Madonna Once Lived In an Abandoned Synagogue

Madonna has been a looking figure in entertainment for decades. But like many other stars, Madge had to work hard to climb her way to the top. That included working several odd jobs and living in some unexpected places.

Madonna singing into a mic
Madonna, Who’s That Girl World Tour, 19 August 1987, Wembley Stadium | Solomon N’Jie/Getty Images

Madonna moved to New York City with a dream

Before she was a singer, Madonna had dreams of being a dancer. She received a dance scholarship from the University of Michigan but dropped in 1978, instead moving to New York City to make her dance career dreams come true. She moved with just $35 to her name, and she later called it the “bravest thing” she’s ever done.

Madonna made ends meet by working at Dunkin’ Donuts and with modern dance troupes. She took classes at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and eventually performed with Pearl Lang Dance Theater. She also studied dance under famed dancer and choreographer Martha Graham.

Eventually, she started to work as a backup dancer for other artists. 

Madonna singing and playing guitar
Madonna performs at during her “Sticky and Sweet” world tour at Olympic Stadium on September 6, 2008 in Rome, Italy | Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images

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Madonna once lived in an abandoned synagogue

In the time between when she moved to New York and the release of her debut album in 1982, Madonna worked hard pounding the pavement and struggled to get by. While she found an apartment in the Alphabet City neighborhood of the East Village when she first arrived in the city, she soon found herself in need of a place to live.

So, she did what any logical future pop star would do: she moved into an abandoned synagogue in Corona, Queens. The period between 1979 and 1982 that she spent living there with her boyfriend Dan Gilroy was the subject of the 2019 documentary Madonna and the Breakfast Club.

In 2017, Madonna shared a glimpse into those years spent living in the synagogue with a photo on Instagram. “Here I am the same age as my daughter. Living in an abandoned synagogue in Queens,” she said. “A broke a** dancer. With big dreams! Learning how to play guitar. Taking any job I could find. Living on one dollar a day. Praying that someone would discover me and believe in me. The good old days.”

Madonna in the Super Bowl halftime show
Madonna | Christopher Polk/Getty Images

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Madonna later studied Kabbalah

Madonna wasn’t raised Jewish, but her time living in the synagogue helped expose her to the Jewish faith. In the late 1990s, after the birth of her daughter Lourdes, Madonna turned to Judaism once again: actor Sandra Bernhard introduced her to the study of Kabbalah.

“I began to search for meaning and a real sense of purpose in life,” she recalled in a 2013 interview with Harper’s Bazaar. “I wanted to be a mother, but I realized that just because I was a freedom fighter didn’t mean I was qualified to raise a child. I decided I needed to have a spiritual life. That’s when I discovered Kabbalah.”

“When the world discovered I was studying Kabbalah, I was accused of joining a cult. I was accused of being brainwashed. Of giving away all my money. I was accused of all sorts of crazy things,” she continued. “Kabbalah really freaked people out. It still does. Now, you would think that studying the mystical interpretation of the Old Testament and trying to understand the secrets of the universe was a harmless thing to do. I wasn’t hurting anybody. Just going to class, taking notes in my spiral notebook, contemplating my future. I was actually trying to become a better person.”