"We all are looking for something in life. What are you looking for?" asked Joseph Shvili. Shvili led a free Kabbbalah introductory class inside a La Jolla strip-mall. Twelve people sat in the Kabbalah Centre's classroom. Half of them were volunteers and staff. The visitors answered: love, relationship, success, and health. A young man named Jay added, "And a little money would be nice."
"Well, most people reach a level of fulfillment in life that is only temporary. We all want fulfillment, but WHAT all we end up with is crumbs. Forty percent of Americans suffer from depression, and almost 60 percent of marriages end in divorce. What is missing in our life is energy. A lasting fulfillment," said Shvili. "Kabbalah is a spiritual wisdom that precedes all religions. It was founded over 4000 years ago. Kabbalah is not really a religion or Jewish mysticism but a spiritual technology. Kabbalah teaches people how to attain lasting fulfillment. The tools of Kabbalah provide peace of mind, transformation, and the ability to rid ourselves of uncertainty in our lives. Kabbalah exposes the real nature of God. God is nothing more or less than a lasting energy. God is not a god that punishes us or rewards us. It is people who follow religions with a mindset of 'God is doing this' that are missing the real game." Joseph Shvili told the class that the rules of the game are like natural laws. "Gravity has nothing to do with being Protestant or Catholic. It's a principle of the universe. If you know the principles, you can play the game and win."
Shvili encouraged the group to sign up for introductory classes at the Kabbalah Centre. "These classes teach people the rules of the game and give them the technology tools to win," said Shvili. The Power of Kabbalah introductory classes cost between $250 and $270. After the class, I approached Joseph Shvili to ask him a few questions. Shvili refused to speak to me when he learned I worked for the San Diego Reader.
Inside the classroom, posters covered the walls with titles such as "Mastering Negativity," "How to Date Your Soulmate," "God Disguised as You," and "You - Ego + Sharing = God." The first half of the facility is a retail store, filled with stacks of books such as 72 Names of God, Becoming Like God, and God Wears Lipstick. In the corner of the store, cardboard flats of Kabbalah water stand six-feet high.
Bill Ipsan, a volunteer, greeted me. Ipsan said he left the dogmatic evangelical Christian world to become a Kabbalahist FOR KABBALAH. "Since I've joined Kabbalah, my life has improved. I've gone from sleeping on a floor to buying a condo and a new car," said Ipsan. "Kabbalah allows me to align my energy in the right ways."
Marissa Flon attended the class to learn more about Kabbalah. "I thought the session was interesting. They provide just enough information to get you interested, but they didn't really give enough information to explain what they do," said Flon. I asked Flon if she planned to pay for a class to learn more. "No, I would not pay to take a class. I didn't walk away with a good impression of what they are doing."
Bob Greenstone has practiced Kabbalah for two and a half years. "It is important to know it is not a religion. Nothing in Kabbalah is taken on faith. It's a system for improving your life using practical tools."
I asked Greenstone for an example of how he used Kabbalah to improve his life. "The Hebrew letters are a sophisticated technology, each with a frequency of energy to change your life. For example, God has 72 names extracted from the Bible. Each is a tool for meditation to change your life. You can use a name to improve your health, overcome addiction, get over negativity, or become more prosperous," said Greenstone. "I've found that they have brought these energies into my life to change things."
I asked Bob Greenstone his impression of religion. "From my experience, most rabbis, priests, and ministers don't believe in God," said Greenstone. "How could you have the misuse of children in the Catholic Church without a fear of retribution from God? I don't see how these priests can have a belief in God.
"Personally, I've found religion is more of a social experience. Religion offered no personal growth or transformation because they do not have the technology to do it." Previously, Greenstone had attended Tifereth Israel, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in San Carlos. Greenstone took Kabbalah classes at Tifereth Israel. "Kabbalah at a synagogue is intellectually interesting, but it had no relevance to my life. At the Kabbalah Centre, it is 100 percent geared to make transformation in your life." According to Greenstone, most Jewish rabbis bash the Kabbalah Center because they are afraid to lose control of their system. "Religion is, pray to God and do this, or if you don't, God will punish you. Through this, the system controls you. In Kabbalah, there is a system, but you learn cause-and-effect. Once you learn this, you have more control in your life."
I asked Greenstone what Kabbalah teaches about the afterlife. "In Kabbalah, death is an illusion. The vast majority of your soul continues to exist and goes through a process," said Greenstone. "At this point, you may be reincarnated, depending on your needs."
8895 Towne Centre Drive, Suite 101, San Diego
Founded locally: 1999
Senior pastor: Joseph Shvili
Congregation size: 300--400
Staff size: refused interview
Sunday school enrollment: refused interview
Annual budget: refused interview
Weekly giving: refused interview
Singles program: No
Introduction class: 7 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour