I recently found myself on the second floor of the Zionist Organization of America House in Tel Aviv ahead of a kabbala lecture delivered by Eitan Yardeni. Yardeni is famous largely due to two of his more famous disciples Madonna and fashion designer Donna Karen. A rope divided lowly ticketholders and VIP admirers at the event. Beyond the rope, Yardeni could be seen serenely conversing with Channel 2 presenter Dana Weiss, who had been granted an exclusive interview.
I stood with several nice people outside who gossiped about those who were considered worthy enough to enter the kabbalists' sacred floorspace.
"That one over there did a porn flick," said a husband to his wife pointing at the Israeli actress and pornographic magazine publisher Galia Albin, forgetting her name.
Eventuallyeveryone was allowed to enter.
To create the aura of a true guru around Yardeni, milling around the coffee table were two types of people, those whose nametags were marked with the word "mentor" and behind them stood the lesser mortals with nametags marked "staff."
These staff member were selling books discussing aspects of kabbals from the Kabbala Center. One book on sale was priced at NIS 128 ($33). Two other books were NIS 100 ($26) each. Dina, whose "mentor" tag inspired me into a fit of religious frenzy, explained the unique qualities possessed by kabbala master Yardeni.
"He is very assertive," said Dina.
Another guest named Nili was focused on more pressing details and asked if Madonna would be coming to the lecture.
Nili and went to sit in the back of the room.
Approximately 200 people, most of them female, came to hear Yardeni speak.
"If Madonna comes, she will sit in the back row," explained Nili. "That's what usually happens when she shows up for Kabbala Center lectures."
Her strategic sense of seating seemed astute.
The lecture had begun.
"You must ask why?" said Eitan Yardeni while explaining his teachings to his eager audience. "What is the reason that you attract negative events?"
In response to his own question, Yardeni set about creating a mishmash of superficial concepts, Judaism and popular science that wowed the audience.
"For this we need to go back in time to before the Big Bang and we will also touch upon the topic of the Transmigration of Souls," said Yardeni. He continued,
"Kabbala is a universal phenomenon in the same way that gravity is a universal phenomenon."
A woman sitting next to me picked out Israeli radio host Didi Harari among the audience members.
Focusing back on the lecture, a presentation slide was displayed that read, "Kabbala = To Receive."
Then the presentation transitioned to a picture of a guy holding a pint of beer juxtaposed to next to a smiling, loving couple. "Can true love be bought with money?" asked Yardeni.
Some people in the audience said yes, including my seated neighbor Nili.
The rabbi continued along with the lecture without banishing her from the holy lecture hall.
Yardeni continued with a plethora of New Age analogies in the vein of the motivational movie "The Secret" which explains that one should seek to constantly think positively to achieve their life goals. Occasionally, the guru would pepper his speech with the odd Aramaic phrase, to create a kabalistic aura.
For whatever reason, Yardeni's world is a rigidly Manichean one. Everything either belongs "to light" that is the creative impetus or is "a vessel" fit to receive those creative energies.
According to Yardeni, girls are controlled by our dear friend Satan until the age of 12, the age of Bat Mitzvah, and boys until the age of 13, which is the age of Bar Mitzvah, when they are religiously responsible for their own actions.
Another person I spied out at the event was a woman named G.
I recognized her from her time working as a Likud Party activist. Once she even snuck me through the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv into the room of Shaul Mofaz when he was defense minister.
G. came to the event despite being a regular of competing kabalist guru Rabbi Laitman.
"The two rabbis butt heads regularly, especially when it comes to finding financial patrons," said G. "You have to see Laitman. He is into physics and there are more famous people who visit him. CNN is constantly interviewing them."
"He changed my life," G. added. It's more satisfying than either sex or winning at politics."
She rushed to get into the lecture. I told her it cost NIS 100." People like always enter for free," she responded as she crashed the event.
When the rabbi compared our world to a lamp that could burn one day burn out, the audience was impressed by the analogy.
"It's a crowd of boring yuppies," Nili concluded. "You know the kinda people who listen to Celine Dion."
"There's a commercial vibe here that I don't like," G. from the Likud said on the way out. "He keeps on inviting people to attend his courses."
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