From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
NOT-SO-MATERIAL GIRL
Promoting peace and prayer, Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie join 2,000 Kabbalists from around the globe in a five-day pilgrimage to Israel

Madonna rang in the Jewish new year—Happy 5765!—by jetting to Israel where she joined fellow Kabbalists who had gathered from around the world for a spiritual conference organized by L.A.'s Kabbalah Center. Joined by husband Guy Ritchie, 36, the singer, 46, flew by private jet to Tel Aviv Sept. 15 and stayed in the presidential suite at the posh David Intercontinental Hotel. The next day she spent six hours in prayer services in one of the hotel's conference rooms—which had been converted into a makeshift synagogue—and, after a break, spent the evening praying, singing and dancing until 1 a.m. Madonna, says fellow Kabbalah follower Marla Maples, who also made the trip, didn't receive any special treatment. "There's no separation between who's a celebrity and who's not," says Maples. Nor did she receive special attention from outside the group: Madonna ran into a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews near the city's sacred Western Wall who taunted "You have no right to be here." (Just as disconcerting for the singer were the hordes of paparazzi, who actually kept Madonna from reaching the Wall.)

The celeb couple did find some time to relax: On the night of Sept. 17, they snuck off to a nearby beach, where they watched the sunset, then dined on figs, olives and cheese at a local restaurant. The pop star concluded her pilgrimage Sept. 19 at a $500-a-plate gala to benefit a Kabbalah Center affiliate, Spirituality for Kids Foundation, which teaches children how to interact in the spirit of Kabbalah. "I wouldn't think of a better place to end my tour," Madonna said, "and I promise not to stay away."

BEN & JEN'S FRIEND
The no-longer-secret link between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner? Joe Kindregan, 16, a friend of both stars who was diagnosed with the degenerative neurological disease ataxiatelangiectasia in 1996. Affleck met Kindregan in 1998, when the young man visited the set of Forces of Nature; Garner, in turn, was introduced to Kindregan by Affleck, when Kindregan came to the Daredevil set in 2003. On Sept. 21 Affleck and Garner cohosted an auction in Washington, D.C., to benefit the A-T Children's Project; with Kindregan by their side, they helped raise $350,000. "Part of tonight is to benefit A-T, and part of it is so Joe can meet chicks," joked Affleck, who keeps in touch with Kindregan through regular e-mails, to a reporter. Added Garner, who took Kindregan to her 13 Going on 30 premiere in April: "[Joe] is just the sweetest, kindest person." And what about the other much discussed link between Affleck and Garner? Though they entered the auction building together, the two spent most of the evening apart. Are they dating? A source close to the two—that is, Kindregan—says, "Maybe."

RUBEN'S NEW DIET PLAN
The Velvet Teddy Bear is set to lose some of his stuffing. American Idol 2 champ Ruben Studdard, 26, is temporarily leaving his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., and moving to L.A. to start a health-and-fitness regimen. He will work out with trainer Gunnar Peterson three times a week and learn to maintain a healthy diet. Idol judge Randy Jackson, who has lost 100 lbs. since having gastric-bypass surgery in July 2003, will serve as a coach, checking in with Studdard daily. Studdard's progress, which will start airing in mid-October, will be chronicled by Extra and The Larry Elder Show. "I'm. still going to be big; my body won't allow me to be a small person," says Studdard, who now reportedly weighs around 360 lbs. "But my objective is to become as fit as possible. Tours are taxing on your body, and you have to be in good shape to do that." Jackson will make sure there's no cheating and lend moral support. "You can't do it alone," says Jackson. Studdard is optimistic. "It should be cool," he says.

The Abdominal Showman
Cold in Canada? Not for Matthew McConaughey, who headed to Vancouver to film Two for the Money and then spent much of his time in the Great White North shirtless.

Sept. 10
The temperature hit 66—hot enough to go topless.

Sept. 12
Matthew shows off his grill and cooks lunch.

Sept. 14
Not quite as tan, Matthew bares it all with gusto.

Sept. 17
Eat your heart out, Lance Armstrong. Who needs a Lycra suit?

THE LONG ARM OF THE CLAW—ER, LAW
It was a tough week for former child stars. Macaulay Culkin, 24, and actor pal Brett Tabisel, 22, were pulled over for speeding in Oklahoma City on Sept. 17 while on a cross-country trip. Police say that Tabisel gave them permission to search the car, and Culkin offered to open a black bag for an officer—who says he found 17.3 grams of marijuana inside. Culkin also had 16 sleeping pills and 8 Xanax antianxiety pills on him, cops say. Culkin was booked on drug possession charges; Tabisel was charged with two traffic violations and marijuana possession. A rep for Culkin declined comment, as did a rep for Tabisel.

Meanwhile, in Florence, Ky., Terminator 2's Edward Furlong, 27, was nabbed after taking live lobsters out of a tank at a local Meijer supermarket and removing the rubber bands from their claws. Furlong, who was in town filming indie flick Jimmy and Judy, was "obviously" intoxicated, says a police officer. Furlong had no comment. The good news? Says a store spokesman: "Meijer will not raise the price of our lobsters due to their celebrity status."

POP QUIZ

Mira Sorvino
On Sept. 8 actress Mira Sorvino, who moonlights as an ambassador for Amnesty International, lobbied members of Congress about human rights violations in Sudan. Sorvino, 37, spoke with Scoop about the Sudanese government's ethnic cleansing campaign against non-Arabs as well as about being pregnant with her first child.

What brings you to D.C.?

I've been working with Amnesty International on the Stop Violence Against Women campaign.

Why focus on Sudan?

This situation in Darfur [the western region of Sudan] demonstrates how sexual violence is used in conflict—rape as a tool of war. Women are being abducted and put in sexual servitude in rape camps. Pregnant women are being raped. I'm pregnant now, and the idea just chills me to my very core.

Have you always been politically active?

My mom marched on Washington with Martin Luther King. That my mom, a white middle-class lady, was moved enough to get involved in the civil rights movement made an enormous impression.

When is the baby due? Toward the end of the year.

Are you nervous?

I am thrilled and scared and hope that I will make a good parent.

Have any cravings?

I like ice cream more now. An actress, as a rule, can't really consider ice cream one of her staples.

You got married to actor-writer Christopher Backus, 23, in June. Has anything about married life surprised you?

Just how much better it is than being a boyfriend-girlfriend couple. You're building something together that could be permanent, and so many things in this life are so fleeting.

How did you meet your husband?

At a friend's charades party [in August 2003]. He walked into the kitchen looking for silverware. We saw each other and something made us want to talk to each other more.

You kept your engagement very quiet.

Yeah. We didn't tell anybody for a while because we knew that they'd be surprised at the brevity of the courtship before we were engaged. It all worked out.

ON THE BLOCK

MELISSA'S MANSION
PRICE $2.5 million
PLACE Calabasas, Calif.

Melissa Gilbert has put her five-bedroom Mulholland Drive home on the market, and it's no little house. The 6,512-sq.-ft. Tudor-style abode, purchased in 1999 with husband Bruce Boxleitner, sits on five acres and features mountain views, vaulted ceilings and a stained-glass-windowed tower.

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