Israel reels in Kabbalah enthusiasts [Excerpts]
Far from the Hollywood glitz of Kabbalah’s celebrity acolytes, ordinary people are flocking to Israel’s capital of ancient Jewish mysticism this summer on a quest for spiritual meaning.
The Ascent Centre organises popular seminars to study Kabbalah, as championed by media messiah Madonna, increasingly attracting Jews and non-Jews looking for spirituality and disenchanted with the vagaries of modern life.
"Madonna happened to be a vehicle of God," says Rabbi Mordechai Siev, who directs the English-language programme at the centre in Safed, extolling the magnetism of the Jewish Sabbath in the slightly down-market Israeli town.
"A guy in LA told me ‘my feet are here but my head is in Safed.’ Friday here, is the real Friday night fever.
"The centre is open to Jewish and non Jewish people from all over the world and they come to check out mystical experiences," he says, adding that plunging into religious texts allows Kabbalah enthusiasts to “connect to themselves.”
For the bargain-basement price of 280 shekels (66 dollars, 48 euros), students get a discount, interested parties are treated to a four-day course with full board and lodging in the ancient centre of Jewish learning in the Galilee.
Sheree Sharan, 31, has been interested in Kabbalah for two years and came from Chicago for a four-day seminar to “get some energy” and search for the hidden meaning that she believes is lost in the materialism of the West.
"I was looking for Jewish mysticism and Safed is the headquarters for Kabbalah," says the skinny, blonde single woman.
"Kabbalah teaches you about the power you have inside, how to control your inner instinct, how to make sense of emotions. Our generation seems to be searching for meaning, for goals and answers."
"There’s a lot in Kabbalah that speaks to people from different backgrounds. Now technology, materialism. People have lost touch with their basic needs and desires," she adds, in the over-powering heat of high summer.