Oct 15, 2008

Alamo judge delays two girls’ abuse hearings

Andy Davis
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
October 15, 2008

Hearings on abuse allegations involving two girls taken from Tony Alamo’s religious compound in southwest Arkansas will be postponed to give attorneys for the Arkansas Department of Human Services time to take sworn depositions from out-of-state witnesses, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The girls are among six, ages 10 to 17, who were removed from the compound in Fouke during a raid on Sept. 20. All the girls are now in foster homes.

Alamo, the 74-year-old head of a ministry that also has operations in Fort Smith, California and New Jersey, was arrested in Arizona on Sept. 25 on a federal charge of transporting minors across state lines to engage in sexual activity. Authorities have not elaborated on what Alamo is accused of doing or whether the charges relate to the girls now in foster care.

Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson is presiding over the protective services cases of two of the girls, and Judge Joe Griffin is handling the two cases involving the other four girls, who are two pairs of sisters.

Hudson’s cases had been set for adjudication hearings, in which he will make a final ruling on whether the girls were abused, on Oct. 20, with hearings in Griffin’s cases to follow the next day.

But the Human Services Department asked for the hearings to be delayed, saying it needs more time to take sworn depositions from witnesses. Those witnesses include three to eight minors who live outside the state or more than 100 miles from Texarkana, Hudson said.

At a hearing Tuesday, Hudson granted delays in his cases, moving the hearings to the week of Nov. 17. He said Griffin will likely make a similar ruling.

“Some part or all of my two, and some part or all of his two, will start on the 17th,” Hudson said late Tuesday afternoon after the hearing, which was closed to the public. “We will try to schedule the four of them in some sane fashion that week.” At a hearing Sept. 26, Hudson found probable cause to believe the girls in his cases had been abused, and he ordered them to remain in foster care until the adjudication hearings. The parents in Griffin’s cases waived their rights to probable-cause hearings.

In Hudson’s cases, both parents of one girl and the father of the other girl are members of Alamo’s church. They were represented at Tuesday’s hearing by attorney Marshall Moore of Texarkana, who didn’t return calls late Tuesday.

Attorney Pamela Fisk of Texarkana, Texas, has been appointed to represent the mother who does not belong to the church. There was no answer at Fisk’s office late Tuesday.

The girls did not attend Tuesday’s hearing, but they were represented by court-appointed attorneys Amy Freeman and Carla Reyes, Hudson said.

At the adjudication hearings, the judges will decide whether the abuse allegations are supported by a preponderance of the evidence. They could order the children to return home, possibly with conditions, keep them in foster care or place them with relatives. Documents in the cases are confidential, and the hearings are closed to the public.

It is common for the Human Services Department to request that an adjudication hearing be postponed, especially in case involving out of state witnesses, department spokesman Julie Munsell said.

“There’s a lot of time and effort involved in locating people and then getting to depose them or gather some statements from them,” Munsell said.

Authorities have said they are investigating allegations that children were physically and sexually abused at the compound and that child pornography was produced there.

In his sermons and in interviews, Alamo has said the Bible teaches that girls are old enough to be married when they begin menstruating, but he has said that he does not allow underage marriages in his church. He has also denied that any children have been abused at the compound or that pornography was produced there.

On Tuesday, Alamo was still “en-route” to Arkansas from the Coconino County jail in Flagstaff, where he left more than a week ago, said Richard O’Connell, the U. S. marshal for the western district of Arkansas. He said Alamo should arrive in Arkansas this week.


Oct 2, 2008

Kabbalah Centre sues spin-off Universal Kabbalah Communities

Kabbalah changed Shaul Youdkevitch's life.
Brad A. Greenberg
Jewish Journal
October 2, 2008

The native Israeli had never been religious, then as a college student he discovered the esoteric teachings of Jewish mysticism and felt like a missing piece of his life had been put back in place. Soon after finishing school, Youdkevitch joined the faculty of the Kabbalah Centre, first as a teacher in Israel and later landing in Los Angeles, raising his family in the ministry and living in staff housing for almost three decades.

In February, Youdkevitch, who created and oversaw the center's teaching materials, and his wife, Osnat, left the center because of frustrations with the higher-ups, and decided to start their own kabbalah community in Los Angeles, calling it 
October 2, 2008. Shaul Youdkevitch said his goal was to become a kabbalah evangelist, to develop curriculum and programs that could be adopted by synagogues and communities unaffiliated with any organized kabbalah community, even his own.

"It was my life; I didn't want to give it up," Youdkevitch said in an interview. "And more than that, I wanted to share it with people all around the world."

But their efforts quickly attracted the attention of the Kabbalah Centre's leadership, and on July 14, Shaul and Osnat Youdkevitch were sued by their former employer of 28 years.

The lawsuit, which seeks damages in excess of $100,000 as well as any profits, accuses Universal Kabbalah Communities of unfairly competing, of stealing "trade secrets," of setting up a Web site and using an acronym (UKC) that people could confuse with the Kabbalah Centre (TKC), of trying to steal the center's members and of claiming to be intellectual successors to the teachings of Rabbi Philip Berg and his predecessors.

The 23-page suit cites numerous cases in which their activities allegedly violated California law. Among them, that their Web site, www.livekabbalah.org, is too similar to the center's, www.kabbalah.com, and that Universal Kabbalah Communities invited members of the Kabbalah Centre to a celebration on the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Yehuda Brandwein, who led the center before he handed the reins to Berg in 1969.

Aviv Tuchman, an attorney for the Youdkevitches, called the lawsuit "groundless."

"The word kabbalah is not trademarked; the observance of the rabbi's yahrzeit is certainly not some proprietary right, the observance of Jewish holidays is not some proprietary right," Tuchman said. "The sole purpose of their lawsuit is to harm Shaul and Osnat -- it is to intimidate them and deter them from freely practicing Judaism and kabbalah."
Youdkevitch and his wife are not the first people to start an alternative to the Kabbalah Centre; they just might be the highest-profile former employees to do so. Because of that, their activities have drawn the attention of many active members and employees of the center.

Across the United States and, particularly, in Israel, countless individuals and organizations teach various forms of kabbalah, said Jody Myers, chair of Jewish studies at Cal State Northridge and author of "Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: The Kabbalah Centre in America" (Praeger, 2007). The most significant of these, she said, is Bnei Baruch Kabbalah Education & Research Institute, which started in Israel in 1991.

That someone who left the Kabbalah Centre would start their own kabbalah community should be no surprise, Myers said. But that the center would file suit is.

"I find it problematic," Myers said. "We have First Amendment rights here. People are going to keep teaching kabbalah."

Calls to the Kabbalah Centre's media office were not returned. Janet Grumer, an attorney for the center, declined to comment.

The lawsuit is presented not as a religious matter but a business dispute. Repeatedly referenced is how the Universal Kabbalah Communities are cutting into the profits and economic advantage of the center. (Although the Kabbalah Centre is a nonprofit religious organization, its revenues fluctuate like those of a for-profit business.)

Youdkevitch's attorneys claim the suit is a vain attempt to skirt constitutional protections of freedom of expression and religious exercise.

"Couching its allegations under the guise of a business dispute cannot dodge the First Amendment dagger and review the corpse that is plaintiff's complaint," they wrote in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

A hearing will be held Oct. 27 in U.S. District Court to decide how the case will move forward. Legal experts said the Kabbalah Centre's claim would hinge on its ability to demonstrate that Universal Kabbalah Communities infringed on trademarked material.

"The touchstone is you can't be so similar that a significant portion of the population is likely to be confused. There is no hard and fast rule," said Daniel Klerman, a trademark expert at USC Gould School of Law. "The question is: Are people likely to be confused by what this new group is doing?"
"If they called themselves the Kabbalah Centres, just adding an 's,' that would be confusing. If they called themselves the Kabbalah Spirituality Centre, that would be confusing," Klerman continued. "But what are they calling themselves? The Universal Kabbalah Communities -- yeah, that sounds sufficiently different to me that people would think it was another kabbalah group different from the other one."

Sara Flatow, who for 11 years has been a member of the Kabbalah Centre, hopes the suit is settled without any harm to Universal Kabbalah Communities. She's recently gotten involved there, attending their Shabbat services and becoming a part of the growing fabric of about 100 regulars. What captured her imagination most, she said, was Shaul Youdkevitch's desire to share the teachings of kabbalah with anyone who would listen.

"He has so much to teach, not just from his wisdom and his understanding and his learning but also from his experience," Flatow said. "He and Osnat were the heads of the center in Tel Aviv and reached out to the Arab communities and made great strides in relations in that department. Really reaching out, showing the unification, that we are all people, that we are all mothers and fathers and children, we are one unified soul -- that is sort of the message of kabbalah."