A New York Story

October 20, 1998
By a former student of the Kabbalah Center in New York

I first became acquainted with Rabbi berg and the Kabbalah Learning Center's New York branch in 1990, when I was a freshman at NYU.

My first or second week there, I picked up Rabbi Berg's book "Kabbalah for the Layman" at a "New Age" bookstore near campus. A few months later, I was walking up Fifth Avenue in Mid-town and saw a table with a sign for the "Kabbalah Learning Center" with copies of Rabbi Berg's books for sale. Two Israeli girls who seemed to be in their early 20's were managing the table. One of the girls asked if I was Jewish, and when I replied in the affirmative, she gave me a flyer for the Center. She told me how wonderful their classes were and how wonderful and beautiful the Kabbalah was. She said I should come to the classes. I took the flyer, but didn't call, and shortly thereafter had to leave New York due to an illness.

I returned to New York in January of 1993, and in late 1993 I saw an ad in a Jewish newspaper for classes held by the Kabbalah Learning Center at a hotel in Mid-town. The classes were $144.00 for twelve weeks and I decided to enroll.

I really enjoyed the classes at first. We talked mainly about simple behavior-modification techniques--such as stopping and asking God for "light" when you're angry, or stopping to think about how your actions will benefit others before taking an action. In retrospect, these techniques helped to get people hooked on the Center's teachings--because they saw them working, saw that their lives were going better and thought that this was due to Rabbi Berg and his version of the Kabbalah. Actually, our teacher used to tell us to base our belief in what he was teaching us--not on the teachings themselves, but on whether our lives improved.

A month or so into the classes I became increasingly suspicious about the Center. Although I never met Rabbi Berg, our teachers (the first teacher left after about four classes and was replaced) and the ever present Israeli girls staffing the check-in table spoke of Rabbi Berg like he was a God.

One of the women in my classes went to a dinner that the Center held and came back raving about how huge Karen, Rabbi Berg's wife's, diamond ring was. It seemed a little odd to me that the wife of a simple Rabbi would have a huge diamond ring. And, if we were supposed to be aiming all our actions towards the benefit of others--why was the Rabbi spending money to buy his wife a huge diamond ring, rather than using the money for the Center, or giving it to charity?

The actual teachings were much more problematic than this. For example, their concept of the "Ain Sof", which in traditional Kabbalah is the highest level of God-consciousness, or God in God's purest form. Rabbi Berg's people instead teach the "Ain Sof" as this perfect realm where we have everything we want. Our teacher told us that the reason that we have cravings for things we've never had before (he used the example of peanut butter with ice cream) is that we've already had them in the "Ain Sof". And when he was telling us about this he said--"And guess where we're all going back very soon? To the 'Ain Sof'. It won't be long now, just a few more years."

Also, Rabbi Berg's main thing is that we should do everything we can to absorb "light", and that "klippot" are obstacles that block us from absorbing the light and having true happiness, health, etc. One of the ways that we can get rid of these "klippot" [seeming obstacles to enlightenment] they taught, is through pain. They said that a true Kabbalist doesn't complain when he/or she is in pain, but rather asks God to give them more pain, because they want to remove more "klippot". It seems to me that this is a very dangerous teaching, because it could easily be interpreted as an instruction to hurt oneself.

The Center was also very sexist in its teachings and the way it conducts business. Women were not allowed to teach, and were referred to as "the girls" by the teachers. The women took care of all the menial, behind the scene labor, and were the ones who stood out on the streets at the display tables. In the classes, it was taught that women have no real purpose of their own--that their only role is that of a corrective force for men. That is, to tell men what they are doing wrong. And, Rabbi Berg would not teach the "higher" levels of Kabbalah to women. [Though maybe celebrities like Madonna and Roseanne are now exceptions].

Our teachers told us that if we did not pray Rabbi Berg's way--God would not hear our prayers. Our classes started around the High Holy Days [Jewish New Years, Day of Atonement] and we were told that if we went to regular services at a synagogue, rather than going to Rabbi Berg's retreat at a hotel in New Jersey--it would be utterly worthless for us. God wouldn't even know we were praying.

The same was true for Sabbath services. I remember one student who began making the trek out to Queens for their services every weekend. The teacher and the "girls" were especially nice and friendly to her--treating her in front of us like she was one of their family. The rest of us were just considered people taking classes. We were told that if we didn't come to their Sabbath services we were holding ourselves back. When one old woman complained that she could not make it out to Queens--the student who went regularly yelled at her and said that if she really wanted to go she'd find a way. She claimed the old woman was being self-destructive by not going.

They also taught us that Kabbalah (i.e. Rabbi Berg's version) was the only hope for mankind, the only way to enlighten the whole world and that other religions were flawed at best--evil at worst. When I attended, it was made clear that although they wouldn't stop non-Jews from attending, they really only wanted Jews to attend. We were asked if we were Jewish before we enrolled in classes. However, from what I've heard, this has changed in recent years.

The final straw for me was when I read a newsletter written by students in the more advanced classes, along with some of the teachers. They all kept thanking "God, Rabbi Berg, and Karen," like the Rabbi and Karen were on the same level with God. And, that's really the way they all talked about him--like he was this wonderful, god-like man we should all be in awe of and follow his every command.

After I stopped going to classes I kept getting messages on my answering machine from Israeli women telling me about "beautiful classes" I should attend, or gatherings I shouldn't miss. Eventually, about a year and a half later, I did change my phone number for an unrelated reason and I have had no contact with anyone from the Center since that time.

Copyright © 1998 Rick Ross

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