Michael Jackson dances hora at Bar Mitzvah in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG, Jan. 25 (JTA) — Over the years, Michael Jackson has often been in the headlines for his unconventional garb and lifestyle. But this might be the first time the pop music star has garnered media attention for trying to fit in. Sporting a red military-style jacket with gold braid and a yarmulka, Jackson surprised congregants in the Sandton synagogue when he turned up for the Bar Mitzvah of Dean Cohen earlier this month. Jackson was accompanied by bodyguards and his two children. The story of Jackson’s friendship with Cohen’s parents, Phillip and Roslyn, only became public last weekend. Friends of the Cohens had guarded the secret as closely as the security which surrounded the pop hero. “We only knew he was coming an hour before his arrival,” said Rabbi Siggi Suchard, who officiated at the service. “I was introduced to Michael Jackson before the service. I found him very polite and quiet. He was given a yarmulka, which he wore, but not a tallis,” Suchard said. This is the second world-famous Bar Mitzvah guest who has been presented to the rabbi — the first was President Nelson Mandela, who accepted a personal invitation to a Bar Mitzvah ceremony two years ago. “We were totally surprised,” said one guest. “But there was so much extra security at the shul and a great deal of secrecy surrounding the arrangements that I suspected something was going to happen.” Phillip Cohen apparently struck up a friendship with Jackson when the family spent a weekend at the popular Sun City hotel and gaming resort three years ago. According to guests, there appears to be a genuine closeness between the pop star and the family — so much so that Jackson made a special trip to South Africa for the Bar Mitzvah. After the service, Jackson’s children were taken home, while the famous guest attended the celebration at a local hotel. “He danced the hora, the train and other traditional dances,” said a guest. “He shook hands with all the children and signed autographs.” The musicians Skippy and Doug — Eyal Shaked and Douglas Watt — who were hired for the party were “somewhat unnerved” by Jackson’s presence. “It’s kind of like you are a fine artist, hired to paint a ceiling, and Michelangelo walks in. But he was really very nice. We sang the American national anthem for him. When I apologized for making a mistake with a couple of the words, as I hadn’t known he was coming, he laughed and reassured me, “ said Shaked. “Then with my chutzpah, I invited him to sing with our band — but he answered very graciously that he’d rather just listen and dance.” Jackson was reportedly one of the last to leave.

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