On Tuesday I sat down with an interesting person in the Kabbalah-Madonna saga: Avraham Gruberger, the 53 year old son of Kabbalah Centre founder Philip Berg, nee Fievel Gruberger. Avraham is the third of the eight children Philip Berg had with his first wife, Rivka, who is now deceased. He left her and the eight kids around 1969 for Karen, who worked for him in his office.
Forty years later, with Philip Berg in his 80s, Avraham Gruberger is concerned and his father’s health and well being. He hasn’t seen him in four years. He says Karen Berg, his stepmother, has barred him and his siblings from seeing their father. None of the original eight children are involved in Kabbalah, by the way. When they were growing up, their father was a life insurance salesman. But he followed their mother’s uncle, Rabbi Yehuda Brandwein, a Kabbalah scholar.
“Karen saw that it would be a good business,” Avraham tells me. And so the Kabbalah Center was born. Now with rumors that Karen Berg has a paramour, Muki Opphenheimer, and that Philip Berg has been hobbled by strokes and old age, his son wants to rescue him.
It’s not about money, either, although none of the original Gruberger children have profited from Philip and Karen Berg’s unique abilities to earn millions from creating a religion. It’s not like Avraham has much support within his family, either: their father has never attended any of their weddings, or had much to do with them since his departure and divorce. Two of the children are deceased from cancer, leaving just six. In Florida, Avraham says, he and his family were actually told to leave the local Kabbalah Centre.
For most of Avraham’s childhood, he didn’t see his father. Philip–aka Fievel–had moved the family to Israel. He commuted back and forth to New York, leaving the family in the dark about his other life. At 12, Avraham was sent back to New York and spent some time with Berg. There was another brief meeting a few years ago. But other than that, nothing.
Avraham Gruberger says his only wish now is to “free” his father. “There’s no vendetta. I do believe he’s been drugged up. I’d like him to come live with us and fulfill his mission.” Indeed, Gruberger says that if Karen Berg were to just hand over Philip without discussion, and without money, Avraham would just take him. “We can take care of him,” he says.
PS Avraham knows nothing about Madonna or Raising Malawi, and doesn’t care to hear about what’s gone on since Karen Berg took over the Kabbalah Centre. “I just want to see my father and get him out of there.”