Plans for pop singer Madonna to spend the Rosh HaShanah New Year holiday in the Galilee city of Tzfat are causing a controversy in what is considered by many to be the birthplace of Jewish mysticism.
The singer, sometimes referred to as "The Material Girl" (after a song by the same name), will arrive in the city with her husband, English writer-director Guy Ritchie, and their three children, prior to the start of the holiday. They will be accompanied by several friends, including acting couple Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, as well as top designer Donna Karan. Also arriving with Madonna will be some 3,000 students of the Los Angeles-based Kabalah Center.
The local tourism industry will be boosted beyond measure, say business owners who depend largely on the tourist trade in the small city of 30,000. The northern Israeli city has been struggling economically since last summer's Second Lebanon War with Hizbullah terrorists, who peppered the north with deadly Katyusha rockets, driving all thoughts of tourism away during the busiest season of the year.
The Florida Jewish Federation has pledged $8 million in contributions for projects to help rejuvenate the region – and that sum includes $100,000 to build a Kabalah Center.
But the ten-day pilgrimage by Madonna and company, which is expected to end with the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, has split the city between those anticipating an economic boom and others worried about the cheapening of the concept of Kabalah. Madonna, a pop culture icon, is notorious for very sexually suggestive stage performances.
"A lot of people are looking for spiritual fulfillment and self-improvement," contends Laurie Rappaport, a long-time resident of the city nestled in the hills of Galilee. Rappaport, who runs the visitor's center for Livnot U'Lehibanot (To Build and to be Built), was blunt about the benefits of Madonna's return to the city she visited in 2004. "From a business point of view, anything that brings people into Tzfat is desirable," she said.
Not everyone is pleased about the idea of having thousands of wannabe Kabalists flooding the city during one of the holiest times of the Jewish year, however.
"Kabala is too holy to put into the hands of everybody," said Jewish artist Ya'akov Kaszemacher of Tzfat, one Israel's four holy cities along with Jerusalem, Tiberias and Hevron.
Serious Kabala students disapprove of mysticism being adopted by people who know little or nothing about Kabalah's deeply metaphysical concepts and who are only familiar with its very basic, exterior ideas.
Realtors may also benefit in the long run; word has it that Madonna is also planning to buy a house in the Rosh Pina – Tzfat area.