Former Kiss guitar player Gene Simmons goes home to Haifa

A well-circulated piece of trivia about Gene Simmons, former member of the band Kiss, is that he was born in Haifa, Israel. For years Simmons’ birthplace and Israeli heritage were rumored to be true, but in the digital age it would be confirmed on Wikipedia and YouTube.

Now there is no question that the aging rock star, who is in the sixth season of his own reality TV show on A&E, “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” traces his roots to Israel.

In recent back-to-back episodes, Simmons ventures back home to Haifa. Accompanied by son Nick and fiancee Shannon Tweed, a former Playboy playmate who has been his partner for 28 years, Simmons takes an El Al jet to Tel Aviv en route to his birthplace, where he receives Haifa’s medal of honor from the mayor.

Gene Simmons visits his native Israel. photo/jta/bamatide

Simmons left Israel as an 8-year-old, moving to the United States with his mother, a survivor of Auschwitz.

In the episode “Blood Is Thicker than Hummus,” Simmons explains that he is reluctant to return to Israel, but his fiancee convinces him to go. When he arrives at his hotel, the cameras are in tow for his first experience speaking to Israelis.

Using a perfect Hebrew accent, Simmons checks into the hotel with the pseudonym Oy Vey. But it isn’t long before the memories of his childhood lead him to a very emotional moment when he proclaims, “Hashem sheli [my name is] Chaim Veitz,” using his birth name Witz and expressing that he would be nothing without his birthplace.

Simmons and his entourage get a VIP tour of the important sites in Israel, including Yad Vashem and the Western Wall. He also visits Cafe Nitza, the bakery where his mother worked. Sitting down to enjoy a pastry, the aroma from the café revives memories for Simmons.

On a nostalgic tour of his childhood, Simmons visits Rambam Hospital, where he was born in 1949. He returns to his childhood house in Haifa and speaks in Hebrew with Chaya Cohen, his neighbor growing up.

The most poignant segment in the two episodes is the reunion dinner secretly convened by Tweed that allows Simmons to meet his Israeli family 50 years after he left the country. He meets his half-brother and three half-sisters, his father’s children from subsequent marriages, and together they visit their father’s grave and say the Kaddish memorial prayer.

Say what you will about reality TV, the Gene Simmons nostalgia tour to Haifa is must-see television before the High Holy Days. If watching a former rock star tour Israel as the distant memories come back in a cloud of nostalgia doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps the message of reconnecting with family will.

As Simmons puts his father’s yarmulke on his head, he suddenly realizes how important his roots are to him.

 

“Gene Simmons Family Jewels” episodes “Blood Is Thicker Than Hummus” and “The Demon Does the Holy Land” are available for instant viewing for $1.99 each at www.tinyurl.com/44q2wzl.