In my favorite “Seinfeld” episode, titled “The Yadda Yadda” ‘ an episode by the way that includes the famous “Yada Yada” ‘ Jerry accuses dentist Dr. Whatley of converting to Judaism so he can tell his patients Jewish jokes. That’s why the same episode is alternately known as “The Anti-Dentite.”
And so, too, Ashton Kutcher ‘‘who is not Jewish and has not converted ‘ may be turning his version of Jewish, for the jokes. Tonight, in exchange for showing up at GQ Magazine’s Gentleman’s Ball, Kutcher is making sure his “rabbi” is getting honored, too. Yehuda Berg, son of the man who invented Los Angeles’s money making Kabbalah Center, is also receiving an award. Oy!
Berg is one of two sons of Philip Berg, nee Feivel Gruberger, and his second wife, Karen. (The other son, Michael, is behind Madonna’s Raising Malawi organization.) According to published reports, Philip Berg ‘ that is, former insurance salesman Feivel Gruberger ‘ was married to the niece of the famous Kabbalist Rabbi Brandwein. Berg left her and their eight children, married Karen and started the Kabbalah Center. He claimed to be the heir to the Kabbalah tradition, although Brandwein’s relatives denounced him. Now, Yehuda Berg has said in interviews that Kabbalah isn’t for Jews, but for everyone.
And those “everyones” have to pay and pay’ and pay for a sense of wisdom and “inner peace.” They wear the expensive red string bracelets, and buy copies of the “Zohar” ‘ the Kabbalah books of gibberish combining astrology and fortune cookie sayings ‘ for hundreds of dollars more.
According to its 2008 tax filing, the’Kabbalah Center has net assets of $25 million. That doesn’t include all their offshoots, curriculums’ (Spirituality for Kids: $11 million in assets), real estate holdings and three corporations. It’s big, big business.
Kutcher, who was raised in Iowa, was swallowed by the Kabbalah Center when he hooked up with actress Demi Moore. She and Madonna are the two big Kabbalah celebrities.
The Kabbalah Center has a crazy history of infighting, by the way. In 2005, the head of the Tel Aviv office was investigated by authorities for allegedly extorting $36,000 from a terminal cancer patient after promising to cure her. The woman’s husband subsequently dropped the charges for unknown reasons. Kabbalah rewarded the chief, Shaul Youdkevitch, by bringing him to Los Angeles to amp that office. But Youdkevitch, who was apparently one of Madonna’s mentors, had a fight with Karen Berg, left and started his own Kabbalah center. The Bergs then sued him for stealing “trade secrets.” (Like: the red string must be finished in a sailor’s knot. Just kidding!)
Interestingly, Kutcher ‘ who is of Irish descent ‘ may be turning Jewish (kinda) for the jokes. His business partner and best friend is Jason Goldberg, an independent film producer behind all those Kutcher projects like “Punk’D” and “Beauty and the Geek.” Goldberg grew up in ritzy Bel-Air and married his wife, child star Soleil Moon Frye (”Punky Brewster”) , in a traditional ‘ not Kabbalah ‘ Jewish ceremony.
As a side text, instead of the Zohar, I’d rent Paul Mazursky’s’”Down and Out in Beverly Hills” for further edification.
Anyway, as Tim Whatley might say now, “Have you heard the one about the Kabbalist, the Scientologist, and the actor?”