NYtimes: In Israel, Madonna Finds Little Solitude
Madonna wanted to see Israel, and Israelis yearned to see Madonna. But in the end, each side managed only a glimpse of the other.
Madonna came to Israel with some 2,000 fellow followers of cabala, a form of Jewish mysticism, and spent most of her five days here holed up in the luxury David Inter-Continental Hotel, across the street from the Tel Aviv beachfront.
Her planned tour of Jewish holy sites was curtailed, most notably in the early hours of Sunday, when her heavily guarded convoy pulled into the stone plaza near the Western Wall in Jerusalem around 1:30 a.m. Despite the hour, a large gathering of Jewish worshipers were taking part in prayers linked to the Jewish New Year, which fell last week. In addition, several dozen photographers were prowling the grounds. Madonna looked out the darkened windows of her van for several minutes as the crowd gathered around. The van then drove off without Madonna’s ever opening the door.
Secular Israelis have been starved for big-name international acts in recent years and were ready to embrace Madonna, who sang here in 1993. But she came to pray, not to perform. She and her husband, the British filmmaker Guy Ritchie, took part in cabala sessions in the hotel’s conference room, which was converted into a synagogue, with segregated men’s and women’s sections.
Madonna’s only formal public appearance came Sunday night, when the Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Center, which organized the trip, staged a children’s program at the hotel that featured Jewish and Arab youths and drew more than 1,000 guests, including Israeli government officials.
“I was a bit hesitant to come here after seeing so many news reports about terrorist attacks,” said Madonna, wearing a low-cut dress with a black and white leopard print. “I realize now that it is no more dangerous to be here than it is to be in New York.”
Madonna has been exploring cabala since 1997 and now dresses and often performs with symbols of Judaism and cabala. She sometimes wears a Jewish star and often has a red thread on her wrist, a cabala trademark intended to ward off the evil eye.
When she visited a Tel Aviv restaurant, she wore a glittery necklace with a large letter E, apparently a reference to her recent adaptation of the biblical Jewish name Esther. But Madonna said she was not representing a religion. “I’m here as a student of cabala,” she said. “A cabalist sees the world as a unified whole. A cabalist asks why. A cabalist believes that he or she has the responsibility to make the world a better place.”
The Israeli government seized on the singer’s visit for tourism promotion, and Tourism Minister Gideon Ezra presented her with a Byzantine-era oil lamp and a coin on Sunday. Earlier he had suggested that it would be helpful if Madonna would pose for a picture with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, though there was no sign that this materialized.
Madonna arrived in Israel on Wednesday night, at the beginning of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and organizers had announced planned visits to several religious shrines. But whenever she tried to venture out, she found herself surrounded. After the Friday night dinner in Tel Aviv, two of her bodyguards were arrested after scuffling with and injuring two photographers.
Just after midnight Saturday, she made a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem grave site of the cabalist sage Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag. Madonna and her husband, with police and photographers in tow, spent more than an hour inside the stone mausoleum. She prayed, chanted and placed candles on the tomb, and shortly before leaving wiped tears from her eyes.
Afterward, she made her abbreviated trip to the Western Wall, the holiest site for Jewish prayer. Other planned visits, including a trip to the tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel, which is in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in the West Bank, never took place.
While Madonna has studied cabala for seven years, there are still plenty of skeptics questioning her commitment to a form of study traditionally reserved for men over 40 who have mastered the Torah and the Talmud. “It is forbidden to teach a non-Jew cabala,” Yitzhak Kadouri, a leading cabalist, recently told the Israeli newspaper Maariv.
But the Kabbalah Center says the cabala is open to all.
Article by Greg Myre, The New York Times