Singer, songwriter, choreographer, dancer and television personality Paula Abdul recently spoke with JLife editor Dr. Lisa Grajewski and contributing writer Tanya Schwied about her trip to Israel. Known for her wide swath of talent that began in the 80s, Abdul recently reaffirmed her Jewish heritage when she had her Bat Mitzvah in Jerusalem, which was conducted by Rabbi Eyal Riess. In addition to this event of a lifetime, Abdul traveled around Israel and met with Israel’s President, Shimon Peres, Knesset members and Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu.
Abdul, who began her career with the L.A. Lakers, has evolved into one of the most diverse and well-known entertainers. Abdul has been honored for her lifetime of achievement, which is evident by the list of talent that graces her resume. She continues to share her talent by working with Australia’s Dancing With The Stars, developing lifestyle and jewelry lines, and becoming a well-known speaker around the United States. Finally, she is a proud member of the Jewish Community and a friend to Israel.
Why did you decide to re-affirm your Judaism faith at this point in time with your Bat Mitzvah in Israel? I always had an interest in my Judaism heritage. When I met my Rabbi—Rabbi Mentz of Bel Air—he got me thinking about reaffirming my faith and having a Bat Mitzvah—and what better place than Israel? It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Why in Israel? Had you ever been before? Are you kidding me? What better place [than Israel]? It was my very first trip to Israel. I wanted to go many times but due to my schedule wasn’t able to until last year.
How has your faith influenced your music, career and family life? You have to have faith to achieve the impossible. And, I can tell you I have had a lot of hurdles to overcome since the day I was born. I was taught, however, not to take no for an answer and to keep fighting for what you believe. Faith has a lot to do with not giving up.
How do you feel about being a role model for young Jewish women? It’s hard for me to think of myself as a role model. I am very proud that I can help women to feel better about themselves by simply sharing a little of my life story. It’s very humbling.
What was growing up Jewish like for you? Were you an outsider? Or were you proud and accepted by your peers? Did you attend synagogue? It was my heritage. I didn’t speak much about it because it was personal—but I’ve always been proud [of being Jewish]. I don’t think I ever felt like an outsider regarding being Jewish. It really wasn’t an issue where I was raised. I’ve always been a little different, however—look at the career I chose. I did attend temple, mostly on holidays.
What are some things you like most about being Jewish? I love the beautiful traditions and holidays and spending time with family and of course matzo ball soup.
What did you think of Israel? Would you go back? What were your favorite places? Israel is magical and life-changing. It is the most amazing place I’ve ever been. I would love to go back. I love the history, the religious sites, and the people, and did I mention the food? Well, truly everything! One of the most incredible highlights of the trip was getting to meet Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. He is such a dear, wonderful and inspiring man.
What was it like to meet such influential people in Israel? It’s astounding to think that people of this rank and stature would make the time to treat a guest like family. I was so humbled by their kindness and grateful beyond words.
Did you ever see yourself as a political person? A political person does all they can to make the world a better place. Sometimes a celebrity can bypass political confusion and accomplish a lot more. I love shining my light and [making] my change in the world, without the struggle of having to get involved with political arguing. Α
Dr. Lisa Grajewski is a psychologist working toward licensure. She is a therapist with Jewish Federation & Family Services and is a psychological assistant for a private practice in Tustin. Dr. Grajewski has been writing for JLifeMagazine since 2004.
Tanya Schwied graduated from New York University, studied abroad in Israel, and currently works for the CEO and President of Jewish Federation & Family Services.