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Cult Experts Weigh In on COTS Damage Control

Yesterday the administration of Oholei Torah called upon every single member of the school’s faculty to attend a mandatory meeting and seminar, delivered by ‘mind control and cult specialist’ Rabbi Raphael Aron of Melbourne, Australia. Meanwhile, Rabbi Shea Hecht released a letter titled ‘I Attended… Now What?‘ on the ins and outs of cult deprogramming.

A teacher who was present at the meeting described the proceedings:

Rabbi Aron warned the educators present about the ‘Call of the Shofar’ program and the effects it could have on those who participate.

Rabbi Aron said that he believes that people who have participated in COTS should undertake counselling, and if not they don’t belong in the field of Chinuch. “The parents of all Oholei Torah students have a right to be nervous until this issue is resolved,” he said.

Rabbi Aron emphasized that COTS is based on non-Jewish cults such as Landmark and others.

“The biggest problem with COTS is that they try to correct a problem within a short weekend, which is impossible. They also convince people that they have emotional issues, and this throws them off their life routines, causing serious Sholom Bayis issues and a cooling off in Yidishkeit,” he said.

He continued: “They create a synthetic ‘high’ atmosphere, leaving participants needing more and more treatments. The whole concept of COTS is to be on a ‘High.’ It’s totally against the concept of Chasidus. The focus is on oneself. That Yidishkeit is made to feel good.”

It was suggested at the meeting that a similar seminar be set up for the parents of Oholei Torah students, so that they can be made aware of the dangers their sons are facing.

Rabbi Shea Hecht: I Attended… Now What?

Last night Rabbi Shea Hecht, noted activist, author and ‘cultbuster,’ released a letter laying out how those who attended the Call of the Shofar can ‘deprogram’ themselves from its influence:

Since the publicizing of my letter over two weeks ago, hundreds of people have contacted me regarding the Call of the Shofar. Many express appreciation, applauding my courage in taking a stand, while many others strongly criticize me for the very same. Numerous friends and neighbors in the community came forward and confided some of their personal journeys with COTS. You entrusted me with your private moments, your triumphs and your frustrations. Many of you have asked, “True, you were a deprogrammer for many years, but without ever personally attending COTS, how is your opinion so unshakable?”

First of all, around a year ago, when I first heard about COTS, I, as a counselor, was interested in the self-help methods that were used. With an open mind and an eager attitude, I attended one of their meetings, which was led by the director of the group. As I sat in the room at this Call of the Shofar meeting, I realized that eleven of the fourteen men in attendance had previously attended COTS. No one at the meeting spoke about any methodology used or about any specifics at all. The only topic discussed was the amazing benefit I would reap if I would attend a COTS weekend

I want to remind you that for a decade of my life, I lived and breathed cults and spent weeks at a time with cult members.  As I sat at this meeting, I began to feel an old yet very familiar gut feeling, similar to what I would feel when infiltrating cults many years ago. At that point, I began to question and challenge the director about the origins of his methods, and he told me that he bases his ideas on eastern religions and other self-help groups like the Mankind Project.

Since that time, I have heard and read a lot more about the Call of the Shofar, both from attendees and from friends who are professionals in the fields of hypnotherapy, NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) deprogramming and mind control in general. One colleague in particular spent many hours researching COTS online, and also read all of the recent back and forth on CrownHeights.info. He came back to me with the strongest of condemnations and insists that COTS is not simply “avazrayu d’avoda zara” as I ascertained in my letter. Based on what the director himself has stated about his own background and the roots of his methods, some of the fundamental COTS techniques are based on Buddhist practices.  This therapist insists, along with others, that we are not dealing with “avazrayu d’avoda zara”, but that some of the origins of COTS are avoda zara mamash. Therefore, it is completely irrelevant whether I or others have personally attended a COTS retreat or not. When the source of a program has roots in avoda zara, the inherent problems are self-understood.

The question many of you have asked now is, if instead of achieving the self-improvement I sought, I was instead duped and brainwashed, how do I get this out of my system? If I did something wrong, how can I rectify this? Once again, for those who want to understand the concepts of programming and brainwashing, they should watch the film Captive Minds or study other sources to research the topic.

In answer to these questions, the good news is that it is much easier to become deprogrammed voluntarily. Much stronger methods that you may be familiar with from reading about cult deprogrammings are only necessary when the deprogrammings are involuntary.

Here are some suggestions that have been successfully used for voluntary deprogramming.  The following types of exercises are suggested based on a person’s personality type in order to be most effective.

- If you are a person motivated by intellect, for the next 40 days, take a few minutes of study each day to concentrate on the ruchniusdike concept of free choice and the importance of a true teacher and a leader. My father once received a hora’ah from the Rebbe that 40 days is a form of permanence.

- If you are a person motivated by kabolas ol, take 5 minutes a day for the next 40 days repeating kapitel vav in Tehillim, thinking about how you desire to serve Hashem through a true and proper path. If it is helpful, carefully read the English translation as well.

- If you are a person motivated by emotion, spend 5 minutes a day singing a niggun of the Alter Rebbe or our Rebbe, for example, and have in mind that if you had any thoughts against Torah, Mitzvos and darkei Chasidus while participating in COTS, they should be purged from your subconscious.

- If you are a person motivated by nature, go to a beautiful quiet place, such as a park or lake for around an hour approximately 5 times in the next 40 days and again, think about ridding your mind of any thoughts which are against Torah, Mitzvos and darkei Chassidus.

While these suggestions may sound mild and even useless, what must be realized is that the conscious mind is stronger than the subconscious mind. The conscious mind can purge things that have affected you, even if they entered your mind subconsciously. Commanding the subconscious mind what you want to accomplish can effectively do the job.

Most importantly, how do you know that you’ve accomplished your goal and that you are free of any effects of brainwashing?

When you have feelings of resentment toward the cult, you know that you’ve reached the finish line. When some of the admiration, fantasy and love for COTS has turned into resentment and possibly even outrage for the time taken from your family, for the money spent, for the exercises that you were somehow made willing to do, you know you have been deprogrammed. This may take more than more or less than 40 days- each person is different.

Another important point to bear in mind is that anger toward the person who encouraged you to attend COTS is likely misplaced, since that person was almost certainly brainwashed himself.

Most importantly, the cult convinced you to go out and influence someone else to join. If you did this, I urge you to go back to that person and apologize, using whatever influence you have to inform him that there are pagan practices used by this group.

This Sunday evening, iy”H, I hope to address the community in order to more thoroughly explain some of these points, including the often underestimated power and misunderstood issues of brainwashing, programming and deprogramming.

As we prepare ourselves for the day of Yud Shvat, the day of the coronation of our Rebbe, may we strengthen our hiskashrus to the Rebbe, the Nasi of our generation.

Attempt at Legitimacy

In an attempt to legitimize their organization in the eyes of the community, and possibly gain a few more followers, the leadership of Call of the Shofar released an official statement responding to the controversy surrounding their movement, in which they claim that they are operating “with the continued guidance and support of prominent Rabbonim..”

We have decided not to publish the full statement, because we don’t want CrownHeights.info to be a platform for the recruitment of more unassuming souls to their questionable program.

However, we did reach out and ask them to specify which “prominent Rabbonim” had endorsed their organization. The response was: Rabbi Michel Twerski of Milwaukee, WI.

An attempt to reach Rabbi Twerski was not successful, but Rabbi Shea Hecht told CrownHeights.info that he had personally spoken to Rabbi Twerski, who said that while he did vouch for the director of COTS as a “trustworthy fellow,” he did not endorse the COTS program itself per se.

This article has been updated: A quote that had been erroneously attributed to Rabbi Raphael Aron has been removed.

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