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February is Kabbalah Month

For Rabbi Yosef Wolvovsky, Kabbalah is not about selling red strings and Kabbalah water or celebrity sightings.

It is about finding deeper meaning in Judaism.

"Jewish mysticism has so much to say about the purpose of life and meaningful living," explained Rabbi Wolvovsky, executive director of Chabad: East of the River, located in Glastonbury.

To shed more light on the mystical Jewish practice of Kabbalah, February has been branded "Kabbalah Month" all around Connecticut.

This month, Chabad-Lubavitch centers in 17 towns across the state — including West Hartford, Glastonbury, Stamford, New Haven, New London, and Chabad at both UConn and Yale — will be holding a series of Kabbalah-inspired classes and programming targeted to a variety of audiences.

"Recently we have seen a big interest and thirst from people wanting to know about the spiritual side of Judaism," Rabbi Wolvovsky explained, adding that with the growing interest in Kabbalah, several Chabads around the state were already planning on running Kabballah classes in February.

"There were so many events, we thought, "Why not put them all under one umbrella?"

'Hidden wisdom'

Kabbalah, also called the "Hidden Wisdom" by the Baal Shem Tov, is the esoteric study of the Torah.

Until recently, Kabbalah was really only studied by the most knowledgeable Jewish scholars - mostly within the Orthodox world - and not by the general Jewish population.

The most important book in Kabbalah is the Zohar (Hebrew for "Splendor") which is the mystical commentary on the Torah, the nature of G‑d, the universe, the soul and good and evil.

Recent interest in Kabbalah has meant bringing the advanced study of the mystical subject down to earth for less Jewishly-trained students.

"During the years Kabbalah has evolved from something not understandable by people who were not well-versed enough in other areas of Torah," explained Rabbi Shua Rosenstein, executive director of Chabad at Yale. "The work of lots of writers and kabbalists, who have written extensively on the subject in recent years, gives us the ability to teach to people from all walks of life."

Rabbi Wolvovsky said that the kinds of Kabbalah courses being offered now have been altered from past Kabbalah courses.

"In the past we would offer basic courses like Kabbalah 101 or Introduction to Kabbalah," he said. "Now we are designing courses around specific subjects, like Kabbalah of Relationships, the interplay between men and women, and the Kabbalah of Time, on the Jewish calendar."

"The Kaballah of Time," an eight-week program of the Jewish Learning Institute, (JLI) which looks at the Jewish calendar through the lens of Kabballah is one of the courses that will be offered around the state during Kabbalah Month. The course will not only be offered at seven locations around the state, but like other JLI classes will also be held at 160 locations around the world.

Another program, "Mysteries of the Moon," a Kabbalah-inspired program about the lunar cycles, will be held for female audiences as part of groups like "A Woman's Touch" in Glastonbury.

There will also be programs targeted to teens, dinner parties, and hands-on workshops.

Famed Jewish mystic Rabbi Laibl Wolf will tour the state as part of Kabbalah month. His talk, "Is your body and soul a good fit?" will be offered at the University of Hartford on Feb. 9, and at Chabad of Stamford Feb. 10-11, and Ridgefield on Feb. 12.

The real Kabbalah

In February, Yale students will be able to take three Kabbalah courses through his Chabad center: Kabbalah of Love, Kabbalah of Time, and the Kabbalistic View of the Afterlife.

Rabbi Rosenstein said that he has seen a growing interest in Kabbalah from Yale students.

"I think there is a growing interest in Kabbalah throughout the world because it has been such a marketable idea," Rabbi Rosenstein said. "Everybody is trying to market it, from Madonna to the greatest rabbis.

"What we are trying to do," he continued, "is say, 'What is the real Kabbalah, what is the history, how was it meant to be taught and what does it teach us."

Rabbi Wolvovsky said that Kabbalah may attract those who are searching spiritually, but who may not be regulars at other Jewish adult education classes.

"I think people in general and Jewish people in particular are always seeking more, looking for deeper meaning," Wolvovsky said. "Jewish learning in Hebrew school is more technical and dry. But Jewish learning has another side with meaning and spirit. It is more complex and it has a unique appeal to the Jewish people."

And this appeal extends to the number of Hollywood celebrities - most of them not Jewish - who promote some form of Kabbalah. Has this interest in wearing red strings, buying bottled "Kabbalah water" and attending celebrity-filled classes at the Los Angeles Kabbalah Center, been a detriment to the overall study of Kabbalah?

"Kabbalah is something that is very holy and I don't think it is meant to be a tool for making money or for popularity," Rosenstein said. "It is something that is meant to be studied, so we can find out who we are and what we are doing here."

"There is no question that the concept of Kabbalah has, to a certain extent, been misused, or treated as a fad," Wolvovsky agreed. "On the other hand, the fact that we are talking about this now is because of the popularity celebrities have given it. It gives us an opportunity to say, 'Now you have heard about Kabbalah...now how about if we learn about the real thing."

For more information about Kabbalah Month in your town, contact —

Branford: (203) 488-2263

Danbury, Ridgefield: (203) 438-4421

Glastonbury: (860) 659-2422

Greenwich: (203) 629-9059

Hamden: (203) 248-9492

Litchfield: (800) 297-6964

New Haven, Westville: (203) 389-8472

New London: (860) 437-8000

Orange, Woodbridge: (203) 795-7095

Simsbury: (860) 658-4903

Stamford: (203) 3 Chabad

Storrs: (860) 429-8672

Wallingford: (203) 265-4012

West Hartford: (860) 232-1116

Westport: (203) 226-8584

Yale: (203) 498-9770