Jewish Journal

Shmuley Boteach: Jackson’s death ‘an American tragedy’

by Brad A. Greenberg

June 25, 2009 | 8:43 pm

Jackson with Shmuley Boteach

I just got off the phone with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the rockstar rabbi who was a close friend of the, as of a few hours ago, late Michael Jackson when the two worked together on Heal the Kids,

“It is an American tragedy,” Boteach said. “This guy could sing and dance—he lived the American dream and this is the end of the story. This is not what our values are supposed to be about.”

“It was obvious what Michael always needed,” the rabbi continued. “He needed connection with God, spirituality and family. Michael was a Jehovah’s Witness and when he was a Jehovah’s Witness he was doing quite well, but then he had a falling out with the church and that is when all these problems began.”

If you think it’s surprising for a rabbi to say that someone’s problems began after they were kicked out of a church, then you don’t know Shmuley Boteach, an Orthodox rabbi in his one category.

Boteach hadn’t spoken with Jackson in five years, having severed their relationship when he no longer felt that he could help the troubled King of Pop. But speaking by phone from Iceland, Boteach sounded heartbroken talking about his old friend.

“To be honest,” he told me. “I miss him. I know people saw him as a bad person. But that wasn’t true. he was a person with a lot of issues and sadly he never addressed those issues. But he had a lot of good in him. He just never overcame this toxic celebrity culture.

“The real tragedy is we all are envious of these big superstars, and they often are the ones who get the least help because they have so many enablers.”

The rabbi added that he had long feared this day was coming.

“When they announced these new concerts, I thought that was an omen. that was a bad thing. Michael was going to have to train extensively for these concerts, and from what I new of him, he was not in any mental frame of mind to be doing concert,” Boteach said.

“Michael didn’t need more concerts; he didn’t need more album sales. He needed to rescue his life.”

Boteach also e-mailed this prepared statement:

My family and I have just heard that Michael Jackson has passed away. Our thoughts and prayers are with his children and the Jackson family.

Michael Jackson’s death is not just a terrible tragedy for three young children who will now be orphaned. It is also an American tragedy that affects us all.  Our culture, in which fortune and fame readily eclipse family and life nurturing values, is claiming an increasing number of casualties. There was a great beauty and gentility in Michael’s soul. His talents far surpassed those of his contemporaries and he yearned deeply to make the world a better place. I am saddened that the emotional pain he lived with prevented him from finding the meaning and connectedness which he longed for.

The saddest aspect to this tragedy is that so many watched it happen and few did anything to stop it. I pray that Michael’s death will not be in vain and that we see a return, even among Hollywood celebrities to the spiritual and family values that are life sustaining.

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