Kabbalah Head: Seeking Court with Nasrallah
By: Bassam Alkantar
Published Friday, November 9, 2012
Yehuda Berg, a Jewish mystic and the director of the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, does not give the impression of being one of the most influential rabbis in the world. Emblazoned on his baseball cap is the Tree of Life, the symbol of the center, which was founded by his father Philip Berg after leaving the orthodox clergy. He carries with him a copy of the Zohar, the book of Kabbalah, to give to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
“I could be crazy for believing I can do this,” he tells Al-Akhbar.
Bassam Alkantar: What is your first impression of Lebanon?
Yehuda Berg: I hear about Lebanon in the media. When I came here, I found it very peaceful. I cannot believe it. You do not feel fearful or anxious.
I believe the country has two different atmospheres. On the one hand, the situation seems to be deteriorating and one match could light up the country. On the other hand, it is like paradise.
I visited Lebanon previously, but it was a quick, one-day visit. Now I am here to get to know the country more and to communicate and debate.
BK: Why did you not announce the visit publicly?
YB: For me, the visit began as a private endeavor. I will announce it later because those that I represent might not understand the reason behind it, if I do not provide them with its context, rationale, and vision.
I believe in people in general. I also believe in those who seek truth and honesty. Those who do not vacillate and who defend what they believe in, even if it required sacrifice. Unfortunately, they are few.
I came to this land to meet with those who believe in the truth and to be able to explain this to the millions of Kabbalah followers I represent.
Without this explanation, things will be difficult. So I decided that this will begin as a private visit. I came here with ten students from around the world, including one from Kuwait and one from Jordan.
At a later date, we will announce the visit and its outcomes to all my followers.
BK: What is your itinerary in Beirut?
YB: [I am here] to meet several political and religious figures representing the different sides. I will also be meeting with Kabbalah followers in Lebanon. By the way, they are from various sects – Sunni, Shia, and Christian.
Kabbalah centers accept students from all religions. Some believe in God and some are atheists. But they all seek a better world.
BK: Will the Arab Spring open doors for you in the region?
YB: I believe in freedom. The freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. But on some occasions, there are many who speak with loud voices, without this necessarily meaning they are telling the truth or that they are seeking unity and solidarity among humans.
Let us take the Syrian situation, for example. There are 20 voices or more speaking for the opposition against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. We heard some of them saying they are capable of changing the current leader. But there are many contradictory voices and this cannot lead to the solution.
Since no single figure in the opposition has announced its readiness to lead and call for a dialogue with the regime to reach a power transfer agreement, there will be no solution. I believe in a process that would lead to solidarity and unity. Unfortunately, when more voices are raised, it leads to disunity and rivalry most of the time.
Therefore, freedom of expression following the Arab Spring led to fragmentation rather than unity. We are hearing more voices of hatred.
And what did those who grabbed power do for the people? Do they really care about people, children, the country, and the refugees? Or is authority for them just a way to be in power?
When you have power and authority, they must go hand in hand with responsibility. Those who have power, do not show it. But they work in silence and confidence and do not boast about being president or king. If you are the leader, you know you are the leader.
BK: You rarely discuss politics, but people want to listen to your political position.
YB: The problem with politicians is that they keep changing their positions. Each day, they have statements that contradict those of the day before. If a leader does not say what serves his interests, but speaks the truth, I will support him.
People might be surprised that I did not vote in the US Presidential elections [last Tuesday]. I am not a supporter of Barack Obama, but I also do not support the Republican party. Simply, it is because I do not believe that one leader can achieve the change we aspire to.
In 2008, people felt that the elections would achieve change and thought that any alternative will be better than what we had. But we need more than hope for change through a political party. There is nobody, no system, and no party that can achieve this. Change should begin with each one of us.
BK: What about the current situation in Palestine?
YB: In Palestine, the situation is different. I, for example, believe that [jailed Fatah leader] Marwan Barghouti is a real leader. I sense that the man believes in what he says and is ready to do what he believes in. Despite the agony and imprisonment, he still holds to hope in the future. But the rest of them do not tell the truth and flip-flop in their positions.
This is a political problem: changing positions. You need to believe in what you are, declare what you believe in, and seek to achieve it.
BK: Some say that Israel is pushing extremist political currents in Arab countries to justify a Jewish state. What do you think of this?
YB: They cannot justify this. They live with many other communities who will not accept it. If they push this theory forward, it will be very difficult for them to stay. If this is their theory, then they are completely mistaken.
The Israeli leadership has a lot of contradictions. They say something and they do the opposite. I do not think the Israelis have a strategy or a specific plan. For example, if they truly wanted change, they should release Barghouti and offer him a chance to lead the Palestinians.
If they had a strategy, they would have released Samir Kantar in 2004 without anything in return and saved themselves from the war with Hezbollah, the destruction, and the killing.
They do not have a strategy. Sometimes, one does not know what they want.
BK: The Palestinian Authority seeks recognition for the establishment of an independent state. Do you detect international support for such a move?
YB: Unfortunately, no. Even the Palestinians feel that they are incapable of achieving this goal.
I met with Palestinian president Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]. I told him he cannot surrender. Today, they do not listen, tomorrow, they will not listen, but they will listen in the end.
I wandered around in Hebron, Nablus, and Bethlehem. There, one feels that people have submitted to the status quo. But they should not surrender. They should always believe they have a home on this land and that this home is theirs and their children’s.
Abu Mazen promised me a home in Ramallah. I am longing for the day Palestinian independence will be declared, so I can make a home there.
BK: Are you aware of the Palestinian refugee situation?
YB: I visited the Balata camp in Palestine [near Nablus] and I am awaiting a visa from the Egyptian authorities to visit Gaza.
I also visited Hebron. The city once had one hundred gates; now it has one. When I walked by al-Ibrahimi mosque, I told my companions that before we pray for our personal issues, we should pray for all those people who cannot reach their mosque to pray.
This is a difficult thing, There is a lot of pain. Balata camp is a very confined space, the size of a hotel. Tens of thousands of people live there. This cannot continue.
BK: The media frequently focuses on the Hollywood stars who embraced Kabbalah such as Madonna, Mick Jagger, Donna Karan, Ashton Kutcher, and Demi Moore. Does this bother you?
YB: Yes. I want people to talk about the other things we do. But I brought those stars to Palestine.
Ashton Kutcher accompanied me to Hebron, to see for himself what the Jews are doing there. Because if you do not see with your own eyes, it would be difficult to convince and explain.
I Skyped with Ashton this morning and told him I was in Lebanon. He was shocked and asked: What are you doing there? I told him I met many important people and I will tell you later what I will do.
I met people who are classified as Israel’s biggest enemies and it will be hard to tell people who I met, before explaining the context and objective behind it. I believe in people and in building bridges. So I will be organizing more visits to the region.
I visited Nablus last year with 800 people. When these people come to the region, they will not be merely visitors. They will become aware of the problem and become part of the solution.
BK: No matter how much you explain the purpose of your visit, US media will say, “Berg met with Hezbollah.” Are you ready for such publicity?
YB: I am sure the media will focus on this issue. I also know the US administration’s position and that of Israel regarding this party. But in the end, I can speak to my followers who are ready to listen to the intentions.
One day – I do not know when – this whole region will be filled with peace and people will live in serenity. But the more important question is, when? The only way is to build bridges between people.
Maybe I am a little crazy. Even my wife asked me why. I told her: because I can and I must do it. I feel that I must do it.
I do not care if people are upset about my visit to Lebanon. As long as I can convince one or two people of the importance of my visit, this would be an achievement I can build upon.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.