This is not a strange childhood dream; it's the Greenwich Village studio space that belongs to the designer Donna Karan and is bustling with a New York-LA nexus of fashion and fame. Karan, Moore and her actor husband, Ashton Kutcher, are present for this high-powered fundraiser. Madonna is a co-chair. They are all friends, tied together originally by the red string of Kabbalah, the controversial religious group that has now given birth to the focus of the evening, Spirituality for Kids. SFK is a global youth programme that is already working within British schools as part of the curriculum and plans to expand. Its purpose, it claims, is to encourage children to recognise their own goodness, see the light and have more spiritual powers.
Kabbalah opponents have been surprised and outraged to learn that SFK is now running classes in six schools in London, with more on a waiting list.
"I heard it was their intent, but I hadn't realised that they had infiltrated British schools. I believe they work using mind manipulation," says Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, of Mill Hill Synagogue, London. He points to reports four years ago in The Times that former members of the London Kabbalah Centre had been subjected to emotional manipulation and financial pressure. Such allegations prompted the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, to issue the following statement: "In light of the issues which have been brought to our attention relating to the Kabbalah Centre in the UK we wish it to be known that this organisation does not fall within the remit of the Chief Rabbinate or any other authority in the UK recognised by us."
Critics believe the modern-day Kabbalah movement has hijacked a traditional form of Jewish mysticism and promoted it for financial gain using high-profile celebrities, most prominently Madonna. While traditional Kabbalah is practised only by male Hassidic scholars over the age of 40, celebrity Kabbalah spawned a T-shirt saying: "I scanned the Zohar with Ashton." When David Beckham, Winona Ryder and, briefly, Britney Spears, were spotted with a red Kabbalah string tied to their wrists the group was dubbed "Hollywood's hottest cult".
"That it is not supported by any main religious group in the world, what does that tell you?" Rabbi Schochet asks. "I'd like to tell Madonna: I won't meddle in your songs if you stop meddling in my Judaic traditions."
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