Mar 29, 2020

Coronavirus Cases Spike in Israeli ultra-Orthodox Neighborhoods

In Bnei Brak, an eightfold increase in coronavirus cases reported in three days

Aaron Rabinowitz
March 29, 2020

Hundreds of new cases of the coronavirus appeared in ultra-Orthodox enclaves in Israel over a short period of time, internal Health Ministry figures obtained by Haaretz show, revealing a growth rate that far exceeds the national average.

These official Health Ministry figures, which are kept confidential, are given to the Interior Ministry which passes them on to the local authorities every morning.

The number of infected people in Bnei Brak increased eightfold between Monday and Thursday last week. On Monday evening there were 30 confirmed cases, and on Thursday the number was 244. In Jerusalem’s Haredi community there were 78 confirmed cases on Monday, and on Thursday – 314, a fourfold spike. In the Haredi town of Betar Ilit the number of people with the virus went from two on Monday to 24 on Thursday, and in Beit Shemesh, the number jumped from four to 34 in that period.

The virus is spreading faster in ultra-Orthodox communities than in the main secular cities. In Tel Aviv, the number of patients doubled in the same three-day period last week (85 on Monday and 191 on Thursday), as it did in Herzliya (from 18 to 39), Ramat Gan (20 to 42), Netanya (20 to 53) and Ashdod (24 to 51).

Bnei Brak Mayor Abraham Rubinstein released an urgent statement to residents on Friday: “There are moments when one must stop and simply cry out a warning. In Bnei Brak, unfortunately, there are 300 corona patients. This is a high rate of infection; it is the most dangerous anywhere in Israel, and the forecast is even more terrifying. This is the time to wake up! The rabbis of the city and its great teachers are crying out: Stop your know-it-all minyans of more than ten men,” he said, referring to the quorum required by Orthodox law to hold public prayers. “Keep your distance and stop storming the supermarkets. Just stay home and be careful. This is dangerous, it’s terrifying and you need to understand: It’s a matter of life and death,” Rubinstein said.

Sources in some ultra-Orthodox towns say the Health Ministry does not inform people that they need to go into isolation due to contact with someone who has the virus. Some also say that the Health Ministry is not cooperating with the local authorities that want to act independently to prevent the spread of the virus in Haredi neighborhoods, which are densely populated and hence a major potential source of infection.

The greatest obstacle is that many ultra-Orthodox people are not connected to mass media. About half of ultra-Orthodox people don’t have smart phones, but rather only phones that have been approved by their rabbis, which can’t receive a message instructing the user to go into isolation.

“Everything here is by word-of-mouth rumor,” a senior official in the ultra-Orthodox town of Modi’in Illit told Haaretz. “There’s no oversight. People decide for themselves whether to go into isolation or not… We have no direct connection to the Health Ministry. The little that we know comes from people we know and unofficial conversations.”

The official said the Health Ministry doesn’t have the manpower or “a way into the Haredi public.” Thus, information about confirmed patients reaches the community very late.

A senior official in a Haredi municipality said that his municipality asked the Health Ministry for information to start dealing with the matter on a city-wide basis, but the request was turned down. “At first we sat quietly because we were sure the Health Ministry was dealing with it. The messages we got from them were – it’s a medical event, don’t interfere, we’re handling it,” the official said. It was only three weeks ago, he added, that “we realized that in fact we were lagging two weeks or more behind the rest of the country. I don’t want to think what will happen here soon.”

Due to the lack of communication with the Health Ministry, the municipality of Modi’in Ilit has begun to take independent action. With the help of figures gathered from the media and from the Health Ministry’s website, they are providing information to residents. “Two weeks ago we started handing out flyers to people’s homes, an official said. “It was a page with an explanation about the coronavirus, letters from rabbis calling for people to follow the directives. They broadcast by loudspeakers in the streets. The problem is, there’s no organized information from the Health Ministry,” the man said.

The mayor of Beit Shemesh, Aliza Bloch, said her municipality is also acting independently. “We have to make sure that there is no one who doesn’t understand the seriousness. We’ve asked the Health Ministry for precise information in real time, so we can prevent infection,” she said.

Bloch has also spoken with rabbis in the city to ask them to close the synagogues. “On Friday there was somebody wandering around the streets with corona and thanks to the residents who informed us, the police tracked him down. It’s not only against the law, it’s mortal danger and I have zero tolerance in this matter,” Bloch said.

The Haredi community seems to have begun about a week ago to realize the seriousness of the epidemic. Most synagogues in ultra-Orthodox communities are closed and rabbis are asking their followers to obey all Health Ministry instructions. “Obedience in Bnei Brak is greater than any other city. The rabbis have issued clear directives and there is close cooperation with the authorities,” a person with knowledge of the situation in Bnei Brak said.

However, extreme sects in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea She’arim and in Beit Shemesh are adamant in their refusal to cooperate. This week members of the extreme sect Peleg Yerushalmi (“Jerusalem Faction”) held a large wedding in Modi’in Ilit in which many dozens of revelers were dancing hand in hand. In another incident, when three men in Modi’in Ilit were arrested for keeping their synagogue open, they cursed and threw objects at the police. The police also found two apartments in Beit Shemesh where children were attending classes. The owner was fined 5,000 shekels ($1,402) and the children were sent home.

At a recent meeting between the deputy director of the Health Ministry, Prof. Itamar Grotto, and the chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel, Haim Bibas, Grotto reportedly pledged greater cooperation between the ministry and local authorities and that starting today the ministry will keep municipalities better informed. The Health Ministry did not comment for this report.

Mar 27, 2020

The Challenge of Cult Recovery During a Time of Crisis

How former cult members and the families of current and former cult members can address the needs they have along with the additional stress and worry brought on by global unpredictability.

Rachel Bernstein LMFT offers:

  • FORMER CULT MEMBER SUPPORT GROUP - Every other Wednesday night in Los Angeles
  • Office line - 818-907-0036
  • Facebook- Rachel Bernstein LMFT
  • Host of the weekly podcast "IndoctriNation"
  • Check out IndoctriNation on #SoundCloud
  • Advisory Board Member - ICSA

Mar 21, 2020

The Beatles Ashram in India is popular but might be scamming vulnerable tourists

Visitors are flocking to northern India to seek spiritual enlightenment but they may be being tricked by unscrupulous gurus

Luke Taylor
March 2020

In North India, The Beatles’ quest for enlightenment lives on. But in the midst of the chanting, barter and guitar strumming, does something darker lurk?

When local authorities decided to open “The Beatles Ashram” to tourists back in 2015, the spiritual hermitage had become so abandoned the grass and weeds grew taller than the park rangers.

Then part of a tiger reserve, yoga aficionados and Beatles fanatics would break in at night seeking the same tranquillity and spiritual connection that brought the world’s biggest pop group all the way from Liverpool to Rishikesh, North India, back in 1968.

The forest department realised the potential revenue it might accrue by converting the ashram into a tourist attraction. And so it set about chopping back the undergrowth, setting up a café and photo exhibition and printing flyers.

Here comes the scam
The ashram first caught the world’s attention when The Beatles accepted an invitation from the charismatic guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to join him at his transcendental meditation training camp.

Film crews from across the world scrambled to the town of Rishikesh to get a glimpse of the Fab Four embracing spirituality in the Himalayan foothills.

Ringo Starr departed after only 10 days complaining about the spicy food and abundance of flies. McCartney left after four weeks. When the more committed Harrison and Lennon left, the trip was marred by allegations that the guru made sexual advances towards Mia Farrow and was exploiting the group for self-promotion.

The ashram was abandoned in the 70s and the Maharishi left India for Holland in 1990 for tax reasons. Many of the concrete buildings – the rooms where the band slept and the canteen in which they ate – are now in decay, crumbling from the damp as carpets of moss sprout from the walls.

“Of course the place is historically important,” says Nicolas Alba, a musician from Chile who fronts a funk group in the capital, Santiago. “But it’s something more than that. It has a particular energy you can feel.”

Beatles experts say the visit held great significance for the band but also for global culture, precipitating a surge in interest in eastern spirituality which continues to fascinate the West today and which has remoulded Rishikesh.

“The Beatles created curiosity among foreigners about the Himalayas,” says Raju Gusain, a Beatles in India expert based in the nearby city of Dehradun.

“10,000 people lived here in 1968; now 50,000 tourists – five times that population – come each year to visit.”

Most come to the “world capital of yoga” seeking a spiritual journey. Its vegan cafés and bakeries are filled with Westerners wearing baggy cotton yoga pants and thick woolly scarves and discussing the search for meaning.

Tourists pay as little as $1,000 (£775) per month for classes, food and accommodation and most talk highly of their ashrams. But economic opportunity has also bred charlatans and frauds.

Some beggars have realised they can get more rupees if they masquerade as monks in orange robes and tourists complain of beguiling characters relying on their charm and wit more than their expertise to fool students.

“We were hanging on his every word but I realised after half an hour that he was talking absolute nonsense,” a Spanish yoga student says of a teacher at a school she had attended and then quickly abandoned, chuckling.

“It’s hard to guarantee that every person is a real teacher – all you need is a bit of paper,” admits a teacher in a school close to the town centre. “It’s not easy to control.”

Other allegations are more sinister.

Local residents talk of consistent allegations of sexual impropriety from yoga teachers who use their position as wise gurus to take advantage of female students.

Others allegedly trick pupils into believing they are in a transcendental state of meditation by slipping hallucinogens into their tea.

Travel forums warn visitors to avoid particular teachers whom they accuse of a long list of sexually inappropriate behaviour.

In February 2018 a teacher in Rishikesh was charged with sexual harassment following accusations from a Japanese pupil. The teacher was later acquitted, however, and claimed it was “a planned conspiracy… by some foreigners who wanted to tarnish the image of the holy city.”

Unsavoury secrets
Rishikesh would not be the only retreat stalked by predators.

In 2018 Thailand’s Agama Yoga School was closed after instructor Swami Vivekandanda Saraswat – whose first school was established in Rishikesh – was accused by 14 women and two men of sexual assault, rape, and “allegedly ‘brainwashing’ hundreds of women into having sex with the Swami”.

Murray Jenkinson, 33, from Queensland, Australia, is completing his course to become a yoga instructor before heading to Thailand to teach English as a foreign language.

He says that where open-mindedness is seen as key to success, being sceptical can appear counterproductive.

“It’s hard to get into all this while being a sceptic and questioning everything – but then it’s pretty foolish not to,” he warns.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time a commune in the middle of nowhere was hiding some unsavoury secrets.

Two-Week Webinar for Families and Former Members Free!

ICSA: Two-Week Webinar for Families and Former Members Free!
During this difficult time, ICSA is continuing to offer services for former cult members and resources designed to help thoughtful families and friends understand and respond to the complexity of a loved one’s cult involvement.

We understand that recovery for former cult members is ongoing, and the stress of a global pandemic may be contributing to very high levels of anxiety right now.

We are providing a free two week virtual events series that provides a selection of services/topics that ICSA has in an effort to help. This series will be streamed over Zoom. Many sessions will even have an expert available for Q&A at the end.

All talks listed are in US Eastern Time.

Monday 3/23/2020
8:00 PM - 8:30 PM
8:30 PM - 9:00 PM (Talk-back)
Introduction to Series "Cult Recovery and Family Support NOT Cancelled!"
Rachel Bernstein, MS, LMFT, Ashlen Hilliard

Tuesday 3/24/2020
8:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Building Bridges; Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Webinar for Families and Former Members
Introduction and Overview of a Cult Model
Rachel Bernstein, MS, LMFT Joseph Kelly, Patrick Ryan

Wednesday 3/25/2020
Noon - 1:00 PM
1:00 PM - 1:30 PM (Talk-back)
Former Jehovah’s Witness Recovery Series: Interview with Gillie Jenkinson on the cult pseudo-identity and post-cult recovery.
Ashlen Hilliard, Gillie Jenkinson, PhD

Thursday 3/26/2020
8:00 PM - 9:25 PM
9:25 PM - 9:45 PM (Talk-back)
Former Jehovah’s Witness Recovery Series: Interview with Michael Shemwell on shunning.
Ashlen Hilliard, Michael Shemwell
Link to join: 

Friday 3/27/2020
8:00 PM - 8:40 PM
ICSA History Collection Interview with Steve Eichel (Current President of ICSA)

Robert E. Schecter, PhD, interviewed Steve K. D. Eichel, PhD, on July 7, 2018 as part of a series of interviews designed to illuminate ICSA’s history. Dr. Eichel, who has served as ICSA’s president, discusses his early work in this field, including co-founding the counseling organization RETIRN. He also discusses changes he has observed in the field and his views on ICSA and its future.​

Saturday 3/28/2020
8:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Building Bridges; Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Webinar for Families and Former Members
Why people join groups, leave groups and stay? 
Why people join groups?
Why people stay in groups?
Rachel Bernstein, MS, LMFT Joseph Kelly, Patrick Ryan

Sunday 3/29/2020
Noon - 1:30 PM
1:30 PM - 1:45 PM (Talk-back)
Panel - Inside the Therapeutic Space w/ Ashley Allen and Doni Whitsett, PhD

Ashley Allen; Doni Whitsett In the Mental Health Cult field little, if anything, has been written about the therapeutic process from both the perspective of the therapist and the client. In contrast, much has been written by therapists and clients individually about the symptomology of former members, application of theoretical frameworks, case examples, and personal accounts. However, to our knowledge there has not been anything written or presented on the simultaneous experience of both the therapist and the client. This presentation is a unique opportunity to hear perspectives from “both sides of the couch.” It will open the door and give participants a chance to explore the therapeutic space from the point of view of a therapist, Dr. Doni Whitsett, and an SGA, Ashley Allen, MSW. We will share pertinent themes in the recovery process from our respective positions, highlight what worked and what didn’t, and explore the rationale behind those interventions. While each therapeutic experience is different and “one size doesn’t fit all,” this presentation will provide a fuller picture of the therapeutic process and jump start this important conversation.
 Ashley Allen and Doni Whitsett, PhD

Monday 3/30/2020
8:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Building Bridges; Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Webinar for Families and Former Members
Why do families become concerned?
a. Notice disturbing behavioral changes. 
b. Lack of contact. 
c. Major changes of goals. 
d. Disapprove of the group’s beliefs or practices. 
e. Don’t know anything about the group, so fear it. 
f. React against terms: “cult” “brainwashing”. 
Rachel Bernstein, MS, LMFT Joseph Kelly, Patrick Ryan

Tuesday 3/31/2020
8:00 PM - 9:00 PM (with talkback)
A Prison of Shame and Fear: Understanding the Role of Shame in Cult Indoctrination and Recovery - Dan Shaw

Fear and shame are what bedevil all traumatized people, as they struggle to feel safe in a world where they have felt the trapped, helpless, powerlessness of traumatic experience. I explore in this talk how shame plays a part in successful cult recruitment; the role of shame in the cult leader’s psychology; the use of shame in cults as a means of control and domination; and the ways that shame haunts those who leave cults.
Dan Shaw

Wednesday 4/1/2020
8:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Building Bridges; Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Webinar for Families and Former Members
What approaches have families used to address their concerns? What has worked? 
a. What has not worked? 
b. Sharing Ideas About What Works Best? 
c. What can families do when these approaches are not feasible or appropriate. 
d. Why many groups don't fit the “cult” stereotype? 
Rachel Bernstein, MS, LMFT Joseph Kelly, Patrick Ryan 

Thursday 4/2/2020
8:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Building Bridges; Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Webinar for Families and Former Members
Intervention101 (an alternative) Approach, and how to assess your unique situation.
a. Do no harm. 
b. Who wins? The group, family or Member? 
c. How to Assess your unique situation? 
d. Ethical issues. 
Rachel Bernstein, MS, LMFT Joseph Kelly, Patrick Ryan

Friday 4/3/2020
8:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Building Bridges; Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Webinar for Families and Former Members
World views: 
a. How do people adopt a worldview? How can families  effectively communicate across worldviews? 
b. In our next session we will discuss why relationships are so important, and how to communicate with your loved one. 
Rachel Bernstein, MS, LMFT Joseph Kelly, Patrick Ryan

Saturday 4/4/2020
8:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Building Bridges; Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Webinar for Families and Former Members
Why are Relationships so important? How to improve communication? 
a. Developing problem-solving skills. 
b. Formulating a helping strategy. 
Rachel Bernstein, MS, LMFT Joseph Kelly, Patrick Ryan

Sunday 4/5/2020
8 PM - 8:30 PM
Therapy and Recovery
Rachel Bernstein

**To view the full schedule: