Amid a flurry of television camera crews, photographers, radio reporters and print media correspondents, American singer, songwriter, dancer, choreographer and TV personality Paula Abdul exchanged banter with President Shimon Peres on Tuesday as the two met in one of the President’s Residence reception halls.

The petite Abdul, best known to Israeli television audiences through her eights seasons as a judge on American Idol, was in Israel for the first time with the goal of celebrating her bat mitzva – albeit almost four decades late.

She came in escorted by her team and representatives of the Tourism Ministry, under whose auspices she was in the country. Former tourism minister Isaac Herzog had originally invited her some six or seven years ago, but she hadn’t found the time to visit until now.

Wearing a long ultramarine sweater, light tan skinny pants and tan platformsoled slingbacks, she waved a hello to the media as she sat waiting for Peres to enter the room. Someone asked how she felt, and she replied, “Fantastic, beyond excited.”

“I hear he’s sababa,” she said of Peres, using the Hebrew word for “cool.”

Asked what it was like to be 12 again, she replied, “I don’t remember” – then corrected herself, saying, “I do remember 12. I don’t remember what I ate yesterday.”

As Peres entered the room and greeted her, she told him it was a pleasure and honor to meet him, then threw her arms around him and hugged him. Peres did not resist, nor did his bodyguards close in.

She introduced the president to the members of her team, and in front of the throng of media reps, declared, “And these are all my friends.”

Peres told Abdul he was jealous of her, explaining that he’d already had his bar mitzva, but as she had never celebrated her bat mitzva, she had something to look forward to.

He said he was also jealous that she could sing and he could only speak.

“Can you dance?” she asked.

Peres preferred to ignore the question, but Abdul went on to say that two of her great passions were singing and dancing – the latter more so, because “dancing breaks all language barriers.”

Declaring herself “overwhelmed” to be in Israel after having wanted to come for so long and listening to the tales of family members who had already been here, she said this was her first vacation in eight years. It was her first opportunity to be a tourist, she said, “and I know that when I leave, I won’t want to leave.”

“So stay here,” Peres responded.

“In your humble home?”Abdul enquired.

“I’m sure the Ministry of Tourism will find a place,” he retorted.

Obviously enjoying the repartee, Peres told her that “most meetings are a duty, but this is a pleasure.”

He advised her to have a really good look at the country during her stay.

“Everyone’s talking that you are so sababa – and it’s true,” Abdul enthused.

“You say ‘sababa,’ but my grandchildren call me saba [grandpa],” rejoined Peres.

Abdul then wanted to know how many grandchildren he had. Peres told her he had three children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, commenting, “Every addition is better.”

He then sent his deputy director-general, Yona Bartal, to fetch a photo of him with his great-grandchildren.

“My greatest achievement wasn’t achieved by me, but by their parents,” he said proudly.

Peres told her his greatgrandchildren’s ages – six, five and one – and said he was certain that the oldest of the three was destined to become a performing artist.

“She sings and dances and steals the show. She writes her own songs and tells her own stories,” he said in a tone of admiration.

The television crews and photographers then made their exit, prompting Abdul to ask, “Was it something I said?” The president’s spokeswoman Ayelet Frish replied that it would be easier for Abdul and Peres to talk without the presence of the media.

Peres wanted to know how Abdul’s career had started, and she said that when she was four years old, she had been sitting with her family, watching Singing in the Rain on television. She had been so entranced that she edged up to the television set and kissed the screen, saying, “That’s my daddy.”

Her father had tried to dissuade her, saying, “No, I’m your daddy,” but when it came to her career choice, it was the screen daddy who won out.

Abdul started to tell Peres about musical instruments that she had learned to play, but by then it was time for the print media reporters to leave the room. In the few minutes that they remained together sans media, it transpired, he gave her a quick outline of Israel’s achievements over the past 65 years.

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