Madonna fends off fans and protesters to finish her retreat

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The Independent Online

Madonna, the Catholic pop diva turned Jewish mystic, ended a five-day retreat last night with 2,000 fellow searchers in the comfort of a five-star Tel-Aviv hotel. She was flying home to London with her film-director husband, Guy Ritchie, in their private jet.

Madonna, the Catholic pop diva turned Jewish mystic, ended a five-day retreat last night with 2,000 fellow searchers in the comfort of a five-star Tel-Aviv hotel. She was flying home to London with her film-director husband, Guy Ritchie, in their private jet.

In one of her few forays outside the seafront David Intercontinental, Madonna made a midnight pilgrimage at the close of the Jewish New Year on Saturday to the tomb of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag. The Polish-born sage, author of Sulam, a commentary on the Zohar, the kabbalistic "Book of Splendour," died in 1954.

Madonna, sporting a diamond-encrusted letter E for Esther, her new name, meditated inside the limestone mausoleum for more than an hour, circling the grave, praying, chanting and lighting candles. The singer, her wrist draped in a red cord against the evil eye, wiped tears from her eyes.

From the Givat Shaul cemetery at the entrance to Jerusalem, Madonna drove to the Western Wall. By arriving late at night, she had hoped to avoid publicity, but the paparazzi were waiting - and refused to be shooed away with an imperious wave. Madonna fretted inside her armour-plated limousine on the edge of the plaza, then drove off under heavy security. Bodyguards kept the photographers at bay, but there was no repeat of a brawl on Friday night when they came to blows and had to be separated by police.

Contrary to advance reports, she did not visit Rachel's Tomb, where barren women pray for fertility, on the outskirts of the besieged West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Pro-Palestinian protesters had planned to greet her with "Don't Cry for Me, Palestina". They mingled instead with fans gathered outside the David for last night's gala finale of the five-day kabbala fest.

Awe-struck local media reported that their royal suite boasted a specially built yoga room, its own coffee machine, crates of holy mineral water and a chef. At the opening ceremony on Wednesday night, Ritchie was said to have danced while embracing a Torah scroll.

"I am very enthusiastic about Israel," Madonna told one of the local participants at last night's gala. "I thought that everyone here would be extreme and fighting. I love the country and the great spirituality it has." Not a word to the Palestinians.

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