May 22, 2020

CultNEWS101 Articles: 5/22/2020

Covid-19, Hasidic, Russia, Religious Freedom, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, Synanon

"The buses arrived early Monday to drop off dozens of children at a Hasidic school in Brooklyn.

Neighbors watched with alarm as the children, few of them wearing masks, filed into the building, crowded into classrooms and played on the roof at recess in violation of public health orders that have kept schools across the state closed since March.

"It was definitely a regular day for them, like business as usual," said Joe Livingston, who lives across from the school building in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

"That's dangerous."

The police brought the school day to an abrupt end around noon, after a neighbor who had seen the children playing on the roof called 311, officials said. Officers found about 60 children at the school, and quickly sent them all home, Sgt. Mary Frances O'Donnell, a police spokeswoman, said.

The dispersal of students from the yeshiva was the latest of several episodes that have ignited tensions between the authorities and Hasidic Jews since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the virus has killed Hasidic Jews at a rate that public health data suggests may exceed the rates for other ethnic or religious groups, social-distancing rules have repeatedly been broken in areas where Hasidim dominate, especially at activities like weddings, funerals or religious education.

Friction between the community and the authorities boiled over last month after 2,500 mourners packed the streets in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn for a funeral that drew a sharp rebuke from Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The mayor went to Brooklyn to personally oversee the dispersal of the funeral crowd, and he later vowed to enforce social-distancing rules more vigorously.

Two days later, the police issued five fire code violations and six summonses after officers found large groups of worshipers hiding in two Hasidic synagogues in Williamsburg, Congregation Yetev Lev D'Satmar and Congregation Darkei Tshivo of Dinov.

The doors at both synagogues were chained shut and black garbage bags covered the windows, the police said. There were more than 100 children spread between two rooms at one of the synagogues, a law enforcement official said."

"For 87 Jehovah's Witnesses on trial in 39 cases for "continuing the activities of a banned extremist organisation", court proceedings can be lengthy. As well as the strong possibility of conviction, bringing with it a criminal record and a heavy fine or prison sentence, prosecution and trial can have wider consequences, including blocking of bank accounts, dismissal from work and seizure of property.

Three years after Russia's Supreme Court ordered the liquidation as "extremist" of all Jehovah's Witness associations in April 2017, 87 Jehovah's Witnesses are on trial on charges of "continuing the activities of a banned extremist organisation" for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. They include two men in Khabarovsk who have already been convicted in a separate, overlapping trial, and six people in Penza who are on trial for a second time after an appeal court overturned their convictions.

Two more people died in April before hearings could begin of their cases which had already been lodged in court.

On 1 May 2020, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted Opinion No. 10/2020 in relation to eighteen Jehovah's Witnesses, most of whom are currently on trial but including Aleksandr Solovyov, the first to be sentenced after the nationwide ban. It found that their human rights had been violated, stressing that "none of them should have been arrested and held in pre-trial detention and no trial of any of them should take or should have taken place".

If convicted, the 87 defendants could be imprisoned for up to ten years or be fined up to twice the average yearly salary. Although the majority are at home under house arrest or various lesser restrictions, three men remain in detention, despite the widely acknowledged danger of coronavirus in the overcrowded Russian penitentiary system. The pandemic has led to the postponement of most court hearings, although defendants have continued to appear in person at hearings to decide restrictive measures."

"The new City Council on Monday conducted its first public discussion on an issue voters raised as a top concern in the recent election: The Church of Scientology's impact on downtown.

The topic, added to Monday's work session agenda by council member Mark Bunker, produced a candid and in-depth airing of views rarely spoken at City Hall over the course of Clearwater's strained history with the church.

But other than a general desire for a downtown rebirth, the council concluded its hour-long dialogue with no plan to seek answers on Scientology's involvement in significant amounts of property acquired over the past three years by companies tied to the church. Bunker received no support for his proposal that the city ask the FBI to investigate Scientology for alleged racketeering related to the real estate purchases.

Council members talked briefly about their shared reluctance to involve the FBI, dwelling more on their opposition to Bunker's secondary proposal: that the city hold hearings for the public to air concerns about alleged fraud and abuse in the church.

"I don't know why we couldn't reach to the FBI and say 'Look at what is happening here, look at these red flags," Bunker said.

"If there is wrongdoing that's uncovered on a scale like the RICO Act, then definitely the IRS should reconsider the tax exempt status and stripping Scientology of that would bring money back into the city and show that the city is willing to not just sit back and continue to be stabbed in the back."

In October, the Tampa Bay Times reported that over the previous three years, limited liability companies tied to Scientology bought about 100 properties around the center of downtown, the same depressed footprint where the city is trying to lure retail, restaurants and entertainment."

"Early one morning, the woman I'd been told to call "Mom" appeared in the dark to take my brother and me away. This is how I remember it:

It happens all at once, my brother and I sitting naked in the bath, playing with our toy boats, listening to the music and the sound of muffled voices from the next room. We are swaddled in red and green wool blankets and readied for sleep: story time, pajamas, the rubbing of tired eyes. Goodnight canyon. Goodnight mountain. Goodnight building. Goodnight stars. Crayons are put away, cubbies cleaned, teeth brushed. I drift to sleep and am rattled awake, surprised to see my mother's face with her shaved head, her hazel-green eyes, her round Dutch cheeks and crooked yellow coffee-stained teeth.

"Hi, Goo," she whispers. "Wake up. We have to leave. It's not safe here."

No one ever tells us we escaped from a cult. No one uses that word, except Grandma. Everyone else calls it Synanon or sometimes they say it was a "commune." And everyone says it was great—"before it went bad." That's how they put it, like milk that went sour.

Mom says Synanon was going to change the word. It would be the new way people lived, all together, being honest and free and not taking drugs. She says people needed a new way to live because the old way wasn't working anymore and she was proud to be part of it. It all sounds great when she tells it but did they have to make it so the kids were alone so much?

"Synanon was mild?" Grandma gets so mad when Mom says that. "They took your kids, Gerry, and put them in that, that place." She spits the word out like a piece of meat caught in her small teeth.

"Synanon had a good school." The School is where they put the kids when they took us from our parents. It's where we all lived from the time we were six months old. Since Chuck, the Old Man, said that Dope Fiends would just mess up their kids anyway, we were all put in a building together to become children of the universe.

The journey I took after my mother, brother and I fled the cult into which I'd been born was decades long. It was, at turns, terrible and wonderful and life-changing and tragic. We lived on the run. We experienced violence. We learned to hide. And in some ways it was as if the child invented the man I became in order to deal with these traumas. I invented a musician, a performer who presented a façade to the world. And eventually I realized that the search for love, for something called a "family" is the fiercest and most important journey of a lifetime, especially for those of us born so far from it.

My own son was born on a quiet February morning. He came into the world purple and screaming, his arms small, his fingers tiny, his face swollen. They wiped him down and warmed him up and handed him to my wife, where he nursed, rooted his head into her shoulder and fell asleep.

That night I cradled him in my arms thinking, "You've had the weirdest day, little man." The world seemed so impossibly dangerous, so many sharp corners and so many hard places, so many things I needed to protect him from. I put him down and lay awake listening to his breath, all the little gurgles and sneezes, the steady rhythm of his inhales and exhales. The sounds brought such a blinding joy to my chest. What was in those barren corners before you arrived? When we took him home, he filled the quiet hallways of our house with his cries. My eyes lingered on those fingers and counted his toes.

All those years before, all those times when I'd see a family at a park or a restaurant—their closeness, their physical proximity to each other, the comforting ease of it—I felt like a stranger looking in from a window. And I wondered if I would ever have these basic things that seem holy to me now as we lie on the bed and play music, he kicks his feet to "Burning Down the House" by Talking Heads, and we laugh, our arms hanging over the side to scratch the ears of the black Labrador we rescued and named Bowie. It feels magical to me, this gift I never thought I would have: a family. To simply be a husband to a wife, a father to a son."

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement. assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice. news, links, resources. 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.

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