweaty. And all of a sudden, this man with the hot and sweaty back was dead,” she said. 

Tasked with editing Yitzhak Rabin’s White House speech for the media, Rothschild Levi said, “There was this feeling of everything’s possible. I was very excited to be a part of it.” 

In August 2005, the now-married mother of three, Rothschild Levi settled in Ra’anana. After the birth of her fourth child, Rothschild Levi became mired in postnatal depression, which was misdiagnosed as a hormonal imbalance. She eventually received proper care after moving back with her family to Minnesota. 

Her fifth child was born and the depression resurfaced. Back in Israel for the third time, she took a course in medical clowning when her son was 6 months old. Clowning, she said, helped her heal.  

“Becoming a medical clown allowed me to tap into talent I knew was there but hadn’t used for 20 years,” she said. But after five years, Rothschild Levi hung up her nose and wig. “I realized I had more characters inside me,” she said.

Today, Rothschild Levi is an actress, an entertainer and a comedienne boasting a range of different personas from a rapping grandmother to a French king. 

Recently, Rothschild Levi celebrated her 50th birthday. “It took me close to 50 years,” she said, “to learn things about myself I didn’t know before.”