If you thought Madonna pulled a fast one getting Live Nation to give her a $120 million contract, here's one better.
The Material Mom has conned both UNICEF USA and Gucci into helping raise money for the Kabbalah Center and Madonna's patron gurus, the Berg Family.
Gucci is throwing an all-star fundraiser on Feb. 6 for Madonna's charity, Raising Malawi. GUCCI's "A Night to Benefit Raising Malawi and UNICEF" will take place in heated tents on the north lawn of the United Nations, with special co-hosts Sarah Jessica Parker and Salma Hayek scheduled to attend along with Madonna.
However, neither Gucci nor UNICEF is aware - even though it's been noted here many times - that Raising Malawi is merely a front for Philip Berg's Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles.
In fact, before anyone writes a check: Raising Malawi is also still not a registered charity. All of its forms, filings and press releases direct back to the Kabbalah Center.
Berg's son Michael started Raising Malawi under the pretext of helping orphans in that impoverished country. But after Madonna helped herself to one, David Banda, Berg and the rest of the Kabbalah/Raising Malawi team went to work on their real cause: indoctrinating unsuspecting Malawi orphans into their brand of mysticism.
According to Berg's blog from April 24, 2006, his first move was to bring Malawi teachers to Los Angeles to retrofit them for Kabbalah. He wrote:
"We have brought a number of teachers from the African nation of Malawi to Los Angeles. This is part of our Raising Malawi initiative. They will be learning the Spirituality for Kids curriculum for the next 3 months. After that, they will go back to Malawi and teach the children there these empowering spiritual life lessons. I am very excited about this project. This morning we welcomed them to the Centre."
Spirituality for Kids, of course, is to Kabbalah what Delphi is to Scientology: Its curriculum. Certainly Gucci doesn't have to raise money for this group. According to its most recent tax filing, Spirituality for Kids had gross receipts in 2005-2006 of over $25 million. Its listed net assets came to $15.7 million.
Gucci and UNICEF should know that Spirituality for Kids depends on the large donations of a few devoted souls. They are listed in the group's most recent federal tax filing: Susan Strong Davis ($600,000); Missy Kardonski ($354,000); Gail Gordon ($350,000); Madonna ($268,016); Daryoush Mahboubi-Fardi ($175,000); Michael Fuchs ($130,000); Herbert Dodell ($109,000); Stewart and Lynda Resnick ($100,000); Mike Kessler ($100,000).
Raising Malawi, by the way, has been in business for two years, accepting money through Spirituality for Kids. According to Madonna's rep, they're only "now in the process of completing and submitting an IRS Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code."
And Spirituality for Kids is not the Bergs' only 501(c)(3) tax-free foundation. There's also the well-funded Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles which claims $21.1 million in assets for the same period.
The really shocking part of this is that most U.S. synagogues that feature conservative or reform mainstream Judaism are struggling to stay afloat and running in the red.
Something clearly isn't Kosher here. Are we really ready for little Malawian children wearing $26 red strings on their wrists and drinking bottled Kabbalah water, being read bedtime stories written by Madonna, and practicing the Zohar? I suppose we should, and wearing Gucci loafers, as they trick or treat for UNICEF. Or Kabbalah.
In my conversations with people from both UNICEF and Gucci this week and last it's also clear that they did not know about the background of Raising Malawi. As I wrote in this space on October 18, 2006:
Raising Malawi is run entirely by Spirituality for Kids, or Kabbalah, according to the site. The rest of the team besides Michael Berg is his wife Monica, SFK's director of public relations. SFK's Director of Development Philippe van den Bossche, SFK's Director of Research and Global Training Dr. Heath Grant, and "philanthropist" Hedi Gores, wife of Beverly Hills "barely a billionaire" leveraged-buyout king Alec Gores, who runs Gores Technology Group. (On a side note, Gores, according to the New York Times, is said to have hired private eye Anthony Pellicano to wiretap and spy on his second wife, Lisa, to catch her cheating with his brother, Tom, a business competitor.)
For what it's worth, both Gucci and UNICEF profess no knowledge of the whole thing. They each sent nice statements claiming that all the money collected on the 6th will go directly to orphans.
Gucci insists, despite the Kabbalah connection: "Both UNICEF and Raising Malawi support non-sectarian programs to assist children in need and comply with international charitable giving and transparency standards."
Madonna's rep, Liz Rosenberg, sent us an extensive defense of Kabbalah and Spirituality for Kids, by the way, insisting that the two are not related, and that SFK is not religious, and that Malawi children are not being targeted for religious purposes. She concedes however that "In 2006, as a response to the urgent need for psycho-social support among children affected by poverty, disease, parental loss, sexual abuse, and chronic hunger, eight Malawian teachers were hired and brought to SFK headquarters in Los Angeles for training in the SFK curriculum. These teachers have since returned to Malawi and have successfully created a specialized empowerment program, SFK-Malawi, for orphans and vulnerable children."