It suddenly occurred to me that this organization which seemed benign and elevating, was actually, a threat to our very souls.This is very interesting. Pollen's statement about brainwashing allows for the idea that those who are brainwashing others may be brainwashed himself, and doesn't even realize that is what he is doing. Yet, this is the very thing that kiruv workers scream that they are not doing. So I ask, is it possible that outreach workers do the same thing without even realizing it? If a Chabad member can suggest that Call of the Shofar people are doing it, it becomes impossible to argue that any outreach professional isn't engaging in the same brainwashing.
Let me begin with the allegation that people who went to Shofar have been brainwashed. I dismissed this when I heard it. It seemed ridiculous to me. Then I thought to myself: If someone actually is brainwashed, how would he know? Wouldn't the brainwashing itself dictate to your brain that you're in line with reality? Wouldn't it convince you that what you believe now is even more real because you're "enlightened"? And wouldn't it dictate that anyone who says you're brainwashed just "doesn't understand?"
I came to the conclusion after some serious introspection that I actually was brainwashed, assuming the definition of brainwashing is being manipulated to believe something you otherwise would not have. It's possible for someone to brainwash another, while the brainwasher doesn't think that that's what he's doing. He may himself be brainwashed to believe that his work is holy. I believe that to be the case here.
"That's a monumental change to our entire life's purpose -- in three days, mind you. How could we have given license to a man we know nothing about, to redefine our life's purpose?"
But isn't this what Chabad and other Jewish outreach groups attempt to do when they take students on weekend or week-long "retreats" and/or trips to far-off locales in order to "redefine [their] life's purpose?"
And now let's address the "experience". The great "feeling of closeness to G-d and to each other." This was the one I always continued to believe in. But when I started thinking about this differently, I started to wonder.
What did we actually feel there? Was it holiness? Was it G-d? Was it the soul?
The above lines are very interesting. I've often wondered about those Israel experiences many of us have had. You know, those run by kiruv organizations that leave us with the same exact feeling of closeness to those around us and to what we are led to believe is "God." But let's face it. These experiences are contrived in order to convince us that we are feeling these things. Our feelings may be real, but are they based on reality? Or are they based on a mind-trip the leader of such an experience is taking us on?
Wait a second. "Suggestibility tactics?" Being told that you are feeling God? The idea that anything holding a person back from observance is a manifestation of "the Satan?" This all sounds vaguely familiar.
According to the video Captive Minds that Rabbi She Hecht mentioned, it would appear otherwise. The suggestibility tactics used at Shofar are used at all kinds of vicious cults to create a euphoric experience.
Afterwards, the cult leader tells them that what you felt was G-d. That's what you got here: G-d. Only here. People who tell you to leave here? That's Satan trying to keep you from G-d.
Upon further reading of the article, I saw that the leader of this Shofar program allegedly has Landmark Education credentials. I've known about Landmark for about twenty years, and I've known people who've gone through their programs and have appeared to become very changed after their experiences. I stand by those who deem Landmark a cult. But this post isn't about Landmark. To people involved in Landmark Education, it is not a cult. They may not see that there are cult tactics in use.
That's a monumental change to our entire life's purpose -- in three days, mind you. How could we have given license to a man we know nothing about, to redefine our life's purpose?And yet, doesn't this same thing happen in kiruv? How is this not the same? Mr. Pollen further states that:
We were sold a mind-game and told it's G-d, and now we believe this workshop is the best way to get close to Him (Sounds a bit like the definition of avoda zara, come to think of it).Again, I ask, isn't that what the different kiruv organizations do? They sell unsuspecting young people a bill of goods, in which they convince potential recruits that by doing what the kiruv professional (and his/her organization) says, they will be able to get close to God. What makes this any different from what Mr. Pollen has experienced? But then, Mr. Pollen says this, which convinces me that maybe he really doesn't see the parallels:
Every baal tshuva knows that happiness through freedom from rules leads only to misery. They found more happiness in living a Torah lifestyle made even more meaningful by its rules.
How could we have allowed someone we barely know to make us forget this fundamental truth of why we're here in this world?Could it be we were in too much a state of suggestibility to notice what was wrong here? Doesn't that sound like brainwashing at a very deep level of your belief system?In this case, I think that it's easy to see that Mr. Pollen is upset to see so many of his brethren manipulated, yet, as he stated much earlier on, very often those doing the brainwashing may not realize they are brainwashing others, nor realize that they may be brainwashed themselves. He complains of this "brainwashing at a very deep level of your belief system." Perhaps it's a bit like recruiting non-orthodox students and challenging their beliefs with well-rehearsed arguments meant to awe and convince, and meant to leave them without a proper way to argue back.
I don't expect that anyone in kiruv or in the orthodox world will agree with these comparisons. But they don't need to agree. But in this case, it sounds like many of us feel the same way: we don't want organizations attempting to use the very same techniques on our children or on us. We want the same respect that Mr. Pollen wants. We don't want to be unknowingly brainwashed by those who may not even know they're doing such things to us. Above all, the same legitimate feelings of having been spiritually violated that Mr. Pollen has experienced, are the same legitimate feelings that many of us who oppose deceptive kiruv have experienced.
Update: This post also appears as a link on The Cult News Network at http://www.cultnews.net/Scroll down to January 1, 2014 "Call of the Shofar, Brainwashing, and Kiruv."
All quoted material from:
Pollen, Shmuel. Confessions of a 'Shofar' Staffer. ColLive. December 31, 2013.