Madonna exposé brings Kabbalah Centre under fire

'Newsweek' article claims organization's founders live luxuriously, money for Africa charity Raising Malawi went to LA offices.

April 6, 2011 10:15
2 minute read.
Madonna with Raising Malawi

madonna malawi 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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As the Madonna-run charity Raising Malawi collapses, the Kabbalah Centre is coming under fire for lavish expenses, according to a Newsweek article published this week.

Raising Malawi, which was meant to found a girls' school in one of Africa's poorest countries from which Madonna adopted two children, imploded last week, despite reportedly raising $18 million and spending $3.8 million on the planned school. Kabbalah Centre International, the pop star's partner in the foundation, is now being investigated by the FBI.

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According to the report, only $850,000 of the money $3.8 million was actually spent in Malawi, while the rest was spent in Los Angeles, at the Kabbalah Centre's offices.

Newsweek reported widespread corruption in the organization, saying that the Centre's founders, Phillip and Karen Berg and sons Michael and Yehuda, live in Beverly Hills mansions owned by the organization. The Kabbalah Centre also reportedly pays for the Bergs' "food, furniture, clothing, gas, nannies, tutors, gardeners housekeepers, personal assistants, and more exotic indulgences such as luxury cars, first-class flights and spas."

In response to the charges, Kabbalah Centre's lawyer Shane Hamilton told Newsweek that the Bergs' luxurious lifestyle is "a parsonage" that is part of their salary. The organization said that the Bergs "have taken a vow of poverty."
"Disaffected followers have accused Berg and his family of treating congregants like personal servants, housing them four to a bedroom, paying them a $35-a-month stipend, and advising them to apply for food stamps," the article explains. Hamilton explained that that "chevre," Kabbalah center members, "take a vow of service and are supplied with basic necessities in exchange for 12-hour days of labor," much like Scientology's Sea Org. In fact, Newsweek says that the Kabbalah Centre's detractors call the organization "Jewish Scientology."

Some Kabbalah Centre-related lawsuits include an allegation that it benefited from a Ponzi scheme that ended in the conviction of Mark Goldman, of Goldan, LLC, who frequented the Manhattan branch. There have also been civil suits "alleging that the Kabbalah Centre had exploited the trust of wealthy followers in order to pillage their bank accounts," Newsweek reported.

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