Sderot locals offered workshops based on Hubbard

The Jerusalem Post/January 31, 2008

In a move seen by some as an attempt to take advantage of Sderot's shell-shocked residents, a nonprofit group is offering them free workshops based on the teachings of the late L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology.

A group calling itself the Association for Prosperity and Security in the Middle East, which denies any connection with the Church of Scientology, has sent e-mails to social workers in Sderot offering to help the residents cope with the Kassam rocket attacks.

It is entitled, "Sick of being bombed?" and asks: "Are you afraid to leave the house in the morning? Don't know if the children will return home safely? Business in danger? Life become a struggle in the shadow of fear? Come make sure right now that the psychological damage will be as limited as possible!" The free workshops are offered to schools and places of work.

Dalia Yosef, head of the Hosen Center - an umbrella organization for all the psychological counseling and professional support provided to Sderot's residents - said several social workers had voiced concern after receiving e-mails soliciting interest in a workshop provided by the organization.

"We intend to investigate this association, as we do every group that offers social and psychological services in Sderot," said Yosef, whose organization receives funding and professional support from the Education, Health, Pensioners' Affairs and Welfare and Social Services ministries. The Hosen Center also receives backing from the Friendship Foundation, an organization headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and supported by evangelical Christians.

In an e-mail responding to questions by The Jerusalem Post, the Association for Prosperity said the workshops were based on the teachings of "The Way to Happiness," a pamphlet written by Hubbard - one of 645 works he authored on various subjects, according to the group.

"In these difficult times, we are providing workshops for Sderot residents, like workshops that we provided to the residents of the North during the Second Lebanon War," the association said, adding that 200,000 Israelis had taken part in 5,000 of its workshops over the years.

"The workshops are made up of several stages, including lectures, role-playing and group discussions during which residents receive tips on how to cope with mental tension, pressure and anxiety. The workshops also help in specific cases of distress experienced by the residents.

"We are unaware of any Scientology activity whatsoever being offered to Sderot residents. In general, regarding your question on Scientology activity in Sderot or elsewhere, you should contact the official representatives of the religion and receive their response," the association said.

Mordi Bucai, who answered the Center for Scientology's toll-free line, told the Post that there was no Scientology activity in Sderot. He said that the teachings found in "The Way to Happiness" were "totally different" from Scientology.

Bucai acknowledged that most of the people in the Association for Prosperity, including its director-general, were Scientologists. But he added that some were not, and one did not have to be a Scientologist to work for the association.

The Association for Prosperity said, "Claiming our organization is connected with Scientology just because our director-general studied Scientology is like saying that other nonprofits are hi-tech because volunteers work in hi-tech."

Bucai, who heads a Scientology Center on Sderot Rothschild in Tel Aviv, said "The Way to Happiness" was a moral code based on 21 principles relevant for all religions, "based on logic."

Those principles include the importance of good hygiene, fidelity to one's spouse, honesty, industriousness, keeping promises and respecting religious faith.

"Scientology is much more than a moral code," said Bucai. "It is a religion that teaches people to overcome personal obstacles, tells them what their purpose in life is and what they are supposed to do here."

Ayelet Kedem, director-general of the Israeli Center for Cult Victims, said the Association for Prosperity was a front for Scientology activities.

"Hiding behind a front organization is a common tactic," said Kedem, a former investigative reporter. "The idea is to create a positive image by obscuring the connection with Scientology.

"Later, people who undergo free workshops are convinced that they must correct flaws in their personality by taking Scientology courses. Those who are hooked end up giving all their possessions to the Church of Scientology," Kedem said.

Kedem added that Scientologists often tried to take advantage of the weakened psychological state of victims of natural disaster, or in this case, Sderot's victims of terrorism.

Kedem's organization monitors the activities of 48 cults active in Israel. Her claims were backed up by Yad Le-Achim, a haredi organization that battles missionaries.

Bucai said in response that none of the people who get involved in Scientology do so against their will. "The opposite is true," said Bucai, who has been studying Scientology since 1980. "Scientology increases your awareness, makes you more conscious of what you are doing. Besides, Israelis are no fools. It is impossible to coerce someone. The sums of money people pay should be measured against the tremendous returns they receive."

"I've heard of Ayelet Kedem," added Bucai. "She makes a lot of noise. But she should be asked when was the last time she helped someone? When was the last time she improved someone's IQ, awareness, and reaction time like we do? To be against Scientology is like saying that you are in favor of car accidents, because if we fail to help people improve their reaction time there will be more people killed on the road."

A leading rabbi from the Sderot Hesder Yeshiva said he and his students would go from door to door if necessary to prevent Scientologists or those disseminating Hubbard's teachings from making inroads among Sderot residents.

"We have no need for any '-ologies' here in Sderot," said the rabbi. "Attempts to take advantage of peoples' weaknesses in times of distress are worthy of condemnation."

The Association for Prosperity said in response: "It is sad that as the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish state approaches, there are still vile individuals trying to vilify other Jews for their convictions, faith, education, skin color [and] gender, in ways that remind us all of what happened during the Holocaust and that almost resulted in the loss of the entire Jewish people.

"We denounce such behavior, as we do those brainless individuals who choose to find fault with volunteers giving of their time, money and energy for the residents of Sderot, instead of reaching out to innocent Jews under a constant barrage of rockets."

Scientology has been controversial since it was founded 50 years ago by Hubbard, an author of pulp science fiction.

Perhaps the most damning report on Scientology was published in 1991 by Time magazine. In the wake of that report, entitled "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power," by Richard Behar, the Church of Scientology lost a $416 million libel suit against Time. Behar received three journalism awards for his investigative report.

Hubbard wrote one of Scientology's sacred texts, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, in 1950. In it, he introduced a psychotherapeutic technique he called "auditing." He also created a simplified lie detector (called an E-meter) that was designed to measure electrical changes in the skin while subjects discussed intimate ådetails of their past.

Hubbard said unhappiness sprang from mental aberrations (or "engrams") caused by early traumas. Counseling sessions with the E-meter, he claimed, could knock out the engrams, cure blindness and even improve a person's intelligence and appearance.

In the 1960s, Hubbard claimed that humans were made of clusters of spirits ("thetans") who were banished to earth some 75 million years ago by a cruel galactic ruler named Xenu. Those thetans had to be audited.

In the US, Scientology has assembled a star-studded roster of followers. Past and present adherents have included screen idols Tom Cruise and John Travolta, actress Kirstie Alley, jazzman Chick Corea, gymnast Charles Lakes and Nancy Cartwright, the voice of cartoon star Bart Simpson.

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