Michael Jackson’s life was full of contradictions and his relationship to Jews and the Jewish community was no exception.
This was the man who asked to be allowed to visit the Museum of Tolerance and its Holocaust exhibit one week before its Los Angeles opening in February 1993. Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the museum, took Jackson on a two-hour tour ending with the vivid exhibit on the Final Solution.
“When he left, Michael was crying, and he wrote me afterwards that he cried for weeks,” Rabbi Hier recalled.
Two years later, Rabbi Hier and Jackson corresponded again, but this time the tone was quite different. Jackson had just released an album, featuring the song ‘They Don’t Care About Us,’ which included the lyrics “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me/Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me.”
Rabbi Hier fired off an angry letter to Jackson, who replied with a profuse apology, declaring: “I am committed to tolerance, peace and love,” and promised an explanatory note would accompany future album sales.
Jackson met another notable rabbi, Shmuley Boteach, in 1999, the two became fast friends and toured together to promote the Heal the Kids campaign.
Rabbi Boteach, now quite a media figure in his own right, was reached by phone during a family trip in Iceland on Monday, and reminisced about his “warm relationship” with the pop star.
“We used to have him over for Shabbat dinners,” Rabbi Boteach recalled. “At one point, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was visiting and I wanted Michael to meet him.”
Jackson’s entourage urged him not to meet the controversial Sharon for fear of offending some of his fans, but the stage icon ignored the advice and met him, Rabbi Boteach said.
“Any suggestions that Michael was not friendly to the Jewish community are inaccurate,” Boteach maintained, though he acknowledged that he had not talked to Jackson for years.
Even after Jackson’s death, the Jewish angle has been resurrected with speculation on whether custody of his two older children (and of the estate they will inherit) will go to the pop star’s parents or the kids’ Jewish mother.
She is Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s former nurse, his wife for three years and biological mother of 12-year old Prince Michael I and Paris Michael Katherine, 11, who under Jewish law are also considered Jewish. A third child, Prince Michael II, was born of a surrogate mother, whose identity has not been revealed.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff on Monday granted temporary guardianship of the three children to Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson. Whether Rowe will contest the elder Jackson’s guardianship is unclear. To add a bit more spice, a newspaper has resurrected an old story on Rowe’s alleged claim that she was impregnated artificially by semen other than Jackson’s.
Requests for information from Rowe and her former and current lawyers went unanswered, and media reports maintain, with equal assurance, that Rowe will fight for the custody of her children, or that she has no interest in raising them.
Full story in this Friday’s JC