This blog is about a cult that began on Long Island, NY in the 1960s, and continues to exist today.  The writings are mostly my own experiences and opinions as well as information gathered from several sources, including but not limited to, past members, current members, news articles and other blogs.
This group is known by several names: the Jack Hickman Cult, Shoresh Yishai, the Abensurs, The Family, and more recently among members, the Tribe. Jack was called Abba Yakov by his followers, which is Hebrew for “father Jacob”.

The cult’s beginnings stretch back to approximately 1961 when Jack came to North Massapequa, NY as a youth pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church. There he joined his friend from seminary, John Hove, who was also a pastor at the same church.  As his popularity grew, Jack also gained the following of the pastor of a church in East Meadow, Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church. That pastor was Don Smestad, who was also a colleague from seminary.

These churches and their congregations become devoted to Jack, and went through many phases and changes over the next years. The author of the blog Modern Doomsday Cult wrote some excellent posts explaining this history and progression. At this point they were no longer Lutheran churches, and all three pastors were eventually defrocked. With Jack as the leader, and hundreds of very devoted followers, they were now a bona fide doomsday cult. They believed Jack was a prophet; his family was descended from Jesus, who they called Yehoshua.  They believe they are all special souls adopted into this royal family in order to change the world and prepare for doomsday and the coming of Yehoshua after great turmoil on the earth.

In the 1970’s, the cult ran a private school out of their Massapequa building called Bet El Yehoshua. They served children in preschool through grade six. The school closed in the 1980’s, a few years after the Foibles article was published. Read the article here .

The article was very well researched and publicized the scandal of Pastor Jack having sexual relationships with several teen-aged boys, and the many lies he told about himself.  Many, many members of the cult left.  Jack Hickman fled out west with Gary Coons, a young man who lived with him and who was named “high priest”, or Tzadok.

Jack and Gary spent about 10 years traveling around in Colorado and California. Eventually they settled in Colorado. During these ten years, Jack continued to run the cult, and stayed in contact with the appointed leadership in NY.

In the early 90’s many people started moving off of Long Island, as it was believed that it may be a place of impending disaster, such as a tidal wave. It was also considered not survivable in the case of doomsday turmoil, so many chose to move. A large number moved  to Colorado because that is where Abba and Gary settled and bought a house. A large number moved to Maine. The people who relocated there did so because they were families involved in the “Maine Ministry” which were setting up safe houses and stockpiling gear for future survival. Jack had also stated that a 5-square-mile area around Lake Caribou in northern Maine would be the only place guaranteed to be safe during the end-times. Many people remained on Long Island, and a few scattered to places like Pennsylvania and upstate NY. Everyone continued to work on their allocated “projects” and teaching and preparations in Jack’s absence.

In 1996, Jack called the group together. There was a period when the elders and clan-heads invited back members who had been finally adopted, but were no longer involved. Then there was a big meeting on Long Island, NY where Jack spoke to his followers, and laid out the purpose of the second generation. We were being called together as a group again.
This began a time of many youth retreats, meetings and teachings by Jack and the leadership. There were renewed efforts to locate to areas near “Family” and to get the youth passionate about their “purpose”. This was a time of action and renewal. Our parents and grandparents, the first generation, were finally seeing the fruit of their years of effort and devotion.

In late 2003 or early in 2004, Jack and Gary moved to China, Maine, where they bought a house. Jack was in failing health at this time, and he wanted to be in Maine, close to John and Don, his original fellow pastors and seminary alumni.
Jack died in 2004, and was buried in a private cemetery in Corinna Maine where John and Don live. Cult members came from everywhere to attend his funeral. School busses were needed to shuttle everyone to the site.

The cult continued and evolved over the next ten years leading up to the present. The cult now has several “prophets” and leadership has shifted to include mostly members of one particular large Maine family, the Van_____’s.  These “prophets” have said that the end-times are imminent, and preparation, physical, material and spiritual, has stepped up with more urgency.

Presently, the cult still operates in Maine and Colorado. Members live close to one another, or in groups on compounds. There are 3 main groups, or farms, as members like to call them: Corinna, Albion/Unity, and Mercer. Around 2011, several blogs sprang up by present and former members, bringing to light many of the lies, secrets and abuses that have occurred and are occurring.

This group is “secret”, and very few if any members will admit to being a part of it. They no longer proselytize; the only way to become a member is through marriage or birth. 

John Hove officially converted to Judaism. He and his wife live in Maine. None of his children are involved. Don Smestad and his wife also live in Maine, on the same compound as the Hove's. Most of his children are still a part of the group. The Smestads did not convert, and are not Jewish, however some of them are involved in synagogues in Maine, specifically Portland.


  1. How are they involved in synagogues? Do the rabbis know about Hickman's cult? Some people were Jewish, most were not, mostly just good Lutherans. I think it's fraudulent to pretend to be a Jew, join a synagogue and lead people to think you believe the same. Maybe some one should clue them in that these people are among them, and then if they really want to be Jews, go through conversion so it's valid.

  2. Yes, i was part of it when i was just a little girl.. It was so weird... I will never forget.

  3. My Sister was a part of this cult and was married in it, in the early days (Her and her family left about 6 months prior to the Newsday article, but kept it quiet and were living in fear for some time).

    I remember meeting Jack at their wedding.

    I told my other siblings and my parents that he was a slimy character and a con man. Sadly, no one listened to me and my sister and her husband were in way too deep to listen to me either. It's sad what happened to those people, but you can only warn someone when they're doing something stupid. They have to learn to live their own lives. Many of my sister and her husband's friends were destroyed by that cult.

  4. donald smestad was the pastor at christ lutheran in east meadow, an arrogant pompous man who ruined a once beautiful church and congregation. to this day, a heartache.

    1. Tom. My family attended Christ Lutheran the whole time I was growing up in the 60's. Pastor Smestad was young and innovative for his time. I remember most people thought he was a breath of fresh air. However, my family never knew about any of what this article talks about. I graduated HS in 70 in East Meadow and left home so perhaps this all went down after I left.

  5. The only good thing that came out of it was about 100 children were adopted dje to this man saying the community's heart should open itself to the less fortunate....while the rest of what is said is evil....i, myself, am grateful to have been one of the adopted fortunates....