Hawking God: A Young Woman's Ordeal in Jews for Jesus

Excerpt from a book published by Sapphire Press
By Ellen Kamentsky

Now I have to rebuild myself and become the woman that God wants me to be.

Yossi assured me that God would use Jews for Jesus to transform me. A good missionary, he explained, must be talk orientated, teachable and team oriented. There was no room for self-serving behavior.

The nightmare continued with lesson #1, "How to Get along with Heidi." Heidi read her notes; I copied the following lecture:

  1. If something goes wrong, tell Heidi. Do not let Heidi hear it from someone else.
  2. It's okay to make mistakes. That's how we learn. Do things Heidi's way. Admit it, don't make excuses or try to justify yourself.
  3. It's my responsibility to ASK.
  4. Ask Heidi not someone else.
  5. Erase what you have learned in other branches.
  6. Keep perspective on what is real. Tell Heidi the problems you need to deal with.

I listened, accepted, recorded and memorized her words - I underwent mind control. Old thoughts were systematically replaced my new thoughts, old friends by new friends and my old environment by a new one.

My behavior, thoughts, emotions, and access to information were all controlled by Jews for Jesus.

There were no torture chambers, no food deprivation, no thumb screws or flagellation. I was free to walk about the cordial office filled with sunshine and snacks. The executors of reform were my friends. I trusted them and responded favorably to treatment by passing exams, assimilating material, following directions, and ceasing to think for myself. In the rotting gray matter, dogma spread like bacteria.

All abuse appeared to come from outsiders. Inside the group I felt safe. Beyond the confines of the Jews for Jesus, nonbelievers were waiting to crush me (especially my family who, I believed, was controlled by Satan).

Persecution united us. The Worker's Covenant, a document outlining our conduct. By signing the covenant, I agreed to follow the rules which bound and affected nearly every facet of my life.

"I feel the liberty of the Holy Spirit to enter into this colaborating [sic] relationship with Jews for Jesus, understanding that our purpose is to serve God through the preaching of the Gospel," the document read. "I do so in obedience to the Lord, recognizing that part of my responsibility to God is to do the work of Jews for Jesus."

The precept made separating my relationship with God from my commitment to Jews for Jesus difficult. In my mind, leaving Jews for Jesus was tantamount to leaving God. In addition, the document reinforced the need to obey.

"I agree to accept, in humility, those duties that are assigned by the duly appointed leaders of Jews for Jesus. I agree to accept whatsoever assignment is made for each term of service with the understanding that reassignments and adjustments in assignment may be made at the discretion of the executive director of Jews for Jesus," the covenant read.

Like parents wishing to raise a child with consistency, Jews for Jesus had me respond to one authority figure, Heidi. I received Heidi'' discipline, humbly accepting that correction would further my ministry.

I was particularly vulnerable to mind control because I desperately wanted to please my supervisors. When I asked Heidi how I was doing, she accused me of fishing for compliments and told me to seek affirmation from God. "You don't deserve praise for just doing your job," she said, reminding me how privileged I was to work for Jews for Jesus. At other times she lavished me with praise and told me how much she loved me.

I told Heidi everything, and she told me what to do. She know my physical and mental whereabouts, my thoughts, my dreams, myfears. She discovered my weaknesses. She controlled and molded me. She made my life miserable. She was my friend. I feared and loved her.

I was told not to discuss "the work" with anyone else and was assured that friends and co-workers would report me if I disobeyed. "Everyone goes through training," Heidi explained. "The rules are necessary."

Heidi kept me too busy to think. I ran after her like a puppy amazed that someone so short walked so quickly. I followed her on stories, visits and church meetings. I became a ventriloquist's dummy, repeating the words she fed me and soon mimicked her behavior without strings.

At least in New York and Boston I could talk to others and had some time to myself. Now conversation stopped at Heidi. I had little freedom. Deprived of external information and inner reflection, my mind atrophied.

According to Robert J. Lifton, an expert on mind control and the author of Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism:

The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. Through this milieu control [control of a person's surroundings by group practices, isolation from people outside the group, geographical distancing, physical or psychological pressure] the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual's communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads, writes, experiences, and expresses), but also - in its penetration of his inner life - over what we may speak of as his communication with himself. It creates an atmosphere uncomfortably reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984.

I stopped thinking my own thoughts and lost the ability to make decisions. The group stepped in and made decisions for me. Aside from minor tasks, such as grocery shopping and picking up dry cleaning, Jews for Jesus dictated most of my behavior. They told me how to handle my parents, what to say to contacts, and how to act in church. The little autonomy left reassured my that I was in control of my life.

"We are not a cult, we are not a cult," the other singles and I would joke. After all, we lived alone, were paid, owned cars, dressed nicely, and subsisted on more than brown rice. During campaign training we were even taught how to recognize and deal with cults. I felt sorry for the Moonies and Kirshnas I saw on the streets of L.A. We all claimed to know the truth. The truth was we were all under mind control.

Although I didn't live in a communal environment, like most of the Moonies and Krishnas, most of my time was regulated. Heidi chose rest period. I usually napped or ministered to dirty dishes and laundry. I desperately needed to take care of personal matters, but I felt guilty about attending to my affairs. Whether I was trying to relax, pay bills or buy food, I felt I should have beendoing evangelism. I wrote in my diary early in April.

Today I wasn't a missionary. I woke up, figured out my taxes, read the paper, watched T.V., went shopping. My day of rest counted for nothing. It made me see how easily one can get pulled away from what's real, what's eternal. O Lord, don't ever let the distractions and pleasures of the world overwhelm me.

If guilt wasn't a strong enough governess, Jews for Jesus provided me with standards to regulate my life. The Worker's Covenant dictated codes for appearance, finances, dating, marriage and family life.

I agreed to "avoid questionable forms of amusement" and "notify my supervisor, in writing, of debts incurred in amounts greater than two months' living allowances."

I didn't need relationship guidelines because I almost never dated. I equated dating with the death of my ministry because marriage and ministry were compatible only with a man connected to Jews for Jesus. Fortunately suitors were sparse, so I stayed single. If I had married, leaving the group might have been impossible.

Of course if I wanted to date, the Worker's Covenant provided me with guidelines. I did not need permission to date, but the guidelines read, "dating and courting couples should not entertain one another alone or in their respective places of residence." I was advised to seriously consider the possible consequences of dating a nonstaff person and forbidden to date a nonbeliever.

"Since it is the nature of the ministry to pervade one's whole life, the wise worker will seek a mate who, by temperament, and spirituality, is suited to a ministry commitment," the covenant read. "It should not be presumed that courtship and marriage are only personal affairs`Those planning to stay with the ministry must seek counsel and secure consent of their courtship from those in authority."

While most women my age dated, I resigned myself to a life of loneliness and celibacy. In three years, I went on two or three dates - not at all normal behavior for a woman in her mid-twenties. I believed suffering and singleness were the cost of serving God.

"It is a privilege to serve God," I wrote in my journal. "He can use anyone or anything He wants. I relish tomorrow knowing that God may give me an opportunity to change eternity."

Eternity stayed the same - I became depressed. Fatigue, lack of sleep and poor eating habits exacerbated my condition. I blamed the Devil. "The enemy is trying to get to me," I wrote. "I was feeling good about my job, and a few hours later I was feeling lousy. Satan is trying to get his foot in the door so I get discouraged. I won't let him do it. I'll seek God all the harder. I will not be defeated."

My mood swings resembled a cardiogram. One minute I was swinging from Heaven closer to God than Gabriel. The next minute I could be praying for Jesus to return so that I wouldn't have to go on. The changes in temperament were scary and nothing, not even prayer, helped.

"It's hard to know what's real and what's not real," I wrote. "My mood fluctuates so much it's a wonder I haven't driven myself bonkers."

Published by: Sapphire Press

Printed in the United States of America.

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