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Friday, October 9, 2015

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American Idol judge wants bat mitzvah in Israel

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Paula Abdul with Rabbi Chaim Mentz [Susan Minuk photo]

TORONTO — Singer and choreographer Paula Abdul, who’s currently best known for her stint as a judge on the TV show American Idol, says she hopes to have a bat mitzvah in Israel someday.

“I attended a Conservative temple in the Los Angeles area and celebrated the holidays – Yom Kippur, Chanukah and Passover. I didn’t have a bat mitzvah but still hope to in Israel,” Abdul told about 450 people at the Eglinton Grand in Toronto recently.

More than $100,000 was contributed at the Nov. 25 fundraiser. The money is going toward paying for property Chabad on the Avenue purchased on Falkirk Avenue in the Bathurst Street and Lawrence Avenue neighbourhood. Chabad on the Avenue operates the Family Shul.

Abdul spoke about her Jewish roots in an onstage conversation moderated by Rabbi Chaim Mentz of Chabad of Belair in California.

“I have known Rabbi Mentz almost half my life. We met in 1988 on the last night of Chanukah. It was pouring rain, I was with my soon-to-be-husband, Emilio Estevez. In the pouring rain, Rabbi Mentz captured my heart. I recall telling him I was leaving early the next morning for a tour. He asked me if I had a mezuzah. I replied that I did not, but when I came home from my tour, there were well over a dozen mezuzahs waiting for me,” Abdul said, laughing.

 “I think that being Jewish, having that sense of community, and growing up as a Jewish girl is one thing, but what truly changed me is having a relationship with my rabbi. Feeling safe, feeling like you belong, feeling like there is never a time I can’t talk to him. There is no judgment at Chabad,” she said.

Abdul was born in San Fernando, Calif., in 1962, to Jewish parents. Her father, Harry Abdul, was born in Aleppo, Syria, and raised in Brazil, and subsequently immigrated to the United States.

Paula’s mother, Lorraine Rykiss, who is originally from Saint Boniface, Man., has ancestors from Russia and Ukraine. Abdul said her mother spoke Yiddish in the house.

Abdul rose from a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Lakers to a highly sought-after choreographer. With six No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and a Grammy for Best Music Video, Opposites Attract, she went on to win twice the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography, as well as numerous MTV Music Video Awards.

Along with judging American Idol, she has also judged The X-Factor, Live to Dance and, most recently, Dancing with the Stars. Abdul has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Abdul told the audience that her inspiration was dancer Gene Kelly. “When I was four years old watching Singin’ in the Rain with my family, I kept moving closer and closer to the television. I remember kissing it and saying, ‘He’s my dad,’ about Gene Kelly. My mother said, ‘No, this is your dad’ – pointing to my dad – and that can be your TV dad.’ I said, ‘That’s what I am going to do, dance just like him.’”

Soft-spoken, Abdul was upfront and candid as she shared several stories throughout the evening. “My parents instilled in me the act of gratitude, and it is how I lead my life,” she said. “I connect with people. That is my famous gift.”

Rabbi Mentz described Abdul as “a beautiful Jewish neshamah – that is what I see in Paula. A beautiful Jewish girl, inside and out.”

Guest Nathan Disenhouse, president of Jewish National Fund of Canada, said, “It is great that the community has come out in strength to build this new synagogue. It is needed in the area. After many years of having to rent space, I am pleased that Chabad on the Avenue is able to get a permanent home for themselves,” he said.

The evening was presented by brothers Jian Magen and Page Magen, co-founders of Magen Boys Entertainment, and Abby Tobias, president of Sole Power Productions. “We wanted to put on an event that people will remember for a long time. Paula Abdul is a legend, and we are honoured to have the opportunity to work with her,” Jian said.

With 50 sponsors, the evening featured a live auction of art, music and sports memorabilia, a hotel package, and jewelry.

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