Despite its location on Robertson Boulevard near Pico, the Kabbalah Centre is miles away from any traditional concept of Judaism. That hardly mattered to the 150 or so young, hip Angelenos who crowded into the center March 21. Eager to learn more about this blend of self-help spirituality and study of the ancient text of the Zohar, the audience was also drawn by the fame of the speaker, celebrity member Roseanne.
A spate of celebrity attendance at Kabbalah Centre classes in the late 1990s attracted enormous publicity, including a 1997 cover story in The Jewish Journal. That Hollywood fad has since subsided, but a recent evening lecture by TV star Roseanne (née Barr, formerly Arnold) demonstrated the enduring draw of both celebrity and spirituality. The evening, billed as an introduction to the center for 18- to 27-year-olds, drew many young professionals employed in or aspiring to the entertainment industry. They came in search of career advice as well as spiritual guidance, interested in following the speaker's success.
Roseanne's musings on her experience with the Kabbalah Centre included both the practical and the more controversial, unorthodox aspects of the Kabbalah Centre's teachings. "The first thing I learned here was that the reason everyone bugs me was that they're a mirror of me," said the comedienne, who has been well known for her thorny personality. She also credits kabbalah study with improving her comedy, noting, "Now I have the entire universe to make fun of. God gave us laughter; everything is funny."
The evening's advice also included some of the center's more controversial practices. Referring to the practice of "scanning," or running one's fingers over the words of the Zohar rather than reading in order to achieve "the light" of kabbalah, Roseanne noted, "I feel the DNA of myself change when I scan." Another benefit of her kabbalah study: "I believed I was a mortal being before I began to study. Now I believe we never have to die in a physical sense, if we protect ourselves from mortal consciousness."
Quite obvious to all in attendance was the relative peace and personal strength that the actress has found in her studies at the Kabbalah Centre. But for anyone who might mistake the organization for an offshoot of a mainstream Jewish movement, even this supporter was clear that this is not the case. When asked how the Kabbalah Centre has affected her attitude toward Judaism, she answered simply, "I feel the very same way about traditional Judaism as I felt when I never went to synagogue."