LAT: Kabbalah, some 'spiritual organization'

The Kabbalah Centre has spent more time on tabloid covers than in the daily newspaper. The reasoning is obvious, what with all those fancy celebrities who like to make a big deal about frequenting (or at least occasionally appearing at) the the centre's worship facility on Robertson Boulevard. But just because the Kabbalah Centre is in the news, that does not mean that it's specifically newsworthy because of some Hollywood connection. Yet, this is the deckhead for a Los Angeles Times story about the Kabbalah Centre closing the U.S. arm of its children's charity:

Success for Kids, in which Madonna was a board member and donor, will close at school year's end due to cost of translating lessons into nondenominational curriculum. Foreign branches will continue.

OK ... if that's the most compelling aspect of this story, I have to imagine most readers were, like me, tempted to stop before even they even started.

However, because I was trapped at the airport for five hours, I read on. Big mistake, at least considering that I approached the story with a religion reporter's interest.

Here's how LAT reporter Harriet Ryan, who joined the paper from to cover the "manufacture and exploitation of fame and celebrity," opened the story:

The Kabbalah Centre, a Westside spiritual organization that is the focus of a tax evasion investigation, is shutting down the U.S. operations of a global children's charity that has raised millions from celebrity followers and more recently drawn the scrutiny of IRS investigators.

SFK or Success for Kids, a 10-year-old nonprofit based at the center, will close its programs in American public schools at the end of the academic year, the charity's president, Michal Berg, announced in a letter Wednesday to supporters. Berg wrote that the decision was prompted by larger than expected overhead costs associated with translating the religious organization's lessons into a nondenominational curriculum.

Oddly missing from that opening is a mention of just what kind of spiritual organization Kabbalah is.

In fact, Kabbalah is based on the esoteric teachings of Jewish mysticism, though the institutionalized center has frequently been criticized and sued for allegedly being the Scientology of Judaism. You can learn a lot about that from my old Jewish Journal boss; my former Hollywood Jew colleague there also has some good info here that mixes the celebrity with the spiritual center news.

It's not until the final paragraph of the relatively short LAT story that Judaism is mentioned. Of course, so are Madonna and Ashton Kutcher:

Kabbalah, the study of mystical Jewish texts said to hold the secrets of the universe, was little known outside of Orthodox Jewish circles until about 15 years ago, when Madonna began studying at the center. Other high-profile entertainers, including Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, followed and the center experienced enormous growth.

I know. Celebrities are a lot sexier than Jewish mysticism. But the story of this charity closing is not about the celebrities. And the part of the story dealing with the Malawi arm, which is Madonna's Kabbalah charity, was already mentioned much higher up.

Readers would be much better served if the story moved the details about Kabbalah's connection to Judaism way up and also if it included some specific details about the Success for Kids school program that "had been criticized by some officials and parents, who said they were quasi-religious."

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