Friday, November 22, 2013

An email asking for advice

I received an email several weeks ago from a young woman, (I'll call her Em) who is concerned for a friend who is involved with Jack Hickman's group.
She asked for advice. I've been mulling over a response for some time, and nothing seems adequate.
Without divulging any personal info, the situation is this: she is friends and neighbors with a family. One member of the family has divulged some info, but the other kids, who she has been quite close to, have never shared anything with her.
Em is concerned after reading some of our blogs. She is worried about her friends' involvement, and askeed what she should do, if anything.
I don't know if I am the best person to give advice here, as I am still in limbo myself. What I will say is this,
 Before anything else, if your friend discloses anything that is illegal or a threat to their welfare, report it. If you witness anything that worries you, report it.  You would be doing them no favors by keeping quiet.
Other than that, tread lightly. Don't confront anyone with information, or in a way that will result in them feeling defensive. With the friend who has told you about the cult, point her towards the info, namely the Foibles article and the Modern Doomsday blog. It is written concisely and provides a lot of history and information without having to wade through a lot of pages.
But don't argue. Don't drive a wedge between you. Don't try to convince them of anything. Be there, be supportive, and make sure they don't feel personally judged by your opinions of the group.
I remember being in the defensive position here. I was angry at what I perceived to be the ill intentions of the people speaking out against the cult. I wanted to defend them, my beliefs, and the people I have known my entire life. What helped me, honestly, was knowing the info was there, and being left alone. I sought it out on my own terms, in my own time. I listened and I watched. It takes time to accept the truth, and it happens little by little. They may never accept it, and you have to be ready to accept that yourself. Remember that it's not the beliefs that are at issue (as wonky as they may be). It's the actions. It's the pattern of behavior (illegal, unethical and abusive) that creates a bad or potentially dangerous situation.

I wish I had more advice, but as I said, I am not the best person for this.

I would appreciate any ideas from you readers. Any input would help. Those of you who have been disconnected from this group longer may have a better sense of what may help.
Don't hesitate to tell me I'm wrong and offer different advce, because I just don't know.

Good luck, Em. And they are lucky to have a friend who cares.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Interesting

Jack Hickman and his followers tried very hard to stay out of the spotlight after the Foibles of Abba article. Cult activities became a secret, no more recruiting, no more admitting you were a member. Even so, they still managed to garner unwanted attention.
Here is an article I stumbled across and haven't seen posted on anyone's blog yet:

Murder of Lisa Steinberg
I hoped to be able to find the original article from the NY Post, but unfortunately,no luck.

The article is from 1987, the same year little Lisa was beaten to death by her parents. I remember this case making headlines nation-wide, even years later.
There are a few interesting things about this article:
For one, it refers to the Family as a "kid-beating cult" that advocated "strict discipline of children". So it was known, even then, that child abuse occurred. Why was it never investigated? Whoever wrote the article must have gotten that information from somewhere, or someone. How many people, ex-members included, are complicit in the continuation of abuse?

Secondly, what the heck are the "cult-like" things they found in the apartment? That is just odd. The cult members were Lutheran, then pretend-orthodox Jews. Judging by their last names, I am assuming these two were Jews. The only "things" I can imagine them having related to the cult are Sabbath candlesticks, yarmulkas, a cross or two and
maybe a mezuzah on the door post? Being in NY, those things can hardly be called unusual.

Lastly, the article states that according to police, more than 50 cult members still existed on Long Island. So by 1987, most of the members were doing a really good job of hiding their involvement. About 50 still had some learning to do.

I am curious if any former members from back then remember seeing these two at services/activities, or any investigation about this.

More likely than not, there is no verifiable link to Shoresh Yishai. Still, though, that name pops up in the weirdest places.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bet El Yehoshua

Bet El was the cult-run school in Massapequa, NY. I believe it operated from the 70's until the mid-late 80's. Children in the cult would start being educated from age 3 on. At 3, children would start ganon (preschool). Kindergarten through the sixth grade was taught in the Massapequa building. The teachers were all cult members.
A few years after the " blow-up", the school was reduced to only k-2. A couple years after that, it closed altogether.

I have gathered stories from several youth who were students there. Their experiences in that school were strange, to say the least.
To be fair I want to acknowledge that there were many positive memories expressed also. It was a very close knit community, and all the kids knew eachother. Family friends and often our relatives were the teachers. Some of the people I talked to expressed that they felt loved there. It wasn't "just a job" for any of the teachers or administrators, they were truly invested. Some youth felt there was a safety net that didn't exist in public schools.

I don't want to minimize the positive experiences, but for many other youth, that "safety net" was a double-edged sword. It served the adults more than the children. Just like every other situation in this cult, there was no recourse for children who may have been abused, at home or at school. There was no one who would report suspicious marks, bruises, or statements by kids. By report, I mean to outside authorities. Someone might express a concern to Abba, or the person's parents, but it would stay "in the family". Everything was kept quiet and private. Especially after the Foibles article. The family wanted no attention from media or authorities of any sort.

This is some of what the children learned about, (oh, and the teachers strongly believed in experiential learning.)

Sacrifice. In order to demonstrate how to kill an animal the kosher way, the school aquired some chickens. One nice sunny day, all the students were brought outside along with the chickens. A teacher (I believe Bob F.) produced a knife and akwardly slit it's throat while someone else held the chicken still. Once the head was off, they let it go, and it ran around flapping it's wings and bleeding until it fell over. Kids were fascinated and horrified. They next killed the second chicken.
The kids got to watch them feathered and gutted. A class made chicken soup. For some strange reason, the chicken feet were kept in a freezer and handed out as prizes for games.
I get that there are farm kids everywhere who may see animals get slaughtered for food without being disturbed in the least. But these were city kids. They had no prior experience with this sort of thing. And for so many of them, this is the first story that comes out when reminiscing about Bet El. It made an impression.

There were lessons about the Israelites being slaves in Egypt, and being forced to build the pyramids. Being the experiential learners they were, they were led outside where there were bricks and baby dolls. The kids had to act out being the slaves. The baby dolls were their babies. If anyone was too slow while building the walls, they were forced to put the baby into the bricks, being killed as they were crushed and became a part of the pyramid.
Honestly, I don't even know if this is historically accurate. I don't believe there is any evidence that the pyramids were built by Jewish slaves, but I might be wrong.
I have some pictures of this fun little activity, I smudged the faces that might be identifiable.




And who can forget the paddles? Paddling was a part of life at Bet El. Corporal punishment was not just tolerated, it was encouraged. Jack taught that you had to hit the children until they cried. Otherwise you were not breaking them, and it was important to break them.
The paddles were wooden boards. If a child did something wrong, the teacher would bring them to another room where s/he had to bend over their knees and get paddled.
There was one particular teacher who apparently had the "Godzilla paddle". It was a large cutting board with a handle. He had it hanging on the wall so all the kids could see it, as a deterrent for misbehavior. He would take it down off the wall and carry it to the other room with the offending child. I was told that he didn't actually use it, he had a different, smaller paddle that he actually used. But the effect was the same. The child would be shaking in fear on their way to the paddle room.
The paddling was a way to assert control through fear. The random, nonsensical rules they made, like not being allowed to go to the bathroom more than once or twice a day also served this purpose.

Someone told me there was a lesson on kosher bugs (eww). A class went down to the kitchen and fried grasshoppers or crickets, then ate them. I have heard of restaurants that specialize in different cricket recipes. Maybe these guys were onto something.

A normal part of school, mainly after 1982 according to most, were the drills. They weren't always formal drills, but they would practice being under attack, or in a survival situation. The kids would have to scatter and hide. There were lessons on foraging (the bugs were part of this), winter survival, etc. There were lessons on using your senses, like having the tractor trailer brought in. All the kids were put inside the trailer, told to go to the far end. Then the doors would be shut leaving them in complete blackness. The doors would be opened again when the children could get themselves calmly to the other end, leaving no one behind.
Supposedly there are still lots of drills and games meant to prepare the kids for "survival". The cult school practices hiding and being silent while the teacher searches for each kid. There are games of manhunt in the dark to hone their skills. Families also practiced (in the past and currently) their own drills at home; where each person is to hide, who is in charge of the guns/ready packs, meeting spots to regroup. Everyone in the family is required to have an emergency "ready pack" which is always stocked and ready to go at a moments notice. There is a man called the "Ephriam" who is in charge of ensuring that every person and every mish is fulfilling their responsibility in these matters. He will actually demand a printed inventory from each group and sometimes travels around to inspect progress.

Most of the Bet El kids had a rough time transitioning into public schools after it closed. There was a lot of effort, with mixed success, to keep the kids together for teachings weekly. Some kids stayed in contact until the regrouping. Others only had loose contact, and rarely spent time with other Family until 1996.

Presently the cult runs a school in Corinna Maine, as well as a preschool. People are strongly encouraged to send their children, though logistics make it impossible for the lucky ones. I do not know if corporal punishment is still used there.

Feel free to share any experiences you have had with Bet El Yehoshua, good, bad or indifferent.






Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Political Procedure of the "Three Families"

Posted below is the last section of the packet outlining the political procedure of the Family, for anyone who is interested in their inner workings. The first big elder election took place on Long Island back in the late nineties. The Family as a whole (from all areas) meet once a year, in Maine. The "January Meeting" , as it is called, is considered mandatory. When Jack was alive, he would read "The Letter" which was supposedly written for the whole family, all the tribes, worldwide. It was a long cryptic message that would be read twice (so all the people furiously taking notes wouldn't miss anything). It would be read twice and twice only. Never printed or distributed. It was considered very sensitive information. For months afterward people would get together in groups and discuss it's meaning, trying to analyze and interpret. Whatever.

Since Jack's death, the meetings still occur every year. There is no longer a letter for the whole family around the world, or if there is it doesn't reach our tribe out here in the US (um, I thought we were special?) but a message is still given by the "king" (Mike V.), or the high priest, (Gary, now Adam V.). Inexplicably, the "message" is still only read twice, and never printed or distributed, just like when Abba was alive. The Ephraim (Obed F.) or one of the priests may speak next, or a "Miriam", which is the girl-equivalent of a priest, sort of, but not really. According to Jack, the "Miriam" is the title given to the eldest daughter of the High Priest. Since the high priest for us was Gary, and he had no children, this had to be altered. Jack named a Miriam for each "superclan". They are consecrated into the priestly line like the male priests. One Miriam is active in their role at any given time. Their role is to deal with the woman-stuff. They would choose topics for the monthly Rosh Hodesh gatherings, and will speak with a message for the women at the big January meeting. They are the go-to person for women in the family with questions concerning, well, women. In reality, the role is mostly in title only.

The rest of these January meetings consist of cult "business"; updates on money/tithe, big projects, etc. The three Superclan heads will give a summary of their groups' activities, projects and ideas. "Business" also includes filling any positions that are vacant. A couple years ago, Gary stepped down as high priest, and it was transferred to Adam V. A Miriam was removed from her position, and another was named. An elder was also removed and the position filled.
The political procedure outlined below is what is used currently.






Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cult-Speak: The Three Families

Before one of the spring youth retreats, a packet was sent out to all of the youth of the Family. This was the time when we were being introduced to the idea of the "Three Families" which we were going to be consecrated into now that we, as a group, had "passed the test". We had proven ourselves, according to Abba, and we were finally being accepted into the fold of this ancient family with the fate of the world in it's hands.
The packet consisted of a preparatory lesson by Jack in which he tries to instill the meaning of servitude upon us. Here is the cover:



Pages 1 through 19 are Jack's "Message to Family" which is his analysis of the Parashat. He talks about the two ways we can relate to God, the nature of our servitude, how Abraham broke the cycle and become God's first true servant. Jack talked about being a Zaddik, and the difficulty of suffering for the sins of others, namely the Jews of the world who are somehow doing it wrong. He told us we would all someday pay for everyone else's crimes as well as our own. He spoke of the 36 Righteous who hold the balance of the world in their hands.


I have included the last two pages of it which sums up the nature of the teaching:





That was all to lead us into the knowledge of how the "Three Families" worked, their structure and political process. This was to be read before the retreat. At some point there was also the preparation for the consecrations. Prior to that retreat, each CH, or clan head, was called and told which name each youth in their Mishpaha would be consecrated with. They were also told which boy was chosen to be consecrated into the line of priests. There is at least one priest from each Mish, or clan. Preparation for this consecration included very specific instructions for a process that had to be started weeks before the actual consecration. That will all be included in a future post.

The following, as it says, is the physical structure the Family would adopt from that point forward. This is the present structure the group works within. Of course, they now have some self-proclaimed prophets in their midst, but that doesn't change the basic structure Jack implemented then.







This is all familiar if you left after this point. If you have friends or family in the group, hopefully this gives you a better understanding of the structure they are adhering to, and what they believe they are accomplishing. The next and last section of the packet describes the political procedure of the group. That will be posted shortly.




Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Musings

I spent too much time mentally outlining my response to the most recent anonymous comment on the "Martyrs, Zealots and Death " post. Finally I decided to not bother. What's the point? Is it really possible to have a rational debate with someone defending this group, and who is obviously a member? I doubt it. And I just don't have the energy. Besides, once I get going past the ability to calibrate, I'd probably end up calling him an asshole. And that would make me immature and irrational.
So, forget it.

Last Friday evening I went to a beautiful Shabbat service. I do gravitate towards Judaism still, even if it's just that I long for the familiar, and the ritual. So once in a while, I go to something, just to see. Some of my warmest and most comforting memories are of Shabbat. They aren't even memories, per se, but remembered feeling. The warm glow of the flame as the candles were lit. My mother's voice reciting the blessing. The smell of the Challah, mixed with the wax. A feeling that was almost peaceful surrounded me. I absolutely adored Havdallah. Watching for three stars so we could begin, then the sweet smell of cinnamon and cloves. Someone would shut off the light as my father lit the Havdallah candle, then we'd watch it glow in anticipation for him to put it out in the wine. I loved the little drops of wax scattered on the page in the siddur from all the prior sabbaths we said farewell to. For just a few minutes, every week, I would feel real light all the way to the center of my being. It was warmth. In those moments I was sure I could feel Hashem.
 Shabbat was also one of the few things that was predictable in my life as a child. I could always count on it, and it was always sweet. I miss that.

So anyway, I went to a service, one I hadn't experienced and I was unsure what to expect. I said I gravitate to Judaism, but there are periods that I want nothing to do with it also. Times when I completely cut out anything that I associate with Jack Hickman. But then there's nothing left. He managed to incorporate just enough from different religions and philosophies to make it all seem a little bit polluted. Really, though, the core of it is that my belief in a God at all has been shaken. The foundation was a lie. It was a warped interpretaion. Nobody was seeking God, or knowing God for themselves, they were doing all that through another person, Jack. It was him along the lies they believed about themselves and their "special"purpose, that is ultimately what they worshipped. They would deny that, but it's true. If your relationship with God is your own, if He's there with you, wouldn't He still be there, with or without the cult? But he isn't for most people. They lose the Family, and they are lost. So what is it we were worshipping, God? Or is it something else altogether, something that we slap a label on that says "spiritual" because it feels good? I get it. I've been right there reveling in the warm fuzzies of being together, the intense bursts of emotion enveloping us all. Being together for services, prayer, worship- the love and joy in the room was palpable. It was spontaneous song, dancing and surrender. All in the name of God. When people surrendered themselves to it, and most of us did, it was spiritual and it was real. Except it wasn't.

I have gone to different synagogue and church services in my life. In contrast to the Family, they can seem very controlled, formal, rote. I don't mean that in a critical sense. It's just that to me they often lacked the unity, love, and just the JOY. I have seen snippets of southern Gospel churches, where the choir and the whole place is up enthusiastically singing and dancing. I always think, they get it.
This particular service was warm from the start. Very informal. People were sitting on the floor. It was serene yet flowing with energy. There was music, and I love love music with worship. It was beautiful. Then people jumped up into spontaneous Israeli type dance around the room in a chain. Children jumped up to join, with that same joy. It was great, but it freaked me out.
Many of the elements I miss were there, except it made me feel very uncomfortable. I could feel myself responding to the energy around me, but would catch myself. It just hit too close to home. I left early.
Writing this blog, reasearching this groups history and piecing together the truth has been a rollercoaster. Things come up that I haven't felt or thought about for years. I have been reevaluating every aspect of my life, my beliefs, my self. My thoughts on one day are often contradictory to the day before. I question everything. I didn't understand the can of worms I was opening when I started reading the blogs, then actively seeking answers for myself. Life seems pretty clear until you realize it was all an illusion. The view from that point is pretty convoluted.
What's the psycho-babble term, flashbacks? Triggers? Whatever it is, this service was an illustration. It pisses me off that something positive, fun, or normal can instantly become marred by these little flashes of memory or emotion that just make it uncomfortable or unbearable. It doesn't even make sense sometimes. It pisses me off even more that THEY still have that power.
And I question that line; what is cult behavior, and what is okay? Like But Seriously's post about Bendigamos. I LIKE Bendigamos, dammit! If I catch myself humming it, is that "bad"? Does that mean I'm slipping back into cult-mentality. I struggle with the separation of what things I need to shun to prevent myself from falling back into the familiar, and what things I can keep, and somehow make my own.

 Shabbat, that is something I truly miss. I am going to do my best to make it my own again. That, they can't have.

I apologize for the rambling, somewhat self-absorbed nature of this post. I have struggled with the aspect of my anonymity. It makes me a hypocrite to be on a quest to expose the truth about this cult while simultaneously hiding. I even revealed my identity briefly (an impulsive moment) in a somewhat public forum before freaking out and pulling it. Being anonymous severely restricts what I can write about. Oh, the stories I could tell! But I would be identified in a heartbeat. At the same time, being anonymous grants me the liberty to write with abandon and reveal things I could never reveal otherwise.

A couple of posts about teachings and info coming shortly.