LAT: Kabbalah, some ‘spiritual organization’

The Kabbalah Centre has spent more time on tabloid covers than in the daily newspaper. The reasoning is obvious, what with all those fancy celebrities who like to make a big deal about frequenting (or at least occasionally appearing at) the the centre’s worship facility on Robertson Boulevard.

But just because the Kabbalah Centre is in the news, that does not mean that it’s specifically newsworthy because of some Hollywood connection. Yet, this is the deckhead for a Los Angeles Times story about the Kabbalah Centre closing the U.S. arm of its children’s charity:

Success for Kids, in which Madonna was a board member and donor, will close at school year’s end due to cost of translating lessons into nondenominational curriculum. Foreign branches will continue.

OK … if that’s the most compelling aspect of this story, I have to imagine most readers were, like me, tempted to stop before even they even started.

However, because I was trapped at the airport for five hours, I read on. Big mistake, at least considering that I approached the story with a religion reporter’s interest.

Here’s how LAT reporter Harriet Ryan, who joined the paper from to cover the “manufacture and exploitation of fame and celebrity,” opened the story:

The Kabbalah Centre, a Westside spiritual organization that is the focus of a tax evasion investigation, is shutting down the U.S. operations of a global children’s charity that has raised millions from celebrity followers and more recently drawn the scrutiny of IRS investigators.

SFK or Success for Kids, a 10-year-old nonprofit based at the center, will close its programs in American public schools at the end of the academic year, the charity’s president, Michal Berg, announced in a letter Wednesday to supporters. Berg wrote that the decision was prompted by larger than expected overhead costs associated with translating the religious organization’s lessons into a nondenominational curriculum.

Oddly missing from that opening is a mention of just what kind of spiritual organization Kabbalah is.

In fact, Kabbalah is based on the esoteric teachings of Jewish mysticism, though the institutionalized center has frequently been criticized and sued for allegedly being the Scientology of Judaism. You can learn a lot about that from my old Jewish Journal boss; my former Hollywood Jew colleague there also has some good info here that mixes the celebrity with the spiritual center news.

It’s not until the final paragraph of the relatively short LAT story that Judaism is mentioned. Of course, so are Madonna and Ashton Kutcher:

Kabbalah, the study of mystical Jewish texts said to hold the secrets of the universe, was little known outside of Orthodox Jewish circles until about 15 years ago, when Madonna began studying at the center. Other high-profile entertainers, including Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, followed and the center experienced enormous growth.

I know. Celebrities are a lot sexier than Jewish mysticism. But the story of this charity closing is not about the celebrities. And the part of the story dealing with the Malawi arm, which is Madonna’s Kabbalah charity, was already mentioned much higher up.

Readers would be much better served if the story moved the details about Kabbalah’s connection to Judaism way up and also if it included some specific details about the Success for Kids school program that “had been criticized by some officials and parents, who said they were quasi-religious.”

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  • mattk

    Kaballah was little known until 15 years ago? Strange. I’ve always thought Chaim Potok’s book “The Chosen” (published 44 years ago) and the film adaptaion (released 30 years ago) of that book served as the non-Jewish part of the world’s introduction to Kaballah. Neither had anything to do with Madonna.

  • KablahblahCentreRejecter

    RE: mattk – The article is saying that kabbalah was not widely known about or popularly studied outside the Jewish world until Madonna advertised her connection to the Berg’s Centre. I also read & heard about kabbalah as a Jew & even from another Hollywood film, A Strnger Among Us, with Melanie Griffith. It’s true that kabbalah was already emerging & that’s why people like Madonna were even able to start studying. I agree with you but I think the point was that Madonna certainly added sex appeal to it & launched the organization she’s a part of into another realm of seemingly sudden success. I was a part of that organization for nearly a decade. Kabbalah is wisdom. The Kabbalah Centre is a family run business. It’s never been done like that before & although it seems successful, it benefits a very small core group of relatives & close associates. The Centre is in no way lawfully Jewish. It outright rejects Judaism as the source of all chaos, anti-Semitism, & the Holocaust. Teachers from there follow these stories, posting comments with deceptive links. Their marketing guru, a 20 year devotee of the Bergs, claims the Bible never even mentions Jews. Their leaders, the Bergs, say religious Jews are shape-shifting demons & that Judaism rejects kabbalah, which is untrue. Their leader, Karen, puts her organization squarely behind the creation of an Arab state in Judea & Samaria. I understand that everyone is entitled to disagree with Jews & Israel but to use kabbalah & a supposedly Israelite organization to take such a decisive stance is not inclusive to Jews & Judaism, much less Zionists. Kabbalah should not be either politically liberal or conservative, left or right. It should be true to it’s own values. The Centre sells & distorts Torah for personal gain & as a political weapon against the Jewish establishment that rejects the Bergs’ business. Again, Jews don;t reject kabbalah, just the Centre that bares it’s name, dishonestly. G*d bless. Shalom.

  • Izzy

    The article could also delve into the origins of the Kabbalah Centre.

    How they took the teachings of Rabbi Ashlag, popularized them, and slowly moved away from normative Judaism. Another glaring error on the part of the reporter, who apparently did not bother to do any homework on this.