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If anyone doubted Madonna's transformation in recent years from a pop-star "Material Girl" to a Kabbala-inspired spiritual woman, the singer proved this weekend that her born-again attachment to Jewish culture and Israel is no passing fancy.
Madonna led an all-star delegation to a Kabbala conference in Tel Aviv on Friday to celebrate Rosh Hashana. The 49-year-old diva was seen singing Jewish songs with the crowd of hundreds at the David Intercontinental Hotel, where the conference on Jewish mysticism was held. At one point, she pressed another participant, apparently a friend, up to the front where he danced excitedly, making her and the crowd giggle and clap enthusiastically.
On Saturday night, Madonna and her film director husband, Guy Ritchie, traveled to Jerusalem and met with President Shimon Peres for nearly two hours at Beit Hanassi.
According to the president's spokeswoman, Peres and Madonna toasted the Jewish New Year together, and presented each other with gifts of holy books - Madonna received a copy of the Hebrew Bible, and the singer gave the president a copy of the Zohar, the mystical text that serves as the basis of Kabbala.
"The president and Madonna discussed how to advance the peace process, and conciliation and tolerance throughout the world," said presidential spokeswoman Ayelet Frish. "Madonna told the president she wants to promote those messages in her songs and books, and how important it was to educate children with those ideas. She also said that meeting President Peres and welcoming in the new Jewish year together with him was the fulfillment of a dream."
Madonna arrived in Israel Wednesday night, on a private visit. The singer did not speak to the media and the conference was closed to TV cameras.
The actress Demi Moore and her husband, actor Ashton Kutcher, also attended the Tel Aviv conference; they were seen on the city streets Thursday night. Fashion designer Donna Karan and former talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell also accompanied Madonna to Israel.
Madonna was raised a Roman Catholic, but she has become a follower of Jewish mysticism in recent years. Her interest has raised the ire of some Orthodox Jews who see the adoption of Kabbala by non-Jewish pop figures as an abomination.
The singer has taken the Hebrew name Esther and has been seen wearing a red thread on her wrist that supposedly helps ward off the evil eye. During her visit she plans to visit sites sacred to Kabbalists.
Madonna came to Israel three years ago, on another Kabbala-centered trip. She first visited the Jewish state in 1993, when she performed in a concert unrelated to Kabbala in Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Park.â€¢