God and Man in Hollywood

Vanity Fair Magazine/December 1997
By Kim Masters

It is a cool evening in Los Angeles, and about 100 Hollywood types gather in the courtyard of Madonna's Maverick headquarters on Beverly Boulevard for cocktails, potato latkes and knishes.

But the point is not knishes. The point is that Madonna is sharing. And sharing is what Hollywood is learning from Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism based on the Five Books of Moses. The goal, according to literature offered is "complete fulfillment."

Some date Kabbalah to the 12th century, others to the time of Moses. In the past devotees have studied in secret, for Kabbalah has not always been associated with things positive. Rabbi Alan Brill, of New York's Yeshiva University, says that the ancient wisdom's dark reputation stems from the Frankists, an 18th-century group that believed Kabbalah advocated biblically forbidden practices. Naturally, that has nothing to do with Kabbalah today. Kabbalah today has its own Web site ( http://www.Kabbalah.com ).

Madonna studies through the Kabbalah Learning Centre, headed by Rabbi Phillip Berg, who speaks at Maverick. His wife, Karen (who, we are told, was introduced to Barbara Streisand as "the real Yentl"), also speaks. So does Eitan, a slight, bearded young Israeli man who is obviously the personality driving Kabbalah here.

Laminated cards are passed. They read: "When you face an obstacle, stop your impulsive reaction and let the Light in." Eitan says we must "restrain" impulses to be unkind, to judge, to gossip. Madonna tells us that she turned to Kabbalah when she was pregnant, exhausted from Evita, and looking for an anchor. She says merely that she has found a bit of peace and now trusts others more.

Besides Madonna, those now wearing red threads around their wrists to signify their interest in Kabbalah include Roseanne, Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Gallin (who manages Dolly Parton, Mariah Carey, and many others). Gallin, who wasn't at Maverick but who studies with Eitan, explains: "The Light," he says, "is God and love. And if you believe unquestioningly in Light, it will lead you to pro-act, which will lead to your making the right decision." Gallin has sipped from various spiritual founts. "I have always taken an interest in all of the self-help, self-imporvement-programs-est, advanced est, the Advocate Experience (which was like gay est), Lifespring, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Louise Hay, meditation, yoga. I get from them what I get and move on to the next."

Brill says that the Kabbalah Centre is "part New Age" and claims that there seems to be too much focus on raising money. Eitan, however, says that the center relies on donations, but doesn't push anybody. "Part of our policy," he says, "is to let people give from the heart. There are some Hollywood people around, so everybody is talking and jealous. None of these celebrities coming here is our effort. Madonna appeared one day in class."

The Maverick event has attracted a group of powerful men. They include the Eagles' manager, Irving Azoff; Universal's president, Ron Meyer; Roseanne's manager, Jeff Wald; Lethal Weapon producer Joel Silver; and boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. Most have been drawn by wives, girlfriends, or clients. Some congregate in the back like sulky schoolboys. They seem to agree that this kindness idea is dangerous. It might not be good for their careers. When Eitan is introduced, one whispers, "This is the guy who's been fucking up your lives."

Hollywood just can't get spiritual enough. On the day of the Kabbalah party, John Travolta appeared before Congress to defend the Church of Scientology, of which he is a member, against attackers. Action star Steven Seagal is now recognized as the tulku, the reincarnation of Tibetan lama Chokden Dorjee. Not long ago Warner's cochairman Terry Semel and his wife Jane, renewed their vows on their 20th wedding anniversary at their Michael Graves-designed home in Malibu, with Deepak Chopra officiating. Guests included Warren and Annette, Tom and Nicole, and the single guys-George Clooney and Jim Carrey-all sharing the moment.

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