‘Red String’ goes retail

After enrolling such earnest Judaic scholars as Madonna, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Demi Moore, the Kabbalah Centre of Los Angeles has taken another step forward in mainstreaming its product.

The nationwide Target stores are offering the Centre’s prepackaged, preblessed Red String bracelet, for an unbeatable price of $25.99.

When tied with seven knots to the left wrist, the red thread, or bendel in Yiddish, is empowered to ward off the Evil Eye and assorted negative forces.

Target is advertising the accessory among its “super-fresh + crazy cool” Red Hot merchandise, luring the fashion-conscious with the pitch that Red String “Is on the verge. Right there on the sharp end. Soon to be famous and almost too good to be true.” The come-on proved irresistible and Target stores in Los Angeles sold out their supply within a day.

The Los Angeles Times interviewed Rabbi Yehuda Berg, co-director of the Kabbalah Centre, who said he had no control over how Target merchandises its products, but asserted that “Kabbalah should be accessible to anyone, anywhere.” The bendel is also a bestseller at the Centre’s gift shop, where it costs $26, with part of the profit going to an outreach program for at-risk inner city kids, Berg said.

All the sales and publicity are also good news for Berg’s forthcoming work, The Red String Book, which will be advertised in October through a giant Sunset Boulevard billboard, wrapped in red string, The Times reported.

Another major and unexpected promotional boost came from Kimora Lee Simmons, designer of the Baby Phat fashion line and wife of hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

Simmons was arrested last week in New Jersey, after police pulled over her $128,000 Mercedes SL-600 and found a stash of marijuana in her car. She was booked and her mug shot circulated throughout the nation’s media. Close observers noted that on her left wrist she wore a red string bendel.

While Americans flock to Target to deck their wrists with red thread, Israelis, it seems, can create some extra revenue by walking down the steps from Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter to the Western Wall. The path is scattered with red strings which have been discarded or have fallen off.

Even if you don’t want to gather them from the ground, a red string can be bought in the Old City for just NIS 5 – and that includes a choice of amulet. A plain one can be bought for as low as NIS 1. Not to mention that a $26 purchase at Target certainly does not come with a kiss and a murmured blessing.

A French tourist, who had recently bought an amulet-decorated string from a man on the Old City steps, had little sympathy for deluded Americans. “In the United States they are very rich,” he said. Still, he admitted that $26 was a little steep. “$10 is OK for American people.”

Some who sell the red thread were shocked upon hearing the price of the string abroad.

Others emphasized the difference between the ones that can be bought here and those sold abroad. “This thread is from Rachel’s tomb, it’s real,” said an old woman, her calloused wrinkled hands wrapped around a bundle of “authentic” red string. “It is a blessing for all good things.”

While she stressed that the ones she was selling were real, she refrained from commenting specifically on the US market. She suggested asking a higher authority. “Ask a rabbi,” she said, “some say you need it, others say you don’t.”

“I think [the strings are] better here; its a holy country, so there [in the US] it is business, and here its a good deed, not a business, sometimes you can even get them for free,” said Alona Shleypak from Beit Shemesh, who, along with her two companions had just purchased red strings. One of her companions was surprised by the price. “$26?” he asked, “is that before tax?”

Even though the price of the string in the Old City is generally uniform, there is no lack of competition. A woman sitting just above the steps, said: “You can’t just take thread and sell it; it has to be from the tomb of Rachel, you have to take it and wrap it around the tomb seven times. Then, you can sell it.”

When asked if she thought she would be able to sell her genuine thread for the American price, she said “What? Are you kidding? It costs NIS 5.”

Read the Jerusalem Post online

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Jerusalem Post, Israel
Aug. 11, 2004
Tom Tugend and Leora Falk

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