05/27/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
Whitney Houston spent her Memorial Day weekend far from home -- in Israel, where she is on a spiritual journey for her upcoming Christmas album, the Associated Press reports.
The singer, 39, accompanied by her husband, singer Bobby Brown, their daughter and other relatives, arrived Sunday to stay in the desert town of Dimona with a group calling themselves the Black Hebrews.
The Black Hebrews are said to be comprised of nearly 2,000 African-Americans who decades ago followed a Chicago bus driver to Israel in the belief that they are descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel.
Religious customs of the Black Hebrews -- who refers to themselves as saints -- include a vegan diet and polygamy, says AP.
"She is loving it," Patricia Houston, Whitney's spokeswoman and sister-in-law, tells the news service. "She is a spiritual woman and wanted to come here and touch the land and be around the saints of Dimona."
Patricia Houston added that Whitney had planned to visit the Black Hebrews on a number of earlier occasions, but those trips had been postponed because of security concerns.
Meanwhile, in other diva news: Billboard reports that Mariah Carey, 33, is downsizing her North American tour plans from arenas to theaters, but that her agent insists the decision has nothing to do with lower-than-expected ticket sales.
"Mariah had been speaking to people, monitoring her Web site, and listening to her fans, and the resounding note she heard was her fans wanted to see her in a more intimate environment and were less concerned about the big production aspects of an arena tour," says John Marx of the William Morris Agency.
As Marx tells Billboard, the singer could wind up playing as many as 27 dates, beginning July 26 at Celine Dion's Colosseum theater at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.