NEW YORK (Oct. 5)
It was only fitting that when Michael Jackson attended Shabbat services in New York, he would choose a synagogue known for its lively singing and dancing.
Jackson, the reclusive pop star best known for early 1980s hits with elaborately choreographed videos such as “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” showed up at Manhattan’s Carlebach Shul last Friday, accompanied by a few security guards and “Kosher Sex” author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
Jackson was not available for comment, but apparently told Boteach the service at the Orthodox shul was one of the most spiritual experiences of his life.
“He loved it, he was clapping his hands with the music,” said Boteach, adding that Jackson particularly enjoyed a Shabbat hymn by King David about “the mountains and valleys and all of God’s creations singing together about the peace of the Sabbath.”
Jackson is not planning to convert to Judaism, but was interested in attending a Jewish service, explained Boteach, who met Jackson through mutual friend Uri Geller. Geller, an Israeli psychic famous for his ability to bend spoons, also attended the services.
Jackson “was swaying right along as if he were a Chasid,” said the shul’s rabbi, Samuel Intrator.
Intrator said that while dancing through the men’s section during “L’cha Dodi,” the traditional song welcoming the Sabbath bride, he briefly held the star’s hand. Intrator did not recall whether Jackson was wearing his trademark glove.
“When I was teaching Torah later, he was again swaying along and listening,” Intrator said. “He seemed to get into it. He seemed very spiritual from what I saw.”
Longtime congregant Barbara Meyer said Jackson created less of a stir than one might expect.
“What I found very interesting was it didn’t seem to have any effect on the concentration of the congregants,” said Meyer, noting that the rabbi acknowledged Jackson’s presence, but “didn’t do anything to draw that much attention to him.”
Intrator noted that services Friday were crowded — with “hundreds” of people – – not because of Jackson but because of the holiday Shemini Atzeret.
This was not Jackson’s first brush with Judaism. In January, he attended a Bar Mitzvah in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he reportedly danced the hora, the train and other traditional dances.
Since befriending the star several months ago, Boteach has given him a tzedakah box and a silver mezuzah, which apparently hangs in the doorway of his office. The two have also talked extensively about Jewish teachings.
“I’ve met a lot of world celebrities, but Michael is very different,” said Boteach, who has snagged headlines for helping comedian Roseanne find shiduchim, or matches, for her daughters.
“He is extremely innocent, humble, eager to learn, eager to listen and profoundly spiritual,” said Boteach, who recently moved back to New York after living in England for years.
In 1995, Jackson created somewhat of a stir in the Jewish community for his song, “They Don’t Care About Us,” which contained the lines, “Jew me/sue me, Everybody do me, Kick me/kike me, don’t you black or white me.”
However, he later promised the Anti-Defamation League that a statement of intent and clarification would be included with all copies of the new song – – and that he would issue a new version of the song without the offensive lyrics.
In a letter to the ADL, Jackson wrote, “Just the idea that my lyrics could offend and hurt anyone’s feelings is extremely painful to me.”
But Jackson allowed the old version to remain in the song’s video.