Now it's opening its doors to a new group interested in exploring Kabbalah.
Kabbalah isn't a religion, it's wisdom, said Bonnie Campbell, 70, who leads weekly Kabbalah meetings in her Everett apartment. "We need a spiritual life, a connection, something to really believe in," she said.
The philosophy has received national attention largely through the publicity surrounding its celebrity adherents, including Madonna, Roseanne Barr and Sandra Bernhard.
Campbell said that her interest has nothing to do with its rich and famous followers.
While interest in Kabbalah may have grown from its association with such well-known followers, "from my small circle it's negative," she said. "People say, 'I don't want to get involved with something involving a movie star.'"
Campbell said the thing that matters most to her is its meaning in her life. "It has worked wonders for me," she said.
In part, this philosophy calls attention to the personal pitfalls that can occur through an oversized ego. These include the thoughts, or inner voice, that, by turns, can encourage us to indulge in even the minor temptations of daily life, like eating a piece of cake, then criticize us for doing so.
"The whole idea is to diminish that ego, to squash it as much as you can," Campbell said. "It represents fear, our dark side."
Campbell said she received a workbook and other information from the online Kabbalah University to guide her studies.
"I believe they're trying to get you to get off the surface and get down deep to see what you really, really want and to look at how you've been behaving and treating other people," Campbell said.
"They do advocate strongly that we help other people in whatever way we can."
Karin Jones, of Arlington, said she began noticing changes in those following Kabbalah principles and decided she would try it, too.
She said she hoped that following the Kabbalah philosophy will help her be "the best person I can be having a positive effect on the world and others."
Although some contemporary Kabbalah followers say it has no direct ties to religion, historically there has been a Kabbalah tradition in Judaism that dates back centuries.
"It's a very complicated subject," said Martin Jaffee, an emeritus professor in comparative religion and Jewish Studies at the University of Washington.
Kabbalah was "pulled out of the nest" of Judaism, he said.
Its Jewish traditions date back to the 3rd century A.D., he said, with practices that included meditation and magical visions of the heavenly world by keeping the commandments.
Kabbalah is simply experiencing God's presence in the act of fulfilling the commandments," he said.
Rabbi Jessica Marshall of Everett's Temple Beth Or, said that the practices of modern Kabbalah may be loosely inspired, but is fairly removed from its Judaic roots.
Jewish Kabbalah practices involved different emanations of God that we're able to connect with as humans, Marshall said.
Part of this Kabbalah tradition is included in the temple's Friday evening Shabbat services, she said.
"This idea of unification with the divine or transcendent is something that almost everyone seeks in some way or the other," Marshall said.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn about Kabbalah
Cafe Zippy, 2811 Wetmore Ave. in Everett, is hosting a Kabbalah class. Possible meeting times include Wednesday evenings or Saturday afternoons. For more information, call 425-303-0474 or email CafeZippyInfo@gmail.com.
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