All a man has in this world is his good name. The book of Ecclesiastes says that a good name is better than fine oil. Our reputations determine what others think of our character. We have a right, therefore, to defend our name against scurrilous and slanderous attack. When those we know cannot defend themselves, we must stand up and speak out on their behalf.
I generally try to avoid the gossip that is so often said and writing about Michael Jackson. Libraries of nonsense have been written about him, and now that he is tragically no longer alive, he cannot defend himself. In general I see no point in highlighting slanderous material about him by responding to it.
But several headlines recently caught my attention when I heard that a man who claims to have worked as Michael's bodyguard made the incredulous charge that Michael was a Nazi sympathizer. This kind of viciousness should usually not be responded to because it just gives it more credibility for the retelling. But the slander against Michael's name in this instance is so great that it deserves to be rebutted.
As is well known, I was Michael's Rabbi for two years. During that time, we discussed every subject under the sun. A great deal of it was captured in the conversations we recorded specifically for publication in the books that became The Michael Jackson Tapes and its follow up, Honoring the Child Spirit. In one of those conversations, Michael spoke of Hitler's mesmerizing oratorical skills. He said that oratory is in many ways one of the most effective tools that evil uses to manipulate others and thereby gain power. Michael argued that Hitler used many of the same techniques that showbiz performers use today in order to manipulate audiences and steer them toward evil deed. I was disheartened when the book was first published to see some newspapers highlight these comments of Michael completely out of context and misrepresent him as someone who could have admired Hitler. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Michael detested and despised anyone who would do harm to another human being, especially the Nazis who gassed six million Jews, one and a half million of whom were children. Michael loathed everything Hitler stood for. As I have consistently stated, Michael was a great friend of the Jewish people. He celebrated his relationship with the Jewish community and never shied from demonstrating how much he learned from Judaism through our conversations and friendship.
In one of our first meetings I gave him a mezuzah as a gift, which consists of a small scroll from the Torah that is affixed to the doorpost. I did not give it to him with the intention that he put it on his door as his was not a Jewish home. Nevertheless, Michael insisted that we put it on the front door of his rented home in Manhattan. A few weeks later he came with me to the Carlebach Synagogue in Manhattan one of the happiest days of the Jewish calendar, Shemini Atzeret, and told me later, as part of The Michael Jackson Tapes, that it was the happiest night of his life.
As the boy superstar of the Jackson 5, Michael had a Jewish tutor who traveled with him and helped to raise him whose name was Rose Fine. Michael spoke of her in The Michael Jackson Tapes with great affection and revealed to me that he and Janet covered many of his former tutor's expenses as she aged. In one of the conversations he says that as the group's plane landed in Germany, Mrs. Fine became agitated. Michael asked her why and she shared with him the horrors of the Holocaust. He was just a boy and it was the first time he had heard of the wholesale slaughter or Europe's Jews.
Later, I would take Michael to meet and converse with my dear friend, Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel -- arguably the greatest living Jewish personality -- who further shared with him the horrors of the Holocaust and the importance of reconciliation and love. Prof. Wiesel showed Michael boundless acceptance and affection, which Michael warmly reciprocated.
Michael's strong feelings for the Jewish community meant he was even prepared to suffer professionally for his love of Israel and the Jewish people. It is well-known that in 1993 Michael went to Israel on his Dangerous Tour where he performed for 160,000 fans in Tel Aviv. My dear friend Frank Cascio, later to become Michael's manager, accompanied him and he told me how much Michael loved being in the holy land. Less well known, however, is the following story.
In late 2000, a Jewish philanthropist called me and told me that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was coming to his home that night for a reception. He said it would be good for Israel if Michael would come there and meet with the prime minister. I turned to Michael, in the presence of some of his professional staff, and asked him if he would like to meet the Israeli prime minister. Michael immediately jumped at the opportunity and told me he would love to do so. However, the people who surrounded him at the time mentioned that it might not be a good idea. They said that Sharon was hated in many parts of world, especially in Arab nations. A photograph of Michael with Ariel Sharon could spark a significant backlash including a boycott of Michael's albums and music. Michael immediately dismissed their concerns and said that he felt very excited to meet the prime minister. A few minutes later we embarked in Michael's van and crossed town to the meeting. The pictures of Michael greeting Prime Minister Sharon, along with me and our dear mutual friend Uri Geller, appeared throughout the world. Michael's professional staff were correct. The very next day websites called for a boycott of Michael's music saying that he supported Israel's "hated" leader. However, Michael did not care. Michael loved Israel and the Jewish people and he was thrilled to meet someone of Prime Minister Sharon's stature.
Above everything else in our relationship, Michael was immensely sensitive to my family's Jewish observance and did everything to respect it at all times. When we would visit him at his homes and hotel suites, he would always order kosher food from local restaurants for us. He developed a taste for the cuisine of some well-known kosher restaurants and would often go there on his own after getting to know the restaurant through me.
The speech I composed for him, based on our conversations, that was delivered at the Oxford Union in March, 2001 -- one of his crowning achievements where he received a standing ovation and which, unfortunately, has yet to be released by his estate -- was filled with Jewish references and wisdom. Michael told me to leave it all in. As a Jehovah's Witness he felt an immediate kinship and bond with the Jewish people and their teachings.
Michael was an African-American male who told me that he and his family had experienced a great deal of discrimination in their lives. Surely it is adding insult to injury to accuse Michael of a racism that was never expressed through his actions and never felt in his heart.
Shmuley Boteach, "America's Rabbi," is the international bestselling author of 27 books and has just published Kosher Jesus. He is currently running for Congress to represent New Jersey's Ninth District. His website is shmuleyforcongress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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