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Mentalize This

Reading minds… bending spoons with no hands… for some kids, weirdness just works. Magician/Kabbalist Ehud Segev has turned it into a career.

Even when he was a little kid growing in the Rosh Pina suburb of mystical Safed, people thought Segev, who is now performing his off-Broadway one-man-act at Theatre Row on 42nd street, was strange. They thought he was deaf because he wouldn't talk to his kindergarten classmates, opting to stare at them instead.

“I was just exploring them,” he told The Jewish Standard in a phone interview following one of his shows. “Everyone thinks you are crazy, but you start understanding the way people think. You can see when they are thinking happy thoughts. You can feel stuff about them.”

Segev, 25, cultivated his ability to cull strangers' thoughts when he was 12, after begging his secular parents to buy him a set of tarot cards. While most of his peers were off playing soccer, he was busy holding seances. He perfected his ability to form psychic connections when he started studying kabbalah, much to his parents' disapproval. But Segev, who now uses the stage name the Mentalizer – a name give him by the Israeli media after he successfully predicted the outcomes of a number of mayoral races there when he was 16 – gailed notoriety for his ability.

The Israeli rabbinate also publicly forbade him to perform a seance a few years ago in which he wanted to summon the soul of assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

He's incorporated his ability to “read” audience members and to exploit the psychic connections between all things into his routine. But be forewarned; his show is not for skeptics.

By design his show is a mixture of illusions and what he claims are actual magic and some of his effects are obvious sleight-of-hand standbys – with a kabbalist's twist. He performs a typical rope trick, tearing it into little pieces only to have it magically reform, but instead of using twine of standard rope, he uses bindelas, th ethin red thread that kabbalists wrap around their wrists to ward off the evil eye. And most of the stories that he uses to frame his effects have kabbalistic themes that he hope elucidate the connections between all people.

For instance, he tells his audience that he moved out of his house when he was 16 because his parents could not accept that he was becoming religious. He noticed that he was missing a few items from his new apartment and planned to return home to retrieve them. Just then, his mother called him and told him that his father had prepared a box for him. When Segev returned to his house, no one was home – because his father was having a massive heart attack and was clinically dead for a few minutes. While his father was in a coma, Segev went through the box. In it, he found a chumash that he had never seen before. He uses the chumash in a trick in which he predicts what biblical line an audience memeber will select.

Most audience members left the theater theorizing about how the Mentalizer could touch one onstage volunteer on the forehead and make another, whom he did not touch, feel the sensation (invisible string, maybe?). They wondered how he could remove one piece from a thousand piece puzzle before his show in anticipation that another audience volunteer would pick it from a pile of another thousand (would any piece have fit that spot?). But some effects were a little more difficult to explain away by trickery.

How did he guess that one kid's name was Sean just by looking into his eyes? How could he have possibly known that that woman's favorite song was the Beatles' “Yesterday” just by touching her wrist? How did he make that woman's credit card fly around him like a whirling dervish? And how in the world did he bend and twist that spoon withough touching it – and while someone else was holding it?

Even if the tricks are simple misdirection, their execution is worth the price of admission – especially given that he is donating all of the proceeds from the once-a-week show to charities such as Save the Childrewn and tsunami relief. (He supports himself by performing private shows.)

Thoug Segev says that he is asked to read people every 15 minutes or so, he shies away from telling people their futures, because he says that anyone who claims to have that ability is a fraud. “I once had a man named Joseph Joneh ask me the name of his future wife, so I told him – Mrs. Jones,” Segev jokes – oh yes, the audience will have to endure more that a few Mrs. Joneh-esque jokes.

But by observing and analyzing the present, he does have some predictions for 2005, which he calls the mirror year (hold 2005 up to a mirror and you will see why). He feels that the war on terror will take a big twist and will turn into something other than a war on terror. He feels that there will be a scientific mishap in which a popular medication is found dangerous – most likely a dietary or beauty aid. He sees Bill Clinton returning to prominence in the second half of the year, he sees reality television permeating commercials and the theater, and he thinks that Osama bin Laden will be captured somewhere outside of Afghanistan.

Should you believe him? See the show and decide for yourself.

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