(photo credit: AP)
Pop star Madonna is coming back to Israel, and this time she's bringing her celebrity friends.
Actors Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher and fashion designer Donna Karan are among the famous faces scheduled to arrive as part of a Kabbalah Center tour being organized for the High Holidays, representatives of the organization confirmed Thursday. The trip was first reported in Yediot Aharonot.
The singer, who celebrated her 49th birthday last week, will travel on a private jet, joining several thousand other Kabbalah Center students for the first few days of the pilgrimage, a 10-day affair that kicks off before Rosh Hashana and will mix lessons in Jewish mysticism with visits to Jerusalem, the Galilee and the Golan Heights.
The trip marks Madonna's first appearance in Israel since September 2004, when the singer spent five days traveling the country as part of a private Kabbalah Center tour and study program.
As with her previous trip to Israel - the singer also performed a 1993 concert in Tel Aviv - Madonna will be joined by her husband, the English filmmaker Guy Ritchie.
In addition to the couple's three children, who include a baby boy the pair adopted in Malawi last October, the singer will be accompanied by Hollywood friends Moore and Kutcher, married Kabbalah Center enthusiasts who may also bring along Moore's ex-husband, the action star Bruce Willis.
For Karan, the trip marks the clothing mogul's second visit to the Jewish state this year, and comes four months after her in-person acceptance of an honorary fellowship at Tel Aviv's Shenkar College of Engineering and Design.
Israel's A-list holiday visitors will be joined on their trip by 3,000 Kabbalah Center students from around the world, who in contrast to their celebrity counterparts will arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport via regularly scheduled El Al flights.
Unlike other participants, Madonna is not expected to stay for the entirety of the program, though "maybe she'll be back here for the end, for Yom Kippur," said Asaf Levi, a Kabbalah Center spokesman.
Madonna's return visit represents the continued closeness of her nearly decade-long relationship with the Kabbalah Center, which first became public knowledge around the release of Ray of Light, the singer's spiritually-themed 1998 techno album.
Criticisms that the center has commercialized an ancient form of Jewish mysticism - its Web site sells $26 packages of red string to ward off "the Evil Eye" - haven't prevented the pop star's successful recruitment of her celebrity friends and acolytes, who include Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Among those accompanying the singer on next month's visit, Moore is "known to have waxed Kabbalistic" on the set of 2003's Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, according to an article published the following year in USA Today.
Levi declined to say whether more entertainers may join the upcoming trip, remarking that the issue "isn't closed, so I don't want to give any comments at this time."
The spokesman said Israel's press would be asked to keep its distance from the visiting celebrities, a request prompted by the national media's aggressive pursuit of Madonna on her last trip to the country, when she was heavily guarded by private security and a police escort. "We've talked about [those problems] and we hope it will be different," Levi said, adding that he couldn't be more specific about security precautions being taken this time around.
Madonna and her celebrity friends won't perform for the public, Levi said, though he held out the possibility that the singer would meet with Tourism Ministry or other government officials during her stay. The singer accepted a small gift from then-tourism minister Gideon Ezra during an official reception on her most recent visit, telling audience members that she and those she met on her trip "have one thing in common - we want to create peace in the world."
Should Madonna and her fellow stars end up meeting government officials during their stay, it won't be their first brush with the country's leadership. In a 2005 interview for Israeli television, Willis - still unconfirmed for the trip - expressed admiration for then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, with the Die Hard star commenting that he'd been impressed by the toughness of the veteran politician and army commander.
Kutcher, best known for his work on That '70s Show and MTV reality program Punk'd, had an even more direct encounter with the Israeli government last October, meeting with Shimon Peres briefly in Berlin.
In town to promote his latest movie, the Dude, Where's My Car? star put in a hasty request for a meeting with Peres after learning that he, too, was in the German capital on business.
At their meeting, Peres fielded questions from Kutcher about Israel's security situation, with Kutcher ending the conversation with a pledge to visit Israel someday with his wife.