Madonna makes pilgrimage to Israel. In time for the Jewish New Year, Esther will join 2,000 other Kabbalah students from around the world

By Gary Susman
September 15, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Madonna: Michael Caulfield/

It’s notoriously difficult to get people in Israel to agree on anything, but they seem to be united in their opposition to Madonna’s upcoming Kabbalah pilgrimage to the Holy Land. According to wire service reports, the veteran provocateuse seems to have found a way to alienate people from nearly every faction in Israel.

The itinerary for Esther (that’s the Kabbalah name Madonna has adopted): She’s arriving on Wednesday, just in time for the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown. She’s staying at a luxury hotel in Tel Aviv, perhaps to be joined by some of the more famous among her 2,000 fellow Kabbalists from around the world, including such semi-celebs as fashionista Donna Karan and Donald Trump ex Marla Maples. The five-day tour includes stops at such shrines as the Western Wall in Jerusalem and the tomb of Biblical matriarch Rachel outside Bethlehem.

Some rabbis have complained that Madonna’s interest in Kabbalah is little more than a celebrity fad, and that the practices she and others have learned at Los Angeles’ Kabbalah Center (sponsors of her trip) are new-age dilutions that trivialize a complex and arcane branch of Jewish mysticism. Ultra-orthodox Jewish leaders have groused that it is forbidden to teach Kabbalah to women and Gentiles. Others are worried that she’ll show up at holy sites dressed as scantily as she does in concert, like the Jerusalem woman who told Reuters, ”She should dress modestly instead of showing off her body.” Pro-Palestinian activists plan to protest her visit to Rachel’s tomb, which is in the occupied West Bank. Even journalists are grumbling, since they’ve been ordered to wear white clothes and not take notes while covering her visit. ”This is entertainment, not Judaism,” said radio host Uri Orbach, the Associated Press reports.

About the only people happy to see Madonna are officials from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, who plan to give her an ancient oil lamp and a coin from the Byzantine era on Sunday. ”There’s no question having stars in the country is a wonderful way to show the world the wonders of our nation,” tourism spokesperson Rami Levi told AP. Of course, this particular star and her 2,000 friends will be accompanied by a 1,000-officer entourage of police, a perk not available to most tourists. Said a soldier beefing up security at Rachel’s tomb: ”Tell her that we’re waiting to see her.”