Kabbalah guru Shaul Youdkevitch cynically manipulated a dying woman for the sake of greed, the woman's husband charges in an exclusive, heart-rending interview with Ynet.
"When I saw a television show about Kabbalah, where he (Youdkevitch) admitted he's making millions, I felt I couldn't keep quiet," says Boris Zunis, whose wife Leah died earlier this year.
Zunis contacted a lawyer and filed a complaint that led to Youdkevitch's arrest earlier this week on suspicion of fraud. The bereaved husband says his wife, too, realized she was deceived by the Kabbalah center and talked into donating tens of thousands of dollars in the hopes of overcoming her illness.
"She asked me to appear in court because she realized she was going to die and felt terrible because of the entire situation," Zunis says.
Leah Zunis was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 1995 and began attending lessons at the Kabbalah center in 1996, her husband says. She increasingly became drawn to the Kabbalah world and said it gave her "positive energies" as she was fighting the disease, he says.
"In 1999 doctors discovered the cancer was spreading to the liver, and then she became frightened and panicked," Zunis says. "It was natural that she turned to Moshe Rosenberg (previous Kabbalah Center director.) She heard all the lectures about getting rid of cancer and how to remove the disease."
Zunis says Rosenberg told the couple a monetary contribution was needed in order to cure the disease.
"He told me we need to donate money. I asked how much, 5,000, 10,000 shekels? He said it must be a painful contribution…so that the entire family feels the financial burden," Zunis says. "He wasn't satisfied with the amount I offered and said 36,000 dollars."
Zunis says he told Rosenberg he did not have this amount, at which point Rosenberg suggested Zunis leave his job and start working at the Kabbalah center as a volunteer.
"I told him I have three kids at home, a mortgage…I said I couldn't stop working because there was nobody else to support the family," Zunis says.
However, Zunis said he could not resist his wife's pleas and eventually caved in.
"She came to my crying, saying 'it's my health and my life.' She really begged, and her tears broke me. He promised me health and complete recovery if we paid the money. I felt that if I don't pay the money I would be contributing to her death."
However, despite the initial contribution, Leah's condition did not improve. By 2002, tests revealed the cancer was spreading to her bones and lungs. Zunis says she became increasingly frightened and turned to the current Kabbalah Center Director, Shaul Youdkevitch.
"She went there on her own, and when she came back she told me Youdkevitch said another contribution was needed," he says.
"His move was even crueler, because he already knew we contributed money before and he knew the family's situation wasn't good," Zunis says. "Yet cynically and without shame, he demanded another 25,000 dollars."
Zunis says he told his wife he had no more money to give, but she then turned to her elderly mother and used her savings to pay Youdkevitch.
"By 2003 she was using a wheelchair and in June 2004 she was confined to bed, but she still believed in them," Zunis says. He recounts how he told his wife to turn to the Kabbalah Center for financial help, a request she refused. Still, Zunis says he later went to speak to Youdkevitch without informing Leah.
"He told me he couldn't touch the money we already donated but said he'll find donors and help us with their money," Zunis says. "We left with a promise, but he kept on dragging it. Every time he said he had no donor."
Leah eventually succumbed to the illness and passed away on August 8 of this year.
The Kabbalah Center's attorney, Amikam Hadar, rejected Zunis' charges and said they were false. In a statement, Hadar said the Center's members helped Leah Zunis and encouraged her, both spiritually and financially. Boris Zunis also received financial assistance when his late wife required treatment abroad, Hadar said.
"Center members prayed for her health every day…at the same time, they told Leah to continue the regular treatments. Moreover, a month before she passed away, she called and personally thanked Center members for their actions. It's a pity such unfortunate incident led to such false complaint," the statement read.