LA Kabbalah Centre sues former directors

By Tom Tugend, October 17, 2008

The Kabbalah Centre of Los Angeles has launched a lawsuit against two veteran former employees.

In the case, filed in the US District Court, the centre accuses Shaul Youdkevitch and his wife Osnat of stealing its "trade secrets" and members by establishing the spin-off United Kabbalah Communities (UKC).

Lawyers for the centre are seeking $100,000 (£58,000) from the Youdkevitch couple for unfair business practices and trademark infringement, plus any UKC profits.

The centre, which began in Israel but established its headquarters in Los Angeles in 1971 under Philip Berg, now claims satellites in 26 cities, including London, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and 58 study groups throughout the world.

In a widely circulated letter and in an interview with the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, the Youdkevitchs have told a rather different story.

The Israel-born couple said they had worked as teachers at the Tel Aviv branch of the Kabbalah Centre for 25 years, with Shaul becoming its director, before being invited to join the Los Angeles headquarters in 2005.

Over time, Mr Youdkevitch said, he and his wife became disillusioned with what they saw as the centre's authoritarian leadership, to the point that their dream of universal harmony and enlightenment through Kabbalah turned into a "terrible nightmare".

Defence attorney Aviv Tuchman termed the lawsuit "groundless," saying that Kabbalah was not trademarked and that formation of UKC was protected under the US Constitution's free-exercise-of-religion provision.

The Kabbalah Centre's lawyer and its spokesman did not respond to the JC's requests for comment.
An initial hearing for the case has been set for October 27.

The Kabbalah Centre has been regularly in the news, thanks to the well-publicised support by pop stars including Madonna and fellow Hollywood celebrities such as Demi Moore and Roseanne Barr.

But there have also been accusations that the Kabbalah Centre, including the Tel Aviv branch under Mr Youdkevitch's direction, used high-pressure tactics to obtain large sums of money from adherents.

Last updated: 1:50pm, October 16 2008