A former Kabbalah Centre International student testified Wednesday that her negative experiences with the Jewish school of thought has prompted her to shun religion, distrust the clergy and install extensive security in her home to protect herself.
Jena Scaccetti told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury that the controlling aspects of Kabbalah and an alleged attempt by one of its former co-directors, Rabbi Yehuda Berg, to convince her to have sex with him took its toll after six years as a follower.
“I never confided in a rabbi again,” Scaccetti testified. “I grew up a Catholic and I don’t confide in any priests. I don’t want to convert to Judaism. My connection is between me and God at this point. I don’t trust middle men.”
The plaintiff was in her second day of testimony in trial of her lawsuit against Berg and the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, where Madonna, Ashton Kutcher and other celebrities have studied.
The 36-year-old plaintiff alleges Berg gave her alcohol and a Vicodin pill to try and relax her so she would agree to have sex with him at his mother’s apartment in the Kabbalah Centre in New York City the night of Oct. 25- 26, 2012. She also claims he touched her and forcibly embraced her.
Scaccetti says she rejected his advances and that the four-hour visit ended with him calling for a cab to take her home, but only after he seized her phone and deleted messages. She said he also threatened her harm and even death if she told anyone what happened.
Berg testified he acted improperly and did not try to change her mind when she refused to have sex.
At the request of her lawyer, Scaccetti read several text messages she and Berg exchanged shortly after their visit in New York City. Most of the writings were friendly in nature.
“At that point in my life, I could never imagine talking to Yehuda in a disrespectful way,” she said.
However, about two weeks later, the tone of Scaccetti’s texts changed, In one text she told Berg that what happened in his mother’s apartment was “not OK” with her.
“You crossed the line and with me and you know it,” Scaccettt said she told Berg.
Scaccetti said her decision to seek a spiritual renewal with Kaballah after ending an abusive relationship with her ex-boyfriend turned out to be another of many “bad, bad choices” she has made throughout her life.
“Yehuda was the last straw where I could take being abused by another guy,” she said.
She said she and her brother live together in a home with security cameras that make her feel safer. But she says she still experiences anxiety and depression from her Kabbalah experiences.
“Every day I’m reprogramming my brain,” she said. “Every aspect of my life, they controlled. Every day I work to get the thoughts out of my life so I can get control.”
Scaccetti said she was ambivalent at first about speaking out and filing the lawsuit she eventually brought against the Kabbalah Centre and Berg in January 2014.
“I felt that by coming forward I could put myself in danger in some metaphysical way,” she said. “I was afraid he could put some kind of spell on me.”
Scaccetti said she also worried about the impact a lawsuit could have on Berg’s wife and their five children. But she said she believes that by going public that she can actually protect both herself and others.
“It’s awful to talk about, but I’m preventing it from happening to someone else and I’m proud of that,” she said.
Berg is the author of about 30 books, including “The Power of Kabbalah” and “The 72 Names of God.” His father, Rav Berg, and brother, Michael Berg, also taught at the Los Angeles center.
Berg admitted during his testimony that he was addicted at the time to alcohol and drugs. He said he left Kabbalah International in May 2014 to get treatment for his addictions and that he is now sober.
By Bill Hetherman, City News Service