This is my latest column for Jewish News:
So it turns out that the Canadian pop star Justin Bieber says the Shema prayer before he goes on-stage. I am pleased but not surprised. When I was writing my recently-published book about him I found myself wondering whether Bieber – a god-fearing young man and the most blamelessly-living pop star since Cliff Richard – might find Judaism a good fit.
He could so be a nice Jewish boy – but don’t tell his mother! A very Christian lady, Pattie used to pray that Justin might grow into a modern-day version of the biblical prophet Samuel, an inspiring voice of holiness for his generation.
But when a young Jewish pop manager called Scott Braun promised to propel Justin to superstardom, Pattie prayed again, saying: “God, you don’t want this Jewish kid to be Justin’s man, do you?” Perhaps he did. Justin recently wore a kippah at the wedding of one of his Jewish band members and sang Hava Naglia at the reception.
He is far from the only gentile celebrity to flirt with Judaism. I’ve written biographies of several famous people and I love it when these moments pop up. When I wrote about Dannii Minogue, for instance, she came across as a philosemite. She loves joining Jewish pals for Shabbat dinners and has worn Judaic jewellery.
As I researched my book about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s tumultuous relationship I found myself sidetracked as I found ever-more admirable stories of Jolie’s father Jon Voight’s love of Jewish people and his support for the state of Israel. He is the Oy Va Goy of Hollywood – or the Oy Va Voight, if you will.
Not all gentile celebs are so admirable. When Madonna – who was baptised as a Catholic – publicly embraced a monstrously-diluted form of Kabballah, she didn’t only embarrass herself. She also muddied perceptions of those of us who are sincerely fascinated by the real Jewish mysticism. Her visit to the Israeli town of Tz’fat, the home of Jewish mysticism, brought a type of attention to the town which understandably dismayed many of its residents.
Not that everyone who has critcised Madonna is on strong ground. Boy George, who bizarrely once had a Magen David tattooed to his head, has slammed Madonna’s interest in Kabbalah. He also called her “a vile, hideous, horrible human being with no redeeming qualities”. Ironically, if I was in a bad mood those would be precisely the words I would use to describe him.
It gets weirder. When Paris Hilton – who I have also written a biography of – was jailed for driving offences in 2007, she asked the wardens if she could have kosher steaks delivered to her cell from the Prime Grill restaurant in Hollywood. She is also a fan of Madonna’s form of Kabbalah. “It helps you confront your fears,” explained Paris. “Like if a girl borrowed my clothes and never gave them back I would confront her.”
During one Kabbalah class she attended, as the assembled discussed how they had used it to help them come to terms with bereavement, Paris blurted out a random story about a “hot guy” she knew. “Nobody knew what to say,” said an eye-witness. Well, quite. And why was I not surprised when Lindsay Lohan decided not to see-through her much trumpeted conversion plans? It’s just a game for some people.
I have admiration for the famous gentiles who actually converted, including Sammy Davis Jr, Ivanka Trump, Marilyn Monroe and Felicity Kendal. Partly because it’s fun to be able to put those four people in the same sentence.
If young Justin ‘Bubbeleh’ ever does decide to convert he could become more like the prophet Samuel than his mother had ever imagined. Be careful what you pray for, Pattie – it might just come true!