Boteach: Families can learn from Jackson’s troubled life
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Boteach: Families can learn from Jackson’s troubled life

While Rabbi Shmuley Boteach celebrates Shabbat tonight at home with his family, he will also appear on NBC to encourage all Americans to spend their Friday nights at family dinners without the interruption of television, the Internet, or work.

He’ll make this pitch during a prerecorded interview on the normally live Dateline program, which will herald the release of his new book, “The Michael Jackson Tapes,” assembled from 30 hours of taped interviews the rabbi conducted with the late pop musician between 2000 and 2001. Boteach said that while not whitewashing the controversies surrounding Jackson, the book shows a side of the pop superstar rarely seen.

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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach formed a close friendship with Michael Jackson PHOTO”ˆCOURTESY OF RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH

“This is a profound American morality tale,” Boteach told The Jewish Standard earlier this week. “Michael’s life deserves redemption. That redemption will come in the form of the American people learning from his excesses, learning what undermined him.”

And why did an Orthodox rabbi agree to air a one-hour special on a Friday night? That is part of Boteach’s message – about which Jackson felt strongly, he said – to “consecrate one night a week to uninterrupted family time.”

A year ago Boteach unveiled the “Turn Friday Night into Family Night” campaign through his This World: The Values Network. Throughout tonight’s program, NBC will air a series of public service announcements promoting the campaign and encouraging families to spend Friday nights together and focus on their children.

“Every day of the week [children] fight for their parents’ attention, and on Friday night they don’t,” he said. “I think this is an amazing gift that should be shared with all children.”

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The Jewish Sabbath is a model that teaches people to slow down from their harried lives to take an entire day of quality time with family, according to the rabbi.

“I devoted my life to bringing Jewish values to the mainstream culture,” he said. “This is one of the main areas. I think the greatest treasure of the Jewish people is the Sabbath.”

Boteach believes Jackson’s life – from his unusual childhood spent on music tours to his often controversial adult life – can be a lesson for families.

“What Michael Jackson’s life teaches and what will become so profoundly apparent in the book is attention can never be a substitute for love,” Boteach said. “He was very honest about those things and I don’t see why we can’t learn from that.”

Something Jackson frequently wished for, Boteach said, was the creation of a national holiday for children. Friday nights can become that holiday every week, he said.

“Michael wrestled with a lot of issues that ultimately, unfortunately, consumed him,” Boteach said. “A lot of those issues can be traced back to the broken childhood he had. We need to make sure our kids are not placed into the same situations … not getting quantity time and quality time with parents.”

“We who think fame and fortune are everything need to take this message to heart,” he added.

To turn Friday night into family night, parents should incorporate the idea of the “triple two,” Boteach said. This entails devoting two uninterrupted hours to the children, inviting two guests (to teach the children about hospitality), and discussing two topics to engage the entire family.

Every Friday night Boteach opens his home up to guests, he said. He described the weekly ritual as “a beautiful thing,” as his children help cook, set the table, and greet the guests. Boteach has fond memories of Jackson’s spending Friday evenings at the rabbi’s Englewood home.

“Michael used to love Shabbos dinner,” he said. “It was the only time he was able to unwind. He was treated like any other person.”

For more information on the “Turn Friday night into family night” initiative, visit www.fridayisfamily.com.

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