Pop icon Madonna, a.k.a. Esther, in Israel for the Jewish High Holidays along with 2000 other students of Kabbalah, has been making daily headline news since her arrival Wednesday, with midnight trips to a cemetery, a quick drive by past the Wailing Wall, and even the arrest of her security detail.
The singer made a midnight pilgrimage to a Jerusalem cemetery early yesterday morning, holding a mystical candlelit ceremony at the grave of Jewish Kabbalistic sage Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag. Polish-born Ashlag, who died in 1954, is the renowned author of the Sulam, a commentary on the core kabbalistic text, the Zohar.
Madonna, wearing jeans, a black and gray checkered sweater with a matching cap and a large diamond encrusted letter E – for Esther – on a chain, spent more than an hour inside the stone mausoleum, placing candles on the tomb, praying and chanting.
Led by a rabbi, Madonna and her small entourage recited blessings over food and wine, drank from small plastic cups and circled the raised stone grave. A source in Israel’s tourism ministry said Madonna emerged from the tomb in tears.
The Material Girl was then taken to the Wailing Wall, Judaism’s holiest site where biblical temples once stood, but when she saw the overwhelming reception waiting for her, including throngs of fans, media and some detractors chanting “You have no right to be here,” Madonna reportedly decided to stay in her car and take in the site from afar.
Later, Madonna, wearing a low-cut dress with a black and white leopard pattern, called for world peace at a $500-a-plate dinner conference on Kabbalah and children in Tel Aviv.
After a standing ovation, the singer took the microphone and said, “When a child sees another child they just want to play. They’re not thinking, ‘Oh, he’s Muslim’ or ‘she’s a Jew.’ They do not judge one another by the color of their skin or the style of their headdress. It’s adults that put these ideas into children’s heads. …”
“We teach children what we’re trying to learn as adults. The difference is children are more open, they are more alive, they are more pure, and they do not see the world in a fragmented way. They are closer to God,” she said.
Madonna also made reference to the Kabbalah Center’s holiday conference, noting that despite the media attention she has garnered here, she is really just like everyone else.
“I am not here representing a religion or any religious group. I’m here as a student of Kabbalah,” said the superstar.
Israel hopes the star – the biggest pop celebrity to visit in years – will revive tourism battered by four years of violence, and government officials were on hand at the David International Hotel in Tel Aviv to share the spotlight, the glory and the photographs.
Madonna told fellow conference-goers that she was hesitant to come to Israel “after seeing so many news reports about terror attacks” and reading State Department travel warnings.
But the biggest danger she had faced was “a few very naughty paparazzi waiting outside my hotel,” she said, laughing.
“I realize now that it is no more dangerous to be here than it is to be in New York, and I would like to emphasize the fact that I feel very safe and very welcome. … I’d like to say how happy I am to be back in Israel. I promise not to stay away for another ten years,” said the singer, who was last in town for a 1993 concert.
Madonna’s visit was marred on Friday when two of her Israeli-supplied bodyguards were arrested following a brawl with photographers at her Tel Aviv hotel.