U.S pop icon Madonna performs at the Ramat Gan stadium near Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, May 31, 2012. Pop music star Madonna is kicking off her new world tour in front of tens of thousands of ecstatic fans in Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Pop music star Madonna treated tens of thousands of ecstatic fans in Israel to the inaugural show of her "MDNA" world tour on Thursday, performing in a country where she has long claimed a special bond.
The "Material Girl," a devotee of a form of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah, danced, bumped, grinded and vogued in flashy costumes to a raucous crowd at Ramat Gan stadium near Tel Aviv.
Madonna emerged on stage in a confessional, breaking through its glass window using a rifle, which she then aimed at the audience. She wore a skin-tight black outfit to sing her first song, "Girl Gone Wild," accompanied by dancers dressed as monks.
She went on to sing "Give Me All Your Luvin'" and a mash-up of the classic "Express Yourself" and Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," dressed as a marching band conductor.
While some artists have opted to boycott Israel because of its policies toward Palestinians, the 53-year-old Madonna's ties to the Jewish state have only strengthened in the last few years.
She has made personal pilgrimages in 2004 and 2007 along with other Kabbalah devotees. She wrapped up her 2008-2009 "Sticky and Sweet" tour with two shows in the Holy Land, her first in 16 years.
During that show, she wrapped herself in an Israeli flag and called Israel the "energy center of the world."
Madonna, who is not Jewish, has been dabbling in Kabbalah for more than a decade and has taken on a Hebrew name, Esther. On previous trips to Israel she went to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, the holiest site where Jews can pray, and visited the grave of a revered Jewish sage.
Her passion for Kabbalah has sparked criticism in Israel, where some rabbis chide her for venturing into religious study usually reserved for those with a strong background in Jewish law.
She landed in Israel last week, arriving with her children, her boyfriend, Brahim Zaibat and a 70-person entourage. She spent the days leading up to the performance rehearsing for the glitzy show and visiting Kabbalah centers.
Her spiritual serenity may have been challenged by Israel's aggressive paparazzi, who have been camped outside her beachfront hotel and near the stadium where she is performing. Video of her rehearsals has leaked onto the Internet, and photos of Madonna and her children have appeared in Israel's newspapers almost daily since she arrived.
For years, violence kept musicians away from Israeli stages. Now, with the ebb of the Palestinian uprising over the last decade, performers planning concerts have faced pressure from activists to cancel their appearances in Israel as political punishment.
A number of artists have heeded the call, while others like Madonna, Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen have performed to gracious fans in recent years.
After Tel Aviv, the "MDNA" tour moves on to Abu Dhabi and includes stops in Istanbul, Buenos Aires and Cleveland, Ohio.
Her last tour grossed more than $400 million.