Star Kathleen Turner focuses on peace during first Israel trip

Turner, a sex symbol who made an electric first impression as a femme fatale in the film noir "Body Heat," has held her own opposite superstars and, at 32, portrayed both a 43-year-old mom and a high school senior in "Peggy Sue Got Married" — a double role that earned her an Oscar nomination.

"It's been one hell of a day," she said as her stay in Jerusalem got under way. "Planting a tree, visiting Yad Vashem, paying homage at Yitzhak Rabin's grave, touring the Old City, the Wall, the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre."

Later that evening at the city's Cinematheque she wore an elegant suit, dove-gray in keeping with the peace theme of Turner's trip.

The next morning she was off to Masada and then on to Jericho, where she was due to meet leading Palestinian officials before spending the night with friends on a kibbutz in Galilee.

This is the actress' first trip to Israel.

Turner's New York-born Jewish husband of 13 years, Jay Weiss, was also on his first trip to Israel. After a spell in real estate, Weiss, 41, has returned to his first love, music. His rock 'n' roll-blues band, the Suits, has released its first CD, "Ties That Bind." A second one is due out soon.

"We were married by a Reform rabbi, Rabbi Seligman of the Central Synagogue in Manhattan, though not in a synagogue," said Turner. "I didn't convert…but since my marriage, I have very much taken on a certain amount of Jewish tradition and identity."

Ostensibly she was here as a guest of the newly created Peres Institute for Peace. But, perhaps recalling the bad press Richard Dreyfuss received when he was here earlier this year, or recalling Woody Allen's hostile op-ed piece in the New York Times, she seemed aware that her position as a celebrity visiting Israel was a sensitive one.

"It would be presumptuous of me, an American actress, to come here and advise people on what they should do. But I want to highlight the work of the institute, which feels too much of the peace process has been left in government hands and [that] ordinary people are not involved enough.

"What I can do is provide an opportunity, maybe an excuse, for Palestinians and Israelis to come together — the idea being that when they are together, both sides become human and personal and find they have a lot more in common than they thought."

Certainly her star status attracted both Arabs and Jews — actors, producers, directors, students — to see her at Tel Aviv's Cameri Theater and other locations.

This is not the first time Turner has played a de facto role in the Mideast peace process. At Yitzhak Rabin's memorial service in New York's Madison Square Garden, she recited Walt Whitman's poem, "O Captain, My Captain," which was written for Abraham Lincoln after the president's death.

She has also attended numerous charity functions to raise funds for Israel-related educational projects.

Of Tel Aviv, Turner said, "I'm from New York, but phew! What a pace. When do people sleep?"

Jerusalem she found "profoundly disturbing."

"I've traveled most of the world, but maybe this could be the center."

Turner did not go to the Western Wall to pray, "because it's segregated. But all that feeling of compressed energy there, built up from the thousands of years and millions of people's dreams and hopes and beliefs, that is tangible and frightening."

She visited the Holy Sepulchre, but "didn't like" it. "It's cold and dark, and seems to me to be like a shrine of death.

"When we visited Yad Vashem, we were pestered by photographers," she noted. "I want to come again more privately. I don't want to shed my tears in public."

Turner, who was born into a Methodist family (her great-grandfather was a missionary in China) said she believes in God, but "more in a Judeo than a Christian way, because I dislike the form of religion that was forced on me."

She and Weiss make their home in Manhattan, Turner says, "just next to the synagogue by the Lincoln Center on 65th Street." The couple's 9-year-old daughter "goes to Jewish classes, and we celebrate all the Jewish holidays. We do the full Haggadah service at Passover, for which I cook."