Monday, October 1, 2007

Lady Madonna

The last time the Madonna was spotted in Jerusalem, time split with a line marking "Before" and "After." Now, splicing Hollywood and the Holy Land together last week, the modern mega pop icon was celebrating Rosh Hashanah with Israeli President Shimon Peres and declaring herself an "ambassador for Judaism."

OK, so this Madonna, unlike the other, is not Jewish. But she is real big on kabbalah, an esoteric corner of learning that like, a slice of Levi’s bread, is wide enough that you shouldn’t have to be Jewish to like it.

But because she’s not stamped kosher, she’s gotten a lot of flack for dipping into a plate of Jewish mysticism that for some is sacred and not just another New Age fad. In fact, rabbis have criticized both her and other celebs’ fascination with the subject, claiming only bona fide students can understand the mysteries. Pouring milk on their meat, she got them kvetching with her song, "Isaac," which they claim is about the 16th-century kabbalist Yitzhak Luria and which she says isn’t.

Say what you will, Madonna has got chutzpah and unlike her younger protégé, Britney, who can’t gain any respect these days, Madonna has remained a lasting figure. While consistently ticking off the religious community, from the time she set foot on the world’s stage, through "Like a Virgin" to recently presenting herself on the cross in concert, she has always danced at the edge of the borderline.

She’s stumbled without totally wiping out, consistently remaining in control of her brand, even while re- inventing it. Her dare has always been part of her act. That thin borderline today is known as the TMZ line and while strutting on it, she’s paradoxically created for herself an iconic status that aspires toward the spiritual.

TMZ, a popular Web site and now nationally syndicated half-hour show on Fox, puts the "oi" in tabloid. It’s the site that publicized Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic tirade, Michael Richards’ onstage meltdown and an up-to-the-minute skinny on a chubby O.J. While more and more celebrities get engulfed in it and drown in the swamp of Hollywood, she’s a survivor.

That show’s host happens to be a Jewish boy, Harvey Levin, who covers the strange fascination we have with fantasyland. On the site he writes, "I know a lot about Hollywood, in no small part because I’ve lived here almost my whole life and I’m pretty much older than dirt." Interesting description, since he peddles it, too. Meanwhile, in the past decade overall production has increased to mud slide levels.

Since the Juice in the Bronco, how far off has mainstream news been from the same feeding trough? O.J. was when it all shifted and the polluted tributary became the contaminated river. You don’t have to read the tabloids to know Rosie’s wacko, Eminem’s a misogynist and Mel’s a psycho. Their stains are all part of the same washload now. Madonna just lifted the underwear out, wore them as outerwear, pranced on the catwalk and made them hip.

Along the way, she’s rocked the books. "The Guinness Book of Records" lists her as the most successful female recording artist ever; she holds the record for the top-grossing concert tour by a female artist and has an estimated net worth of $325 million.

Fame can be nasty, brutish and short. Like our people, she has lasted. And like us, with more branches than a burning bush, stretching in various directions all pointed up, she digs our eretz, recently claiming, "I wouldn’t say studying kabbalah for eight years goes under the category or falls under the category of being a fad or a trend."

While the material girl from Michigan has her feet planted in the mud, she’s also always reached for the stars.