Material Girl-turned-kabbalist hits Israel

jerusalem | After all the media hype and the on-again, off-again announcements, megastar singer Madonna arrived in Israel on Wednesday, Sept. 15, just in time to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.

If all goes according to plan, Madonna, who was participating in the international congress of the Kabbalah Center, will be accompanied by members of her family, and will be surrounded by some 2,000 participants from 22 countries.

The Kabbalah Center has booked approximately 1,200 hotel rooms in Tel Aviv and Tiberias for the weekend event Sept. 18 and 19.

Madonna was scheduled to visit Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, where a left-wing women’s group held a vigil opposing her presence in “occupied territory.”

Hundreds of Kabbalah enthusiasts were expected to join Madonna at Rachel’s Tomb, the traditional burial place of the biblical matriarch.

Madonna’s PR agency, Arad Communications, requested that journalists covering events with Madonna wear white and not bring writing utensils or cameras to the press conference. Madonna also asked Jews not to violate the High Holy Days to see her, and she specifically requested non-Jewish photographers.

Heading the American delegation is the center’s Rabbi Phillip Berg, who has served as Madonna’s spiritual guru during her well-publicized Kabbalah studies.

The Web site Israel21c reported that Madonna would be the main attraction at an event called Spirituality for Kids. The 45-year-old singer, along with husband Guy Ritchie and other high-profile American celebrities, would be joining Israeli political leaders including Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom as part of a Kabbalah learning retreat in Tel Aviv over the High Holy Days.

“We need to honor these heroic and courageous children. A gathering of this magnitude can have the power to diminish the volatile gap between Israeli and Arab communities to help the people recognize that love is stronger than hate and that peace is the focus for the future,” said Berg in a press release.

The event was set tp include speeches from Madonna, Elies Jabol, a Christian Arab leader, Sufi Sheik Manasra and Druze official Sheik Abulrocan.

Catholic-born Madonna last visited Israel in 1993 for a concert appearance. She went to Jerusalem, spent less than an hour in her luxury suite at the King David Hotel, and immediately headed for Tel Aviv.

Other American celebrities rumored to be coming for the congress include Donald Trump’s wife, Marla, actress Demi Moore and fashion designer Donna Karan.

Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee’s office in Jerusalem, said the visit did little for interfaith efforts but that he nonetheless saw an upside. “I know that some of my colleagues find it very offensive. I can’t say I’m enchanted by it,” he said. “Nevertheless, our tradition teaches that intention is a key factor in people’s behavior. I feel pretty confident that her intentions are only positive.”

Other religious leaders have been harsher. Rabbi Yitzhak Kadouri, a leading Kabbalist and revered rabbinical sage, said in a recent newspaper interview that non-Jews and women in general are banned from studying Jewish mysticism.

“It is forbidden to teach a non-Jew Kabbalah,” he said.

Matthew Gutman contributed to this report.