Oct 18, 2019

MEDIA ALERT: Dutch Farm Group Are Not 'Unification Church' Members


Family Federation for World Peace and Unification 

Oct 17, 2019, 22:56 ET

NEW YORKOct. 17, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), commonly referred to as 'the Unification Church', was deeply alarmed to hear of the family being held in inhumane conditions on a farmhouse in the Netherlands. While we can confirm that one of the victims, Mr. Gerrit Jan van Dorsten was briefly a member of our movement in the mid-1980's, he is known to have suffered from mental health issues and left our organization in 1987. His estranged brother Mr. Derk van Dorsten, a long-time member of the Unification Church said, "I have not heard from my brother since 1984." In addition, we are unable to confirm any records of Mr. Josef Brunner, the alleged captor, having ever been associated in any way with the Unification Church.

Family Federation champions three ideals: family, peace, and unification. We are grateful that the 6 victims in this tragedy are now under the care of the local authorities and pray that they will be able to heal from their ordeal with time and professional help.

Family Fed USA
Nancy Jubb

Irving Street Rep
Ron Lucas

SOURCE Family Federation for World Peace and Unification

Related Links



Dutch farm mystery: Father held as police unpick secret farm 'sect'

BBC News

October 18, 2019

The 67-year-old father of a family found living in a secret room on an isolated Dutch farm has been arrested.

His arrest came hours after an Austrian man who rented the property was remanded in custody.

Six grown-up children apparently spent the past nine years in seclusion on the farm, near the village of Ruinerwold.

Reports suggest the two arrested men may have formed their own sect, and police said they believed the children were held against their will.

Police confirmed that the six children, aged 18-25, included four women and two men and that their father had suffered a stroke.

How the story unfolded

The alarm was raised when the 25-year-old eldest son, Jan, turned up at a local bar in Ruinerwold in the northern province of Drenthe.

The bar-owner raised the alarm with police after the son revealed he had never been to school and said he had run away and needed help.

Police went to the farm where they found Jan's five siblings, his father and the 58-year-old Austrian man. The Austrian, a handyman named Josef B, appeared before an examining magistrate on Thursday and was detained for 14 days on suspicion of unlawfully depriving the children of their liberty and money laundering.

Police said the children had identified the man arrested, named locally as Gerrit Jan van D, as their father, but authorities had not yet confirmed the link.

A large sum of money was said to have been found on the farm.

Were they part of a sect?

In a statement, police said they were investigating whether the lifestyle of the eight people on the farm was connected to a particular philosophy of life or religious conviction.

According to Dutch media, the father and the farm's Austrian tenant had once been neighbours and got to know each other through the Unification Church, the worldwide movement often known as the Moonies which originated in South Korea.

In Austria, Josef B's brothers told the Kronen Zeitung website that he had joined a sect and had not turned up for the funerals of his parents in the past four years. "He thought he was better than Jesus," brother Franz told the paper.

Unification Church spokesman Willem Koetsier said the father, Gerrit Jan van D, left in 1987.

"At the same time he also broke off contact with the family," a nephew told Algemeen Dagblad. "At one point he got some crazy ideas in his head, but nobody in the family wants to talk about that."

Mr Koetsier said older members who knew him in the 1980s had described him as a very "ritual" person who had set up his own group with his family. "But it's not our outlook to go and live on a farm and hide from the outside world," he added.

"Sometimes people who are spiritual start their own church of movement, and I reckon that's what happened to him," he said.

Residents in the father's home town of Herxen thought he had joined the Moonies and died in South Korea. But it is thought Gerrit Jan van D moved to a sister group in Germany before marrying the children's mother and returning to the Netherlands. The mother died in 2004.

What have police found out?

Janny Knol, North Netherlands deputy police chief, confirmed that the children had been banned from going outside the house. "On the farm there was actually a separate, closed-off area and its main aim was to keep the outside world out," she told Dutch TV.

Since Tuesday, police psychologists have had a chance to speak to the family and have found out they were occasionally allowed out of the house but only on land immediately surrounding the farmhouse. Local reports said motion detectors and security cameras had been installed on the farm.

Ms Knol said it was not clear where the children were born but they had never been to school and were not registered by local authorities. She said they were having to tread a careful line between looking after the family's welfare and finding out what was necessary for the investigation.

The eldest of the six, Jan, who was not at the farm when police went there, is being cared for in a separate place. He has had several social media accounts running for the past few months.

Police have admitted going to the farm in the past, following up reports of a cannabis farm on the property, but say they never entered the building.

A team of 30 police are now trying to solve the mystery of the farm at Ruinerwold. The farmhouse is still being investigated and other properties have also been searched.


Oct 17, 2019

Solar Temple Massacre: Mystery endures 25 years later

Police carry bodies out of a farm in Cheiry, Switzerland where 23 cultists died in a mass murder-suicide.
Brad Hunter
Toronto Sun
October 5, 2019

The cult members thought the baby boy was the anti-Christ.

Emmanuel Dutoit was three months old and this tragic child was stabbed repeatedly. His killers used a wooden stake.

That was October 1994.

In a matter of days it would become clear to cops in Quebec and Switzerland the slain baby was the first salvo in the war for control of the Order of the Solar Temple cult.

Several days later in two quiet Swiss villages, 13 cult members enjoyed a last supper, then killed themselves by poison.

By the time the carnage was finished, 53 cult members were dead by poison, bullets or smothering. Eleven of the dead were Canadians.


The Order of the Solar Temple was a secret society that took their cues from the Knights Templar.

Frenchmen Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro founded the cult in the late 1970s or early 1980s in Geneva, Switzerland.

The sect’s beliefs were the usual gumbo of aliens and the godly. For example, they believed in the spiritual over the secular and preparing for the return of Jesus Christ as a “solar-god king.”

In addition, they wanted to unite the world’s great religions under the umbrella of the Solar Temple.

According to the Montreal Gazette, the cult planted roots in Quebec in the mid-80s.

There, they allegedly threatened a number of Quebec MNAs and were suspected of bombing Hydro Quebec transmission towers and plotting to obliterate Indigenous reserves.

For cops and residents, the chilling aspect was that the dead found in Quebec didn’t look like cult members.

“It came as a real shocker,” one relative of the dead told The Gazette. “It wasn’t written on their faces: ‘Hey, I’m a sect member.’”


Cult leader Luc Jouret preached doomsday and hellfire.

The 46-year-old was a homeopath who had been born in Africa and had lived in Belgium and Canada before establishing the Order of the Solar Temple.

And he brainwashed his wealthy followers with a chilling ease.

“They saw themselves as superior human beings whose survival was needed to ‘relaunch’ the human race after a cataclysm they saw coming because of the deterioration in world affairs,” Montreal Crown prosecutor Jean-Claude Boyer told The Canadian Press in 1994.

Jouret himself had the air of a “gentleman,” Boyer added, saying other members “looked like businessmen, there was nothing crazy about them.”

But one former member whose ex-hubby fell under the guru’s dark spell said the cult was only really about taking money from rich rubes.

Rose-Marie Klaus said she and her hubby were burned for about $500,000 in an organic farm scheme near Trois Rivieres. Others lost millions.

“Jouret thinks he’s Christ,” Klaus said in 1993.

“He told people that a great cataclysm is going to take place and that only the chosen will survive,” she said, adding a number of people relocated from Europe to Quebec to wait for the end.


By the early 90s, there was trouble in brain-scrambled paradise.

Jouret’s increasing doomsday vision and alleged messiah complex was causing friction inside the sect.

Some believed a significant amount of money was involved given the horde of cash the cult had shaken loose from wealthy members.

Cult kingpin Jouret apparently split off with his own group of followers after being ousted in favour of grand master Robert Falardeau.

The stage was set for mass suicide — and murder.


On Sept. 30, 1994 cops believe cult members Antonio Dutoit, his wife Nicky Robinson and their three-month-old son Emmanuel were stabbed to death in Morin Heights, Quebec.

Four days later, their chalet was found ablaze. Inside were their charred bodies. Swiss citizens Jerry and Colette Genoud were found dead at a nearby chalet.

Detectives believe the killers were cult members Joel Egger and Dominique Bellaton who flew from Montreal to Geneva in the wake of the murders.

But there was more horror to come.

On Oct. 5, 1994, in the tiny Swiss village of Cheiry, firefighters were called to a raging blaze at a farmhouse.

When it was cleared they discovered a horror show — bodies all over the place.

Twenty-three to be exact.

All were wearing ceremonial robes. Most had been shot in the head.

“It was frightful to enter a place like that and find so many dead,” Swiss police spokesman Beat Karten told reporters. “It’s atrocious. Atrocious.”

Among the dead were the mayor of Richelieu, Quebec Robert Ostiguy, his wife Francoise, Le Journal de Quebec reporter Jocelyn Grandmaison and Falardeau, a civil servant.

Less than an hour later and about 160 km away, 25 more bodies were discovered in two smouldering chalets. Among the dead was Jouret.

So what happened?

The European branch didn’t want to send money to Quebec anymore.

Cops came to believe the bloodbath was a purge of threats to Jouret’s leadership. They never believed Falardeau and the others would willingly kill themselves.

One widower of the slaughter pointed the finger at Jouret.

“Wherever Jouret goes, s— follows,” the man told The Gazette.



Dutch family 'waiting for end of time' discovered in basement

Police discovered a hidden room at a remote farmhouse in the Netherlands
BBC News
October 15, 2019

A family who spent nine years in a basement "waiting for the end of time" have been discovered by police in the Netherlands after the eldest son turned up at a local pub, reports say.

A man, 58, and his six children - aged 16 to 25 - were living at a farm in the northern province of Drenthe.

They were found after the son ordered beer at a bar in the nearby village of Ruinerwold, and then told staff he needed help, broadcaster RTV reported.

Witnesses said the man looked confused.

His family had been living in isolation waiting for the end of time, RTV reported.

"He ordered five beers and drank them. Then I had a chat with him and he revealed he had run away and needed help... then we called the police," bar owner Chris Westerbeek told the broadcaster.

He added: "He had long hair, a dirty beard, wore old clothes and looked confused. He said he'd never been to school and hadn't been to the barber for nine years."

"He said he had brothers and sisters who lived at the farm. He said he was the oldest and wanted to end the way they were living."

Officers visited the remote farmhouse and carried out a search. They discovered a hidden staircase behind a cupboard in the living room that led down to a basement room where the family were housed.

Ruinerwold is a village with a population of less than 3,000. The farm is outside the village and is accessible by a bridge over a canal.

The farm, which is part-hidden behind a row of trees, also had a large vegetable plot and a goat.

A neighbour told Dutch media that he had only ever seen one man on the farm and no children and that there had been animals on the grounds of the farm, such as geese and a dog.

The local postman said he had never posted a letter there. "It's actually pretty strange, now I come to think about it," he told Algemeen Dagblad news website.

People in the area tweeted the news and one reporter posted images of the farmhouse, saying he had been asked to keep at a distance.

Police in Drenthe confirmed that a 58-year-old man had been arrested and was under investigation after refusing to co-operate.

"Yesterday someone reported to us [that they were] worried about the living conditions of people in a house in Buitenhuizerweg in #Ruinerwold," they wrote in a tweet. "We went there."

"We still have many unanswered questions," they said, adding that all scenarios were open and their investigation was fully under way.

The farmhouse and the surrounding grounds were cordoned off.

It was unclear how long the family had been in the basement or what had happened to the children's mother. Some reports suggested the father had suffered a stroke and had been confined to his bed.


Booze and cursing are at the center of a new yoga rage

Yoga is about finding your center. There's a new trend to track down tranquility in the metro, but it's a more alternative twist to the usually peaceful exercise. WDAF photo
October 16, 2019

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Yoga is about finding your center. There's a new trend to track down tranquility, but it’s a more alternative twist to the usually peaceful exercise.

Amanda Kauffman strolled into the back room at Cinder Block Brewery Monday night with a beer in one hand and a yoga mat in the other. She was there to teach the first ever rage yoga class in Kansas City.

“It’s a little bit different than your traditional yoga," she said. "You have dim lights, you have soft music. This is the complete opposite. It’s yoga with an attitude basically.”

She started practicing yoga seven years ago, but two years back, she came across a new technique she said is more her style.

“A lot of people stay away from yoga because they think, 'Oh well, you know, I’m not good enough for that, or what are people going to think about my poses,'" she said. "And in here, you can just be yourself.”

Kauffman now teaches rage yoga.

“The technique is different. Instead of calming your mind, you’re bringing everything out instead," she said. "Instead of just trying to push it out quietly, you’re going to push it out, and it’s going to be loud!”

Monday night’s class participants each got a beer that they drank throughout their time on the mat, and traditional hand motions and positions were replaced with gestures and sounds you’d more likely see at a rock concert.

“I’ve never done rage yoga before," attendee Hillary Luppino said. "I had recently seen something online about it, and then I saw that it was available here, so I just jumped on the opportunity.”

She appreciated the alcohol twist, but also “the idea of also kind of incorporating the stress release of like yelling or screaming or flipping somebody off, you know what I mean?”

Kauffman described the scene before the 7 p.m. class began.

“We’ll be listening to loud explicit music, we will be cussing, using profanity, yelling, screaming, just letting all the negative energy out tonight. That’s the goal," she said.

The instructor said mental health is as critical as physical maintenance, and the combination of these two things appealed to her.

“In my house, I practice yoga to rock music, to metal music, to loud music," Kauffman said. "That’s just what I enjoy. So when I saw the teacher training program for rage yoga, it spoke to me. It’s the perfect combination of anyone who’s into yoga and into an alternative lifestyle as well.”

The rage yoga practice began in Canada, and there have been two instructor training courses so far. The next class here in the metro is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 1 at Anytime Fitness in Excelsior Springs.


Family found at Dutch farm 'could have been held against their will'

 Drenthe residents react after Netherlands police discover family locked away for years
Police say family was in space that could be locked and may have been there nine years

Jon Henley Europe correspondent
The Guardian
October 16, 2019

Dutch police are questioning an Austrian man after a family of six were found in a secret room at a remote farmhouse in the Netherlands where they are believed to have been living for nearly a decade.

The five adult siblings, said to be aged between 18 and 25, and an ailing older man they said was their father, were receiving medical treatment after police discovered them at the farm near the village of Ruinerwold, in the north-eastern province of Drenthe.

It was unclear whether the family was, as Dutch media reported, “waiting for the end of time”. Recent posts on social media by one of the children suggested they may instead have been held in the farmhouse against their will.

“We found six people in a small space in the house which could be locked, not a cellar. It is unclear if they were there voluntarily,” police said in a statement. “They may have been there for nine years. They say they are a family, a father and five children.”

The statement said none of the six people were registered with the local authorities. Their mother had apparently died before the family moved to the farm, said the local mayor, Roger de Groot, adding that he had “never seen anything like this”.

Officials would not confirm local media reports that the family was waiting for the end of days. “We understand everyone has lots of questions,” the police statement added. “So do we. We will investigate properly and carefully.”

A 58-year-old man who was renting the farm but was not the father of the children has been arrested, police confirmed, but they would not reveal his identity. Dutch media identified him as Joseph B, an Austrian odd-job man who had a small workshop on an industrial estate in the nearby town of Meppel.

The Austrian foreign ministry has confirmed an Austrian citizen from Vienna was being held in relation to the case, but said he did not want contact with officials. The ministry did not know the grounds for his arrest, it said.

One neighbour told the Telegraaf newspaper that the man, who was seen daily driving an old Volvo car, was “very sharp … You only needed to go near the place and he’d send you packing. He watched everything through binoculars”.

Dutch media said the oldest of the children, a 25-year-old named only as Jan, had a Facebook account and began posting updates in June for the first time in nine years. “Started a new job at Creconat,” De Telegraaf newspaper quoted it as saying.

The firm, affiliated to another company in Meppel, was raided by police on Monday and belonged to the Austrian man, the paper said. According to the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper, the son also wrote on LinkedIn that his parents had run a successful business until his mother died in 2004.

The group was discovered after Jan visited a local bar, the Kastelein cafe. On the first occasion, 10 days ago, he “ordered and drank five beers on his own”, the owner, Chris Westerbeek, told the local broadcaster RTV Drenthe.

When the man reappeared last Sunday, he “looked confused”, Westerbeek said. “He was unkempt, with long tangled hair. We got talking. He said he had run away and needed urgent help, and that he had never been to school. Then we called the police.”

RTV Drenthe said police had found a hidden staircase leading to the family’s hiding place behind a cupboard in the living room. The father was bedridden having suffered a stroke some years ago, it said.

Dutch media reported the family appeared to have had little or no contact with the outside world and lived a largely self-sufficient life, apparently growing their own vegetables and keeping a goat and geese.

The farmhouse’s owners, Klaas Rooze and Alida ten Oever, said the tenant had always paid his rent on time and they were flabbergasted by the news.

“We knew absolutely nothing of this,” Ten Oever said. “We rented the house for years to one man and now we learn someone was living there with children. We have no idea who it can be.”


CultNEWS101 Articles: 10/17/2019

LevTahor, Religion Research, Jordan Peterson, Cult Contradictions

"Documents presented last Thursday at a US federal court show that leaders of the fringe Hasidic cult Lev Tahor last year requested asylum from Iran and swore allegiance to its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

According to the documents, first reported late Saturday by Yeshiva World News, the ultra-Orthodox cult in November 2018 asked Tehran for "asylum, protection and religious freedom of the families of its loyal members in Cheshek Shlomo community."

Lev Tahor declared "loyalty and submission to the Supreme Leader and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran" and called for 'cooperation and help to counter Zionist dominance in order to peacefully liberate the Holy Land and the Jewish nation.'"

"In 2015, a paper by Jean Decety and co-authors reported that children who were brought up religiously were less generous. The paper received a great deal of attention, and was covered by over 80 media outlets including The Economist, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and Scientific American. As it turned out, however, the paper by Decety was wrong. Another scholar, Azim Shariff, a leading expert on religion and pro-social behavior, was surprised by the results, as his own research and meta-analysis (combining evidence across studies from many authors) indicated that religious participation, in most settings, increased generosity. Shariff requested the data to try to understand more clearly what might explain the discrepancy."

" ... To Decety's credit, he released the data. And upon re-analysis, Shariff discovered that the results were due to a coding error."

" ... "Decety's paper has continued to be cited in media articles on religion. Just last month two such articles appeared (one on Buzzworthy and one on TruthTheory) citing Decety's paper that religious children were less generous. The paper's influence seems to continue even after it has been shown to be wrong."

" ... Last month, however, the journal, Current Biology, at last formally retracted the paper. If one looks for the paper on the journal's website, it gives notice of the retraction by the authors."

"Our own research on the topic at the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard, published last year in a paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology, has likewise suggested results more in line with Shariff's meta-analysis. Moreover, rather than looking at whether religious children are more or less generous as children, we examined how a religious upbringing shaped children over time from adolescence into young adulthood. We found that during childhood and adolescence, those who attended religious services regularly were subsequently 29 percent more likely to have high levels of volunteering than those who did not. Those who attended services regularly were also 87 percent more likely to subsequently have high levels of forgiveness; and those who prayed and mediated regularly were 47 percent more likely to have a high sense of mission. Again, the effects of a religious upbringing seemed to contribute to a greater generosity toward others many years later during young adulthood.

Our study also indicated that those who were raised religiously were also protected from what are sometimes called the "big three" dangers of adolescence: depression, drug use, and risky behaviors. They were also more likely to have higher levels happiness in young adulthood."

"A self-help guru who's widely celebrated in some circles—and reviled in others—has gone into rehab, the Daily Dot reports. Jordan Peterson's daughter announced the development Thursday on YouTube and Peterson himself tweeted a link to the video, saying, "At least life isn't dull." The 57-year-old began taking clonazepam, or Klonopin—an anti-seizure drug that also helps with panic disorder—when his wife Tammy Roberts was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery.

He also took other drugs to beat the clonazepam, and ultimately went to New York for rehab, per the New York Post.

"He decided to check himself into a place because he didn't want to stress mom out, wanted to get off of this as quickly as possible, and honestly needs the medical help," says his daughter, Mikhaila.

"I've never seen my dad like this. He's having a miserable time of it. It breaks my heart." On the bright side, his wife is apparently doing better after complications from kidney surgery."

"Cult contradictions exist in how destructive cults work, in what the leaders say, and because the doctrine is totalitarian in nature, typically there are cult contradictions here as well. They are usually a product of the leaders thinking and are used by the cult leaders to justify their own actions, to manipulate the members, or both."

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery

Intervention101.com to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement.
CultRecovery101.com assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice.
CultNEWS101.com news, links, resources.
Cults101.org resources about cults, cultic groups, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations and related topics.

Selection of articles for CultNEWS101 does not mean that Patrick Ryan or Joseph Kelly agree with the content. We provide information from many points of view in order to promote dialogue.

Naval Academy Midshipmen Seeking Temple For Satanic Service on Campus

Scott McDonald
October 15, 2019

Some midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy are looking for a place on campus to hold Satanic study services, the Military Times reported Tuesday.

The group of students who study and train at the Academy requested a space where they can hold such study sessions while following the religion of the Satanic Temple.

The email sent from midshipmen to brass within the academy was posted on an Instagram account labeled drunkoldgrad.

Academy spokeswoman Cmdr. Alana Garas said the Satanic Temple is a tax-exempt religion, and the academy's followers of the religion were just merely looking for a "group study space" on campus, and not so much as a place to "burn a pentagram into Ingram Field or to erect a giant horned icon in front of the Zimmerman Bandstand," as the Military Times noted.

"A group of Midshipmen with beliefs aligned with those practiced by The Satanic Temple ... requested a space where they could assemble to discuss and share their common beliefs," Garas wrote in her email. "The request was for a 'study group' space, not for holding 'satanic services.'"

Garas went on to say that no students at the academy were to engage in politically-active groups, and nonchalantly called the Satanic Temple a religion that takes a hard political stance.

"Midshipmen have the right to assemble to discuss their beliefs as they choose, but, to be clear ... military members will not engage in partisan political activities, and will avoid the inference that their activities may appear to imply DoD approval or endorsement of a political cause," Garas said.

Garas said "arrangements were being made to provide the Midshipmen with a designated place to assemble as chaplains facilitate the beliefs of all service members, a responsibility outlined by Navy instructions" even before the email was supposedly sent.

The original email sent on October 8 was leaked to the Instagram user, and it stated the new religious program "caters to people who prescribe to The Satanic Temple's Satanic philosophy, however all people of any faith background are welcome to attend."

The invitation says the group would discuss "Satanic philosophy" and a "literary history of Satan."

The meetings are to be held every Thursday evening, according to the post.


Elected Scientologist, Clearwater council candidate trade explosive barbs

One side accused the other of acting like a Nazi.

Kirby Wilson
Tampa Bay Times
October 17, 2019

CLEARWATER — It’s not every meeting of the Downtown Development Board that includes talk of pedophilia, bestiality or Nazism.

But last week’s meeting included discussion of all three as City Council candidate Mark Bunker deepened his feud with the Church of Scientology.

Bunker, a longtime critic of actions taken by the church that in his view amount to fraud and abuse, opened the public comment portion of the meeting with a typically scathing speech about Scientology ― and the board’s chair, Paris Morfopoulos, a Scientologist and the owner of One Stoppe Shoppe downtown.

“If you’d like to apologize for those comments you made to me ... saying that I like to have sex with barnyard animals, or maybe little boys, I’ll give you a chance to do that at the end of the meeting,” the candidate said to Morfopoulos in an apparent reference to videotaped comments Morfopoulos made nearly two decades prior.

Morfopoulos did not address those comments specifically at the meeting, and he did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

However, Morfopoulos did respond to Bunker’s anti-Scientology posture. And how.

“If you would, for a moment, take any of his written or public comments and substitute the word ‘Jew’ for ‘Scientologist,’ it would become very clear to you what we’re talking about,” Morfopoulos said in a lengthy speech at the end of the meeting. “Almost 100 years ago in Germany, an ideologue named Adolf ran for public office warning about the threat posed by the Jews to their communities and urging that something be done about them. We all know how that turned out.”

With months to go until ballots are cast in the March elections, the rhetoric surrounding Bunker, who’s running for the open Seat 2 on the Council, could hardly be more heated.

Recently, the epicenter of the conflict has been the Downtown Development Board. Although it’s a relatively toothless organization, the board made history earlier this month when downtown property owners made it likely the first elected city board to be comprised of a majority of Scientologists.

In addition to Morfopoulos, Scientologists Shahab Emrani, Keanan Kintzel and Ray Cassano will also serve on the seven-person board.

Bunker is concerned about this arrangement.

In September, he blamed Clearwater’s struggle to revitalize its downtown on the church’s presence.

“People are largely afraid to come downtown. They don’t want their money going into Scientologists’ pockets,” Bunker said then.

Morfopoulos said at the meeting that anyone troubled by Scientologists’ presence on the board should "look at what the board has been doing for the last 25 years that Scientologists have been on the board.”

Later in the meeting, Morfopoulos thoroughly disparaged Bunker, calling him a “professional bigot.” He recounted Bunker’s time at the Lisa McPherson Trust, a now-defunct nonprofit funded by the retired investment banker Bob Minton. McPherson, after whom the trust was named, died after being held at Scientology’s Fort Harrison Hotel for 17 days in 1995. Trust members routinely picketed outside Scientology-owned properties downtown in the early 2000s.

In 2000, a Pinellas County judge that ruled neither Scientologists nor Bunker could be within 10 feet of one another.

At last week’s meeting, Morfopoulos accused Bunker of videotaping the children of Scientologists, including Morfopoulos’ daughter, through the streets of Clearwater in those days.

Bunker, in an interview, denied this.

Public exchanges like these between a City Council candidate and the chair of a city board are hardly the norm for Clearwater. None of the other candidates for the five-person City Council have clashed with the church or its practitioners at this early stage of the campaign. (So far, Bunker is set to face small business owner Michael Mannino; former School Board candidate Eliseo Santana; lawyer Bruce Rector and president of the Downtown Merchants Association Lina Teixeira in the race for the open Seat 2.)

But Bunker is not a normal candidate, he’s a sworn enemy of the city’s largest downtown property owner.

As such, Bunker says, he’s been the target of a smear campaign by the church. A website called “Defaulters.com” is filled with anonymously written, critical articles about Bunker that appear to date back to 2017. The site raises questions about Bunker’s 2018 personal bankruptcy and his efforts to raise money for a yet-to-be released film about Scientology. Bunker said his bankruptcy came after a costly heart surgery, and that the film is still in the works.

The Defaulters site’s most recent article was apparently published in August, 2018 — some 10 months before Bunker announced his run for the council.

Bunker suspects the church is behind the website anyway. The church has a long history of attacking and trying to discredit perceived enemies under the “Fair Game” doctrine established by founder L. Ron Hubbard.

“That type of site, where it’s anonymous and does not say ‘Scientology’ anywhere on the website, that’s the usual tactic,” Bunker said.

A Scientology spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.


The Kabbalah Connection: Insiders say a celebrity-centered religious sect deeply influenced how Adam Neumann ran WeWork before its spectacular collapse

David X Prutting/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images; WeWork Summit 2015/WeWork/Vimeo; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
Becky Peterson, Meghan Morris
Business Insider US
October 16, 2019

  • As Adam and Rebekah Neumann built WeWork into a $47 billion coworking giant, the couple relied on the teachings of the Kabbalah Centre, a spiritual organization whose high-pressure donation tactics have drained multiple former members’ bank accounts, sources told Business Insider.
  • Kabbalah Centre Rabbi Eitan Yardeni was a regular sight at WeWork offices, where former employees said he helped put together at least one deal, met with company executives, and, in at least one instance, spoke with the entire company as a “spiritual counselor.”
  • In conversations with Business Insider, former Kabbalah Centre members said Yardeni pressured them into making large donations to the religious sect, telling them that their spiritual health depended on it.
  • Because of their wealth and social connections, Adam and Rebekah Neumann were privileged members of the New York Kabbalah Centre, where their special status earned them unique privileges and proximity to Kabbalah Centre leadership. However, Adam Neumann left the center in 2017 during an exodus of frustrated teachers and students.
  • A spokesperson for the Neumanns said the couple does not practice Kabbalah but that Rebekah Neumann is friends with Yardeni.

With his angular features, fashionable stubble, close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, and chunky glasses, Eitan Yardeni didn’t look out of place at WeWork’s New York City headquarters, where he was a familiar presence to staffers. But the 55-year-old Yardeni is no tech guru: He’s a spiritual one.

Yardeni is a longtime confidant of WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann and his wife, Rebekah. He is also a high-ranking rabbi within the Kabbalah Centre, an organization claiming thousands of members founded around tenets of Jewish mysticism. Though Kabbalah has been around for centuries, the Kabbalah Centre is a uniquely modern phenomenon – it marries intense spiritual guidance, high-pressure fundraising tactics, and a focus on wealth and celebrity. Some former members have likened the group to a religious cult and say it’s designed to enrich the family that founded it. Yardeni has counseled such high-profile acolytes as Madonna, Guy Oseary, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, and Roseanne Barr.

As the Neumanns’ spiritual adviser, Yardeni enjoyed extraordinary access and influence over the coworking startup as it soared to a $47 billion valuation – before its dramatic crash in a botched initial public offering planned for September. Yardeni ran weekly meetings at WeWork that were frequently attended by the Neumanns and other top executives, including WeWork cofounder Miguel McKelvey, Chief Operating Officer Jen Berrent, and the now ousted executives Roni Bahar and Zvika Shachar, according to people familiar with the meetings.

On at least one occasion, Yardeni addressed the entire company as a “spiritual counselor” at WeWork’s 2015 employee all-hands conference. In a video of the event, Yardeni is seen wearing a black yarmulke and a WeWork branded T-shirt.

The Neumanns’ interest in Kabbalah is publicly known, and Adam Neumann has gone as far to openly credit the Kabbalah Centre as the inspiration for his company. “I noticed that in the Kabbalah community, people were really helping each other,” he told The Real Deal in 2013. “I wanted to translate that into business.”

But a Business Insider investigation has found that Kabbalah was intimately intertwined not just with the Neumanns’ spiritual lives but also with WeWork itself, including coinvestments, business referrals, and previously unreported financial and professional connections between the startup and people affiliated with the Kabbalah Centre. According to interviews with 10 current and former WeWork employees and Kabbalah Centre members, the Neumanns were deeply involved in the center’s leadership and wove Kabbalah teachings and symbolism into the very fabric of the company they built. And former Kabbalah Centre members described the organization as relentless in its efforts to control the social and financial decision-making of its most devout members.

Adam Neumann left Kabbalah in 2017, according to former members of the organization. Laurie Hays, a spokesperson for the Neumanns, said neither Adam nor Rebekah practice it but acknowledged that Rebekah and Yardeni remain friends.

WeWork declined to comment on the record for this story. The Kabbalah Centre did not respond to requests for comment sent directly and through an attorney.
Kabbalah faces allegations of ‘fraud’ and being a ‘cult’

The Kabbalah Centre was founded by Philip Berg, the late husband of matriarch Karen Berg, in the mid-1980s as an offshoot of Orthodox Judaism that focused on an ancient book of Jewish mysticism known as the Zohar. By the late 1990s, it had opened its doors to non-Jewish members and gained a following with celebrities like Madonna, who adorned their left wrists with red string, which followers believe will keep them safe from the “evil eye.”

Former Kabbalah Centre members contacted by Business Insider described a tight-knit spiritual community that combined elements of Judaism with self-help and astrology, where seekers of enlightenment rubbed shoulders with intense and magnetic leaders who relentlessly encouraged members to give as much money as they could possibly afford. Most members and staff were based in Los Angeles and New York, though the organization claims to have centers in 40 cities globally.

At the heart of the community for many years were Karen Berg and her sons Michael and Yehuda. While Karen and Michael still maintain control over the center’s operations, Yehuda was forced out in 2015 after a jury found him responsible for inflicting emotional distress on a former student who accused him in a civil lawsuit of plying her with alcohol and prescription drugs with the intent of raping her. Yehuda and the Kabbalah Centre were ordered to pay a total of $177,500 to the accuser; the judgment was affirmed on appeal.

Between 2011 and 2019, the center was sued at least three times over fraud accusations, each complaint alleging that the Bergs and its teachers – known as “chevre,” a Hebrew word meaning close friends – solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from Kabbalah Centre members for projects that ultimately never materialized. Two of those lawsuits alleged that the Bergs trained teachers “to extract as much money as possible” from members. The center prevailed in both cases, and the plaintiffs were ordered to pay the organization’s legal costs.

A class-action lawsuit filed in July on behalf of former chevre at the center alleges that the Bergs “operate a cult that preys upon those seeking to improve the world through the performance of good works.” The chevre allege that they were required to work up to 16 to 20 hour days for just room, board, and $300 in spending money, while doing personal chores for the Berg family and soliciting donations from the members that met with them for spiritual guidance. The complaint alleges the process involved meticulously documenting “details such as students’ personal finances, their family relationships, their sexuality, and their hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties.”

“Teachers receive no religious or spiritual training from the Centre,” according to the complaint. “Instead, the purpose of these meetings is for the teacher to gather specific, intimate information about the student as the first step in determining how and what to persuade the student to donate to the Centre.”

The Kabbalah Centre has told the court that it intends to file a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that it is protected by the First Amendment’s religious-liberty provisions.
The Neumanns were Kabbalah VIPs thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow

Adam Neumann was introduced to Kabbalah in 2009 by Rebekah, who, in turn, was recruited by her celebrity cousin, Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow. The couple were soon VIPs in their own right within the organization.

Yardeni was often seen nearby while the WeWork CEO was indulging his notorious Don Julio 1942 tequila habit, and when people were smoking weed, according to one former employee. An unidentified rabbi was also spotted on a June 2015 trip to Mexico City, where members of Adam Neumann’s small entourage spat tequila at one another, dislodged furniture, and at least one guest ultimately vomited in the cabin and the bathroom, The Information reported. (It’s not clear whether the rabbi on the plane was associated with the Kabbalah Centre.)

The Kabbalah Centre barred members from contradicting Adam Neumann in any capacity, according to one ex-member, who described getting kicked under the table by Karen Berg after disagreeing with Adam Neumann in a conversation. When Adam and Rebekah Neumann’s five kids ran wild during quiet and contemplative Torah readings, another member said, members were told there was nothing that could be done.

For the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah in 2017, a few months before Adam Neumann publicly left the center, followers met at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan for a four-day party, filled with lively dancing and singing. At one point, Adam Neumann joined a small group of teachers and other religious leaders on stage, where he danced wildly for thousands of audience members to see.

“There’s always a lot of singing and a lot of dancing. We raised the roof in these events,” one former member said. “Usually on the stage would be the VIPs: the teachers and people who are very wealthy.”

Insiders say the Neumanns were close to elite members, including Paltrow, the actor Lucy Liu, Moore, Kutcher, and Madonna. Though Paltrow has distanced herself from the organization, she famously brought Kabbalah to the Hamptons in summer 2010 and still publishes the occasional advice column from Michael Berg’s wife, Monica, on Goop.

Kutcher, himself a tech investor, has known Adam Neumann for more than 11 years and is close to WeWork. In January, the pair went on CNBC to discuss WeWork’s Creator Awards, an event that Kutcher judged. Adam Neumann and Kutcher were also photographed at a WeWork event in 2018 with another Kabbalah devotee, Madonna’s talent manager Oseary. Just one year before, Oseary married his longtime partner, Michelle Alves, in a Brazilian ceremony co-officiated by Yardeni.

Even from his earliest days in the organization, members remember Adam Neumann as egotistical but charming – a man with a lot of charisma and ambition, even though he had little to show for it when he first joined the Kabbalah Centre a decade ago.

“When I met him, he introduced himself as someone who’s destined to greatness,” one former member said. “Adam is really one of a kind. He thinks in a different way than others. And he’s a very generous man.”
‘This is how a lot of businesses fail’

At the Kabbalah Centre, gifts and donations were inextricable from enlightenment. As is common among many religious organizations, members are encouraged to donate 10% of their after-tax income directly to the center. But former members said they were often pressured into going beyond that in order to attract what the Bergs described as “the light.” For many wealthy members, six-figure donations meant special treatment and perks, from reserved seats at services to more time with the chevre.

A spokesperson for the Neumanns declined to answer questions about how much, if any, money they donated to the Kabbalah Center. But by the end of their time at New York center, they were among the wealthiest and most celebrated members.

Ex-members said it was common for the Bergs and teachers from the center to attend intimate dinners with VIPs, and even to join their families on luxury vacations. The Neumanns were no exception.

When Karen Berg needed new clothing, or when a chevre needed a new iPhone, they turned to students, who were taught that it was a privilege to pay for such goods, the ex-members said.

Often, members made major donations at the recommendation of their teachers or the Bergs to correspond with big life events – the idea being that donating to Kabbalah would ensure success. Former members said many followers felt that their donations protected them from harm and were taught that they are invincible if they give enough money to the center.

“It’s a false feeling of protection, and this is how a lot of businesses fail,” said Tatiana Ganopolsky, who left the New York center in 2012 after the collapse of her own business, Taya Jeans.

By the same token, former members said, the Bergs warned members that misfortune would come to those who didn’t give enough money. One former member said that after her husband was diagnosed with cancer, Karen Berg told her it was because they had not donated enough money, despite them having donated millions of dollars over the course of their membership.

Karen and Michael Berg could not be reached for comment.
Former student says Yardeni misled him into a $101,000 debt

For many members of the Kabbalah Centre, the chevre’s influence over their decision-making extended well beyond the realm of the spiritual, from dating and marriage to the timing and frequency of their sexual activity to the management of their business affairs.

As Adam Neumann’s spiritual guru, Yardeni sometimes showed up places that made WeWork employees uncomfortable. He even helped negotiate deals, one WeWork employee said, including Adam Neumann’s controversial investment in Manhattan’s 88 University Place, which Neumann made with the Kabbalah Centre member and fashion designer Eli Tahari for $70 million in 2015. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the relationship between Kabbalah, WeWork, and Tahari on Wednesday.

By 2019, that building was at the center of a major scandal for Adam Neumann after reports that he had made millions by leasing it back to WeWork. The building was put on the market in August, The Real Deal reported.

Ganopolsky, who ran her clothing business with her brother, said she was involved with the Kabbalah Centre for 10 years when Yardeni and another Kabbalah chevre in Moscow, where her brother lived, began pressuring them to increase their donations. Ganopolsky balked, but her brother wanted to comply, she told Business Insider. She said Yardeni drove a wedge between the pair, and eventually, their company, which was earning $25 million in annual revenue, collapsed.

“Eitan Yardeni was my teacher. I considered him like a friend,” Ganopolsky said. “But he was a traitor.”

Yardeni did not respond to multiple emailed requests for comment.

Several former members said they had seen members take out large loans, sell property, or run up credit cards in order to make donations to the center.

Roger, whose name has been changed for this story, was Yardeni’s student for eight years before leaving the center in 2017. Roger said the spirituality and community at the Kabbalah Centre changed his life for the better. But he left the organization after coming to believe that Yardeni was required to meet a quota for donations to maintain his position as a high-level teacher.

Roger said he had been with the center for just six months when Yardeni asked him to donate $52,000 to help print copies of the Zohar, a common request inside the community. Roger said he felt pressured into making the donation, particularly when Yardeni called one of Roger’s close friends and asked them to convince Roger that he would spread the “light” if he made the donation.

A few years later, Roger said, he donated $101,000 to the center using a line of credit on his house after Yardeni told him it would improve his business, which was struggling at the time. Roger said his wife vehemently objected to making the donation, but he did it anyway.

After he left the center, Roger wrote a letter to Yardeni, which he shared with Business Insider, accusing Yardeni of tying spiritual development to money. “You told me that you were thinking about me and that you got revelation, a divine one, as you called it,” Roger wrote. “You said that [I needed to donate] in order for me to clean ‘all my sins and improve my financial situation. … After realizing what you did to me and to other students I want to ask you Eitan do you believe in God? Did you believe in God at the moment you dialed my number and started telling me how it will clean and improve, knowing that it’s a lie? I do not think so.”

Roger estimates he donated more than $300,000 to the Kabbalah Centre, in addition to a plane ticket to Israel for Yardeni, jewelry, $10,000 family trips to center events, time spent volunteering, and various purchases to fix infrastructure around the center.

“I know someone who donated half a million dollars, and he had to sell his apartment,” Roger said. “I don’t know anyone who left to the center in a better financial situation than they came.”
The Neumanns are known for their philanthropy

Inside the Kabbalah Centre, the Neumanns’ wealth was a constant source of speculation. According to at least three former members, it was widely believed within the Kabbalah community that the Neumanns made donations worth millions of dollars.

When the center opened up a new Manhattan location at 16 West 17th St., rumors spread that the Neumanns paid for the lease because they wanted a center within walking distance of their downtown apartment. Others understood that he was financially involved in obtaining a separate location in Brooklyn, which opened around the same time.

Business Insider was not able to independently confirm any of these donations. As a religious organization, the Kabbalah Centre is exempt from filing tax returns with the IRS, so little is known about where its money comes from and how it’s spent.

While it’s unclear how much money the Neumanns donated over the course of their membership, public records give a sense of the scale of the couple’s general philanthropy. WeWork’s filing for the aborted initial public offering says the Neumanns have donated 15% of the value of the stock they have cashed out from WeWork and that they have committed to donating more than $1 billion to charity over the next 10 years.

A spokeswoman said the couple has donated $100 million to charity over the years. She declined to say where the money went.
Elevating the world’s consciousness

Former Kabbalah members said they saw the impact of the Bergs’ spiritual teachings in many of WeWork’s more unorthodox business practices. The company’s unique stated mission of “elevating the world’s consciousness,” as well as the focus on “energy” that Rebekah Neumann reportedly brought to the hiring process both appear to be derived from Kabbalah Centre ideas, insiders said.

Daniel Matt, a scholar from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, who teaches courses on the Zohar, said Kabbalah’s most direct link to WeWork was through WeGrow, the company’s recently shuttered private elementary school, which claimed to focus on “unleashing every human’s superpowers.”

“Every human has a spark of God in her and him,” Matt said, describing kabbalistic beliefs. “If you have qualities or powers or talents, then you are conveying divine qualities. Your talent is channeling divine energy.”

Spirituality has infused the messaging of other Neumann projects, including a feature-length film produced by a now defunct entity called WeWork Studios.

In 2010, Rebekah Neumann wrote and starred in a short film called “Awake,” in which “a woman in the depths of the American nightmare is forced to become enlightened or die.” Adam Neumann is credited as an executive producer.

Business Insider obtained a copy of the short film, in which Rebekah Neumann’s character resolves her depression, vaguely linked to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, after stumbling upon a spiritual guru in the forest. That guru, played by Sean Lennon, instructs Rebekah Neumann to reflect on her life.

In one scene, Rebekah Neumann’s character positions herself on a pillow next to a fireplace where she writes a detailed account of her life. Photographs from the life of the real Rebekah Neumann flash on the screen, including one with Yardeni on what appears to be Adam and Rebekah Neumann’s wedding day. Visible on a pillow next to the fireplace is a copy of the Zohar.

“Awake” turned out to be a warm-up for their much larger ambitions. In 2014, WeWork Studios produced the feature-length film “I Origins,” a sci-fi romance about a biologist who uncovers evidence of reincarnation.

The only explicit reference to a formal system of beliefs in the film is to the eye of Horus, a protective symbol from ancient Egypt. But the narrative pits its scientifically minded protagonist against his ultraspiritual fiancée, who is ultimately cut in half by a faulty elevator after a fight over spirituality with her betrothed. Ultimately, the biologist discovers that his late bride-to-be was right about the spiritual world.

The film has a score of 51% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Neumanns weren’t the only Kabbalah followers at WeWork. The couple offered jobs and investment opportunities to other members of the center.

After WeWork filed its IPO registration in August, investors and critics expressed concern over the company’s succession plan, which charged Rebekah Neumann and the WeWork board members Bruce Dunlevie and Steven Langman with the power to choose a new CEO if Adam Neumann were killed or incapacitated within 10 years of the IPO.

Like the Neumanns, Langman is a familiar face at the Kabbalah Centre, with a regular seat at the head table. Langman spent his career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs and Lazard Freres before founding the investment firm Rhone Group. Langman, who joined WeWork’s board in 2012, represents his own interest on the board, rather than Rhone’s, and personally owns less than 1% of WeWork overall.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported Langman’s connection to Kabbalah on Wednesday, Adam Neumann met Langman and another Kabbalah member, the real-estate investor Marc Schimmel, through Michael Berg. Both became WeWork investors.

A spokesperson for Langman declined to comment on the record. Schimmel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Adam Neumann has also found jobs for several members of the community, insiders said.

Last year, two active Kabbalah members, Jason Bauer and Avi Voda, were brought into WeWork to start WeWork Space Services, a pilot brokerage directed at small to midsize companies.

Bauer was the founder and CEO of Crumbs Bake Shop, a publicly traded bakery that took off in the early 2000s before dramatically closing all of its shops in 2014. Bauer and Voda also ran a real-estate firm named Voda Bauer Real Estate. Their third employee, Jacob Sussan, joined WeWork Space Services last year, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In January, Menachem Katz, the former executive chef at the New York Kabbalah Centre, joined WeWork as head of operations for WeWork Food Labs, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In addition, Kabbalah members found Adam Neumann to be a generous supporter of their own entrepreneurial endeavors. The Kabbalah Centre member Michael Patterson told other members that Adam Neumann invested in his energy-storage company, Romeo Power, one person said. In May, Romeo Power reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had raised $88 million from 31 undisclosed investors.

Patterson did not respond to a request for comment.
Adam Neumann left the center in 2017

Shortly after Rosh Hashanah 2017, after more than seven years in the organization, Adam Neumann left Kabbalah. The split came in the middle of a crisis at the center that saw six chevre, and many members, leaving in quick succession.

Adam Neumann’s departure caused a stir in the tight-knit community, where many members feared that losing his donations could have a substantial effect on the success of the organization.

Business Insider obtained a recording of a town-hall-style meeting in NYC from the end of 2017, lasting more than two hours, in which the center leaders Karen and Michael Berg, as well as Yardeni, took questions from the community about the group’s finances, how it compensates teachers, how it handles controversy, and, most pressingly, why most of its New York teachers had left all at once.

In an emotional moment, one woman described how the leadership stopped saying hello to her at the beginning of Shabbat and instead focused all of their time on greeting higher-profile members.

“It is true in the past we have given more time to those who are bigger supporters of the center,” Michael Berg said. “I think it’s also important to understand the history. The reality is, the reason the center exists as it is today is because there are people who have supported the center financially.”

It was one of three meetings held in close succession to address the community’s concerns. In the middle of the second meeting, sources said, Adam Neumann stood up and left.

Shortly after that meeting, Adam Neumann made a show of his departure. At a social event, a source told Business Insider, Adam Neumann was overheard describing the center as a “cult.”

In the months that followed, the Neumanns hosted a few Shabbat dinners at their home in New York with other ex-members, led by the former Kabbalah Centre chevre who had also split from the Bergs.

Nearly a year later, in a December speech, Adam Neumann publicly linked himself to an Orthodox rabbi in Crown Heights by the name of Rabbi Heller.

“As WeWork was growing and growing, and we were taking more and more of the concepts of our spiritual practice and in putting them into the business, things worked better and better,” Adam Neumann said in a speech at the UJA-Federation of New York fundraiser. He was introduced by the outgoing Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. “Until one day, I think it was somewhere around the $5 billion valuation; that’s where trouble starts. I was catching myself not being able to control my ego.

“The moment you think you are better than other people, you can’t help them,” he said. “I realized I need a new practice. I need something even bigger.”

To people familiar with Kabbalah, the message was clear: Adam Neumann had a new rabbi and a new denomination. Kabbalah’s golden child had really left the center.

But the break wasn’t clean. Insiders spotted Adam Neumann in videos of Yardeni’s second wedding on May 15, 2018, months after his split from Kabbalah and around the same that WeWork started negotiations with SoftBank on a funding round that would double the coworking startup’s valuation.

Though Hays, the Neumanns’ spokesperson, said the Neumanns don’t practice Kabbalah, multiple former Kabbalah Centre members said they have heard from center insiders that the Neumanns have reestablished contact with the center’s leadership.

“The Kabbalah Centre uses the best part of people, their desire to become better and to become spiritual. They take beautiful people and screw them up,” Ganopolsky, one of the former members, said. “I am absolutely sure that all of this mess, they create it.”


How Amazon Has Transformed the Hasidic Economy

Amazon has become a lucrative place to do business for many Hasidic Jews, offering anonymity to a largely insular community and allowing women to work from home.

Joseph Berger
New York Times
October 16, 2019

They are a religious community known for clinging to 18th-century fashions and mores — strict rules that keep men and women apart and constraints on attire, with men favoring black suits and formal hats and women in long sleeves and long skirts.

But when it comes to doing business, Hasidic Jews have become enamored with a distinctly 21st-century company: Amazon.

The ability to sell merchandise easily and relatively anonymously on Amazon has transformed the economies of Hasidic enclaves in Brooklyn, suburban New York and central New Jersey, communities where members prefer to keep to themselves and typically do not go to college, let alone graduate from business programs.

But Amazon allows Hasidim to start selling without much experience and without making the investments required by a brick-and-mortar store. It permits Hasidic sellers to deal with the public invisibly — almost entirely by mail, by email or through package-delivery firms.

“Amazon doesn’t ask for your résumé,” said Sam Friedman, a marketer who designs trade show exhibits and works with many Amazon sellers. “And your picture is not on your business. The investment is minimal. You can work out of your bedroom.”

And if Amazon takes over the packing and shipping, according to some interpretations of Jewish law, owners can operate their businesses through the Sabbath and on holidays like Rosh Hashana and the Sukkot festival without violating the proscription against working on sacred days.

Amazon also provides men who at certain ages spend a good deal of their day studying the Talmud and praying and women who tend to the seven or eight children common in Hasidic families the flexibility to become full-time and successful merchants.

Danny Khaimov, 33, works out of a 10,000-square-foot storage space in Brooklyn and uses Amazon to sell new and refurbished electronic goods that he buys from various closeout sales.

“You open a store, you get five, 10 people,” said Mr. Khaimov, whose work space is filled with volumes of the Talmud and a set of tefillin, sacred leather boxes and straps used for morning prayers. “On Amazon you get 1,000 people. If your merchandise is a known brand, it sells pretty quickly. Once you start selling items it’s like a drug.”

Selling goods on Amazon has become so popular in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn, that there is a square-block, six-story loft building chock-full of merchants, including Mr. Khaimov, who take advantage of the platform.

The 140 tenants are overwhelmingly ultra-Orthodox, and roughly 50 sell their cornucopia of products through Amazon. The building has a kosher cafeteria and a large room for the three required daily worship services.

Conferences in New York and New Jersey designed to help merchants sell on Amazon have drawn large numbers of Orthodox Jews, according to Buzzfeed, which chronicled the company’s growing appeal among Orthodox businesses.

Nuchem, a 32-year-old father of four who asked that his last name not be published to protect his privacy, said that after completing advanced yeshiva study he was uncertain about how he might earn a living.

Then friends selling pet supplies on Amazon let him observe their operations. He started selling health supplements — pills and powders — out of his Brooklyn home and now has a business with an office, a warehouse, three workers and 800 orders a day.

“Whatever you decide to sell doesn’t matter as long as you meet Amazon’s requirements,” he said.

Alexander Rapaport, who runs soup kitchens in Brooklyn and Queens and often serves as an informal guide for reporters to the insular Hasidic communities, said the number of Hasidic businesses that were reliant on Amazon was surging.

“It’s the basic shtetl market, basic peddler economy that Hasidim are very into,” Mr. Rapaport said. “Being on Amazon is kind of doing that virtually.”

He was referring to the ragtag village marketplaces that the grandparents and other ancestors of those in Brooklyn and other Hasidic communities had to leave behind as a result of Hitler’s drive to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

Destroyed were dozens of Hasidic hubs whose roots stretch back to the Baal Shem Tov, the 18th-century mystic who in western Ukraine founded a movement stressing passion and joy in worship as an alternative to more intellectual strains of Judaism. Through ardor, he preached, the ordinary unlettered Jew could feel the equal of a scholar.

While aspiring business people of all stripes have flourished with Amazon, the prevalence of Amazon-linked firms among Hasidic Jews is notable because it runs counter to the notion that ultra-Orthodox Jews spurn modern-day conveniences.

Hasidim embrace computers and cellphones even if they may add filters to keep out objectionable material.

Amazon, like many other tech companies, closely guards the data it collects on users. A spokesman, Joel Sider, would say only that “Brooklyn is home to many impressive independent retailers selling on Amazon.”

A company official, who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to provide any information about sellers, said that “we are certainly aware there is a significant concentration of businesses” in Hasidic neighborhoods like Borough Park.

Amazon has also opened the door for many Hasidic women whose time is consumed taking care of their large families to become entrepreneurs.

Zlata Bernstein runs a full-time business out of her Brooklyn home despite having eight children, ranging in age from 1 to 18.

Through Amazon, she offers custom printing and sells iron-on and stick-on labels to identify the clothes of children at summer camp and more recently branched out to clothing labels for nursing home patients and children at day care centers.

While her older children are in school and the 1-year-old is cared for by a babysitter, she hunkers down in the basement of her semi-attached home and produces labels with a $20,000 color printer, a smaller black-and-white printer and a cutting machine.

She then packages sets of 100 labels into stamped envelopes to deliver to retailers and individual customers.

She knows customers looking for labels will find her niche business, Starlight Labels, among the many other label sellers on Amazon and will choose hers as long as her products are high quality and she delivers on time. Many of her products earn four or five stars on Amazon’s five-star rating system.

Mrs. Bernstein’s husband had been selling camp labels in a Brooklyn variety shop but it failed and now he drives a bus for a Hasidic yeshiva and helps out with the cooking.

“I think Amazon has allowed more women to get into business,” Mrs. Bernstein said, mentioning a Hasidic friend who sells needlepoint designs, another who sells strictly kosher gluten-free and other health foods, and a third who sells Judaica.

Samuel Heilman, a distinguished professor of sociology at the City University of New York and an expert on Hasidic life, said that Amazon allows Hasidic men and women to avoid face-to-face transactions, liberating them from the strict rules of gender separation that govern their community: A man does not have to worry about spending too much time selling to a woman and vice versa.

“Privacy is very important in a community that is very conservative,” Professor Heilman said, “and where everybody knows everybody’s business and where doing something off the standard path is looked on askance.”

While many so-called third-party sellers like Mrs. Bernstein ship products they keep on hand directly to their customers, others operate entirely through their smartphones or laptops and never bother stocking merchandise.

They usually email orders to a foreign manufacturer, which ships it in bulk to Amazon, whose employees or robots individually pack, ship and track each order, and handle any returns or refunds.

Their sales are “fulfilled by Amazon,” as the service is known, for a variable fee, in most cases roughly 15 percent of the price of each item, which Hasidic entrepreneurs say is still cheaper than the cost of renting a store or warehouse space combined with other overhead.

If Amazon is fulfilling orders, the business may effectively be running on Sabbath and Jewish holidays, though how that is carried out is the subject of vigorous debate. With a Talmudic twist of logic, some Hasidic entrepreneurs take on a non-Jew as a presumptive partner, attributing profits made on the Sabbath to that person.

One drawback to working with Amazon is the inability of Hasidic business owners to answer customer queries and complaints on holy days, which can lower customer ratings since Amazon rules require prompt replies.

With all the competition on Amazon, Hasidic Jews are learning to game the system and its algorithms.

Mrs. Bernstein, like many other Hasidic merchants, hires search engine optimization specialists to generate the key words that will get their businesses high on Amazon’s product lists and in Google searches.

Mr. Friedman is also organizing a business, advertising and marketing expo in Brooklyn in December to help Hasidic merchants expand their online sales by contracting with experienced copy writers, web designers, videographers and other professionals whose occupations the Talmudic Sages never even dreamed of.

“We’re not college students,” Mr. Friedman said, “but the yeshiva makes us smart enough to figure things out.”

A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 17, 2019, Section A, Page 26 of the New York edition with the headline: Insular Hasidic Communities Embrace Selling on Amazon.