Menschen Are From Mars

Having enchanted a growing list of celebrities and non-celebrities—and having shrugged off the objections of rabbis and scholars who say they are peddling a decidedly watered-down, quick-fix version of Jewish mysticism—modern-day Kabbalists haven’t wasted any time tackling one of the most pressing spiritual problems of the age: relationships.

On a recent Sunday, the Kabbalah Centre on East 48th Street in Manhattan was bustling for one of its thrice-annual open houses. By mid-afternoon, the line to register at balloon-festooned tables extended down the block. Inside, it was like a mixer for the spiritually minded. Hippies and hipsters, young and old, mingled as they swigged Kabbalah water and munched on hummus wraps purchased from the center’s cafe. A veritable feast of literature was laid out for sale, prominently featuring titles from the center’s director, Rav Berg, and his wife and co-director, Karen Berg, author of God Wears Lipstick. Children’s books by Madonna, who shimmied into Kabbalah with the same blaring of horns with which she used to put on a bustier, were well represented.

Black-clad volunteers eagerly awaited questions and ushered guests upstairs to the main event: a series of introductory classes on “Mastering Negativity,” “Consciousness and Healing” and “Dreams.” One was titled “What Women Want,” with the cheeky parenthetical note: “For Men Only.” Rabbi Eliyahu Jian, married for eight years with three kids, has been teaching the “very popular” course for fifteen. A big, burly bear of a man, he worked the room—which included a dozen or so women, mostly wives with their husbands, perhaps so they could later say, “Honey, didn’t you listen to what Rabbi Jian said?”—like a beneficent comedian.

So what do women want? The same things men want.

“We both want love. We both want support, communication and understanding,” said Rabbi Jian. The difference, he added, is that men have a giving energy, while women have a receiving energy. When the two join, a circle of energy is completed that brings peace to the world. Sexual innuendo aside, this sounded pretty sensible—and not particularly mystical.

The problem is that men operate on a different wavelength.

“Men think about one thing at a time; women can multi-task,” said Rabbi Jian. Men also don’t necessarily need a side of emotional intimacy to go along with sex. And they can’t stand pain—which is why, said the rabbi, “God, in His mercy power, gave the decision to have children to women.”

So if they can’t stand pain and can enjoy sex without intimacy, why should men even bother with relationships?

It’s simple. “A man, spiritually, can never make it without a woman,” said Rabbi Jian.

“The men in the room are not going to like this,” he joked, but some ancient texts suggest that women only exist in this universe because they know men can’t do it without them. Without feminine energy around him, according to this view, a man is not complete. And if a man refuses to grow up spiritually, said the rabbi, he’s in luck: The universe will send him a woman to make him miserable until he gets it. The ancients even had a word for this harpy of enlightenment: calbatah. “If a woman gives you a hard time,” he said, “it’s necessary.”

Doesn’t a woman, the receiver, need a man on her spiritual path? Apparently not, according to Rabbi Jian.

The audience seemed engaged. John, 49, has been active in the center for two years. He lives in Washington, D.C., but comes to New York for big events. Despite the fact that he’s been married for three years—to another Kabbalah devotee—he came to this lecture hoping to “learn something new.” “It’s what all men want to know,” he conceded.

It was the first time at the center for Anita and Lenny. Anita, a wiry woman with frosted, curly hair, said her husband convinced her to come after the couple read a book on Kabbalah. Lenny’s version of events differed slightly: “There weren’t any good movies on.”

Anita said she thought the rabbi’s words were “right on,” but Lenny wasn’t buying. “It was too matriarchal,” he said. “I thought it negated man’s purpose.” Anita shrugged and smiled, rolling her eyes as her husband sulked off to the elevators. They’ve been married for 58 years.

—Kathryn Williams

Dear Guy

Ladies, thanks for all your letters. We had a hard time choosing which ones to print! If you don’t see yours below, it will likely appear in a forthcoming issue.

Guy is a 38-year-old man living in New York City who has had several successful long-term relationships. You may send your questions in to DearGuy@observer.com.

Dear Guy,

My boyfriend and I have been dating for about four months. We see each other once during the week and usually spend the weekend together. I’ve met his parents, he’s met mine, and everyone agrees we look great together. However, I’ve become suspicious lately about what he’s doing when he’s not with me. Sometimes I’ll call his cell phone and it rings straight into voice mail—he always says he was in a bar with his friends and couldn’t hear it. I know it’s bad, but I’ve gotten into the habit of hacking into his Hotmail account and there are all these saved e-mails from his ex-girlfriend, Wendy. Ex or not, judging from their date and their content, they are all recent e-mails. Usually they’re about nothing, unless I’m not picking up on their true meaning? Should I confront him with this Wendy information? Or wait to catch him red-handed?

Suspicious on Seventh Avenue

Dear Suspicious,

You’re crazy!

Sincerely,

Guy

Dear Guy,

I’m a single woman in my late 20’s with a habit of flipping to the Styles section of The New York Times on Sundays and checking out the wedding section. Recently I noticed that many of the featured couples met their future spouse under “funny” circumstances (stuck in an elevator, sharing a cab, mistaken luggage at the airport, etc.). I was wondering if you had any suggestions how to go about meeting someone “accidentally” and, if so, which neighborhood would be best.

Desiring Destiny in Dumbo

Dear Desiring,

You’re crazy!

Sincerely,

Guy

Dear Guy,

I was set up on a blind date about two months ago through one of my mother’s book-club friends. We went out, drank two bottles of wine at dinner and quickly ended up back at my place. The only thing the two of us have in common is terrific physical chemistry, and we both agree we don’t have much of a romantic future outside the bedroom. However, my cousin is getting married and I’m the only one in my family without a date, so I asked my blind date to accompany me. He got very upset, said I was breaking the basic ground rules of our agreement, and that to show up with me at a family function would be sending mixed signals. How can I convince him that we can sleep together and still be seen in public without it being labeled a “relationship”?

Curious in Carroll Gardens

Dear Curious,

You’re crazy!

Sincerely,

Guy Menschen Are From Mars