Raquel Hecker used to worship at the same Kabbalah centre as the singer. Now she’s become disillusioned – both with mystic Judaism and with her favourite star.
A petite blonde steps into an unassuming five-storey building in midtown Manhattan, strides past a poster with her image on it, takes an elevator up a storey and steps out into a gleaming white chamber with rows of pews decorated in a Greco-Roman motif. A man leading a service for 200 worshippers glances up from a book. The entire room inhales at once. One woman’s jaw goes slack.
Madonna – Esther to her friends here at the Kabbalah Centre – has entered the building. Back before she was Esther, Madonna was my childhood idol. So I was curious how Kabbalah had inspired her – how she had gone from covering Don McLean to covering the Barry Sisters, as she did in July, performing at a private party for the head of the Kabbalah Centre, Rabbi Philip Berg.
The first time I went to the Kabbalah Centre was for a Friday-night Shabbat service. The place was packed, albeit unevenly. The men were seated throughout the left and centre sections, the women squeezed tightly into the right section, except for an empty front row. I slid in there and heard two women by the door whisper and point. Slowly it dawned on me: I had planted my ass in the designated celebrity row.
When Madonna walks into the Kabbalah Centre, chairs materialise out of thin air to form a new row in front of the celebrity row. A bearded man runs over with an electric fan and aims it at Madonna, who is flanked by two thin, attractive women in bad blond wigs. Sitting with one yoga-sculpted leg over the other, Madonna dismisses the man with a wave of her hand and he returns, humbled, to where he was sitting.
The service continues: rabbis take turns leading prayers, then when they’re finished step off the stage to shake Madonna’s hand. The Material Girl follows along nonchalantly, mouthing indiscernible nothings to her husband, Guy Ritchie, sitting across the room from her in the men’s section. Her daughter Lourdes comes over to sit with her mother, then runs out of the room. Men steal glances, women whisper among themselves. I look, too, and I’m both mortified and delighted to learn that, if you stare at Madonna for long enough, Madonna will look right back at you.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is said to have written Zohar, the 2nd-century mystical document now considered Kabbalah’s most important text.(These days it also provides the basis for a T-shirt ‘I Scanned Zohar with Ashton’, a reference to the actor and Kabbalah devotee Ashton Kutcher). According to legend, the Aramaic manuscripts were lost for years and found by Moses de Leon in the 13th century in a cave in Israel. ‘Kabbalah’, literally ‘to receive’, became an esoteric practice studied only by male Hasidic scholars over 40, and later a legitimate element of Judaism.
Philip Berg (n’ Feivel Gruberger) is trying to change that. An insurance salesman and Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn, Berg became involved with Kabbalah when he met the renowned Kabbalist Yehuda Brandwein. He studied with Brandwein in Jerusalem and married his niece Rizka. Eight children later, he left her and took up with Karen Berg, an acquaintance from his days selling insurance. According to Centre literature, she possesses ‘an extraordinary sixth sense and intuition’. She was the one who suggested they start the Kabbalah Centre in Israel in the early Seventies, then return to the US in 1981.
When Berg spends Shabbat at the New York Kabbalah Centre, he sits at the head table with Karen on his right and Madonna on his left. On Madonna’s recent Reinvention tour, he blessed every stage she danced across. Berg’s gravitas has made enough of an impression on Madonna that she has recommended his Centre to Gwyneth Paltrow and Britney Spears, among others. Roseanne Barr lectures at the Centre in LA. Among the stars seen with the Centre’s red strings around their wrists are Sharon Osbourne, Winona Ryder, David and Victoria Beckham, Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton, Mick Jagger, Naomi Campbell and Courtney Love.
Paris Hilton, Madonna explained in an ABC interview, was brought to the Centre by her parents after they heard about her sex video. Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, who wore matching his-and-hers baby costumes to the Centre’s Los Angeles Purim party in March, may have a Kabbalah wedding in Tel Aviv.
Certainly Madonna has given Berg’s organisation a particular sort of credibility. Former presidential candidate Wesley Clark seemed taken with Kabbalah as he grew interested in Madonna’s support; in December 2003 he gave a speech that included Kabbalah in a list of major world religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Just as Madonna draws the celebrities who admire her, those celebrities in turn draw those who admire them. On the Kabbalah Centre website, a young devotee says her interest in the Centre began ‘the minute I heard that Britney wears the bendel and that it was also shown in her latest music video, “Everytime”.’
Once wannabes only had to dress like her; I should know – I was one. Such was my Madonna worship that one night when I was 13 I wore a cross around my neck to Hebrew school. At my bar mitzvah, I sang “Material Girl’ in lace half-gloves and rubber bracelets.
These days, though, keeping up with Madonna isn’t simply a matter of trading your old black bracelets for new red ones. ‘I want people to think like me now,’ Madonna told the TV show 20/20 last June. And just how does she think? ‘When in doubt,’ she said, ‘act like God.’
I got to know more Kabbalah devotees by volunteering to set up Shabbat dinner. I’d ask the students what drew them to the Centre and several mentioned Madonna. They’d tell their specific story – an epiphany they had reading one of Berg’s books, a serendipitous glimpse of one of the Centre’s ads in the paper – then mention Madonna as an afterthought. Few of them gave her sole credit with bringing them to Kabbalah, but just about everyone mentioned her and most said they had heard about it in the first place because of her. Only one credited her without hesitation. ‘I saw how much she had transformed because of Kabbalah,’ he said, ‘and I thought, well, if it worked for her …’
One evening, when I had just reported for duty, another volunteer asked me, ‘Do you have your tickets yet?’ ‘Huh?’ ‘Your Madonna tickets!’ she exclaimed (referring to her recent Reinvention tour). ‘If you buy them from the Centre they are the best seats! And all the proceeds go to the Spirituality for Kids programme!’ The royalties from Madonna’s children’s books go to the same fund, which helped purchase the former Atkins headquarters for the Kabbalah Grammar School for Children. According to WABC, Madonna spent a total of $22 million on the school, which will open its doors in 2005 – but only to pupils whose parents are both Kabbalists.
Celebrity Kabbalah followers like Elizabeth Taylor get private tutoring in their mansions. ‘There’s no set charge, just donations,’ said one student. But the typical donation is $200 to $300 an hour, and students can only serve kosher food.
‘During the week ahead we will want to bad-mouth others,’ my teacher told a class one Thursday night. ‘Miriam got leprosy the second she bad-mouthed Moses.’ Pause. ‘What is leprosy?’ No one says anything. ‘Leprosy is when on your skin there’s a big stain, like barley. Every time you speak lashon hara ‘ – talking about someone behind his back – ‘you might get one.’
There are other lessons, too. ‘Satan makes us feel like we could put things off,’ the teacher says. ‘This week, work on your sense of urgency to do things. For example, “I want to buy a Zohar , but maybe in two weeks” – then it will never happen!’ The Kabbalah Centre loves its product placement. During Shabbat services, one rabbi instructed the congregation to drink $3.80, 1.5 litre bottles of Kabbalah water even as he took drinks from a bottle by his side. According to the rabbi, the process of making Kabbalah water is ‘more complicated than that of making Coca-Cola’. In the lob
by you can buy a single red string that has been blessed at Rachel’s tomb in Jerusalem for $8.50, or a yard’s worth for $26. Thesmokinggun.com reported that the US Patent Office rejected the Centre’s request for a patent on bendels, so they’re not exclusive to the lobby. Next season they’ll be sold with a Kabbalah candle at Bergdorf’s, Barneys NY and Neiman Marcus.
As I leave a class with Jane (not her real name), we walk past posters advertising a few of the Centre’s other classes – ‘How to Find Your Soulmate’, ’12 Steps to Everlasting Love’ – with stock photos of couples kissing and kids on swings. Jane tells me that she works in public relations and that ‘it’s not very Kabbalistic’. We walk past piles of tapes for sale on ‘Divine Sex’ and ‘Kabbalistic Astrology’. Over the speakers, I hear Ray of Light. Later, Jane and I are folding napkins into unlikely origami shapes to add a French-restaurant feel to the next evening’s Shabbat dinner. Jane has been fishing for religion since her teens; she’s attended Methodist, Catholic, Pentecostal and Jehovah’s Witness services. She says she likes the Kabbalah Centre best: the principles taught in the classes are easy to apply, especially the notion that when you help others you really help yourself.
I am disillusioned as to how my former idol is no longer the unabashedly confident superwoman I so admired. Plenty of people are still following her, but look what she’s following. Maybe once she gets the financial breakdown she requested and finds how her money is being spent, she will reinvent herself as the wayward Catholic iconoclast I loved. My friend and I spend the rest of the night drinking tea in a Chinese restaurant, reading fortune cookies, and commiserating about how we missed Madonna over steamed pork buns.
source : guardian.co.uk
Madonna is reportedly planning to adopt a child as she has not been able to conceive, despite being absolutely healthy.
According to the Star magazine, Madge and hubby Guy Ritche are planning to bringa child home in early 2005, though they haven’t given up on having a child of their own.
According to a source close to the couple , the couple is happily keen to adopt a child as well as have a baby of their own, the magazine said.
source : ANI
Elton John has said he will apologise to Madonna, after launching an expletive-laced attack on the Material Girl for lip-synching on stage.
“Would I apologize to her if I saw her? Yeah, because I don’t want to hurt any artist’s feelings,” Sir Elton said in an interview in the latest edition of Entertainment Weekly magazine.
“It was my fault. I instigated the whole thing,” he said. “But (lip-synching) applies to all those bloody teenage singers.”
Attending an awards ceremony in London earlier this month, Sir Elton was incensed to find that Madonna had been nominated for best live act.
Taking to the stage, Sir Elton blasted: “Madonna – best f live act? F off. Anyone who lip-synchs in public on stage … should be shot.”
In the interview, the pop legend acknowledged that he had spoken out of turn.
“I don’t want to escalate it because I like Madonna,” he said. “She’s been to my house for dinner. It was something that was said in the heat of the moment, and probably should not have been said.”
At the time, Madonna’s US spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg had flatly rejected Sir Elton’s accusations, saying that Madonna neither lip-synched nor spent time “trashing” other artists.
Sir Elton argued that the media reaction to his comments had been out of proportion to their content.
“It was like I said I think all gays should be killed or I think Hitler was right,” he said. “I just said someone was lip-synching.”
source : turkishpress.com
The University of Kansas is about to be flooded with Madonna condoms.
The Douglas County health department is the winner of the Madonna Condom Giveaway. It was sponsored by the New York-based condom store, Condomania.
The health department wins 21,000 Madonna Condoms, with an authorized picture of the pop star on the wrapper.
Department officials say they’ll be handing out the condoms during Pride Week at the university, where they’ll also host a Madonna look-alike drag show.
source : azcentral.com
Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn was heckled at a screening of his latest movie on Tuesday (26OCT04) by an audience member wanting to know what it’s like to enjoy sexual relations with Madonna.
Penn, 44, was at a question and answer session following a Boston, Massachusetts, viewing of “The assasination of Richard Nixon” when a cheeky participant asked him about his private life with former wife Madonna.
And the heckler also demanded to know if Penn, who ignored the remarks, wore a toupee. Penn, now married to second wife Robin Wright, wed the Like a virgin singer in 1985. They divorced in 1989. He refused to answer the intimate questions.
source : contactmusic
Nominees for the 31st annual People’s Choice Awards were announced Tuesday by Jason Alexander and Malcolm-Jamal Warner of TV’s “Listen Up” and Eva Longoria and Nicollette Sheridan of “Desperate Housewives.”
The nomination and awards process, formerly based on a national poll, has been revised.
The nominees were compiled by Entertainment Weekly, the People’s Choice production team and pop culture fans. The public can choose the winners online starting Tuesday (www.pcavote.com).
Additional feature film categories will be announced later. CBS will broadcast the ceremony from 9-11 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 9. Live in the East, it will be delayed in the West.
Nominees : …
Favorite combined forces:
– Christina Aguilera, Missy Elliot, Lil’ Kim (“Carwash”);
– Black Eyed Peas, Justin Timberlake (“Where is the Love”);
– Norah Jones, Dolly Parton (“The Grass is Blue”);
– Lil’ John, Usher (“Yeah!”);
– Britney Spears, Madonna (“Me Against the Music”)
source : yahoo.com
They may have produced one of the biggest flops in recent movie history, but that hasn’t stopped Madonna and Guy Ritchie teaming up again.
The Material Girl and her film director hubby start filming new gangster flick Revolver in London this week.
It comes after they were ridiculed over their remake of 70s movie Swept Away, a massive flop at the box office in 2002.
One critic snarled: “New ways of describing badness need to be invented to describe how bad it is.”
It even went straight to video in Britain after a disastrous release in the US.
Swept Away went on to pick up five Razzie Awards for Worst Actress, Worst Director, Worst Picture, Worst Remake or Sequel and Worst Screen Couple.
But, unabated, the couple have joined forces on Ritchie’s latest work, with Madge reportedly to play a crime boss.
Jason Statham, who worked with Ritchie on Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and Goodfellas actor Ray Liotta, also star.
Madonna has made a habit of working on movies with her men.
She appeared with ex-husband Sean Penn in Shanghai Surprise and former squeeze Warren Beatty in Dick Tracy.
source : sky.com
Pop superstar Madonna has made a profit of more than $3 million (GBP1.6 million), after selling the Beverly Hills home she purchased from actress Diane Keaton four years ago.
The Material Girl paid $6.5 million (GBP3.6 million) for the home when she bought it in 2000, and has now sold it on for close to its $8.9 million (GBP4.9 million) asking price.
The home boasts courtyards, an outdoor fireplace, a pool and detached offices.
Madonna, who lives primarily in London with her husband Guy Ritchie, first listed the eight-bedroom, 7.5-bathroom property in May 2003 at $10.9 million (GBP6 million).
A month later, she purchased a Beverly Hills compound from actress Sela Ward for $12 million (GBP6.6 million).
source : contactmusic.com
Pop diva Madonna, who has almost turned the mystical Jewish religion Kabbalah into a brand name, has admitted that she took to the faith after getting disillusioned with her fame and money.
“It was eight years ago. I was on top of my world. I’d done Evita, I was pregnant, I had fame,” the actress was quoted by The Sun as saying
“But I was saying to myself, ‘Why am I here? Why am I inside this body? What am I doing?’ I went to a class and there was a man who looked like a rabbi and what he was saying was amazing. I was inspired. Kabbalah teaches you that your true potential has nothing to do with selling records or making money, but what you are doing to help and make the world a better place,” she added.
source : ANI
Madonna’s sermon at the Kabbalah bash thrown by her and Demi Moore took every one by surprise when the pop queen began with a four letter word.
“Turn those f***ing mobile phones off!,” the star shouted in anguish on hearing ring tones emanating from the onlookers, before she began her speech.
And to many’s surprise her speech turned out to be a political outbusrt in support of John Kerry, rather than a religious tirade.
“Demi Moore gave a speech thanking everyone for coming. Then Madonna got up. Her speech was very amusing, even more amusing when people’s mobile phones were going off when she was speaking. She was shouting, ‘Turn those f***ing mobile phones off!’. Then she started ranting on, ‘Vote for John Kerry,’ which raised a round of applause from the crowd,” a source was quoted by The Sun, as saying.
The gathering centred around Kabbalah, the religious sect based on Jewish mysticism and thrown to mark the launch of ‘Becoming Like God’, by the eminent kabbalist rabbi Michael Berg at a private members’ club in Portman Square, Marylebone, London also included celebs like
Gwyneth Paltrow and fashion designers Donatella Versace, Valentino, Matthew Williamson and Alexander McQueen.
source ” ANI