Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rabbinical Council of America no longer endorses reparative therapy

November 29, 2012

Dear Chaverim,
The following will be released to the press later today.

Rabbinical Council of America's Statement Regarding JONAH (Jews Offering New
Alternatives to Homosexuality)

In the years since the Rabbinical Council of America's first comment about JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), "the only Jewish based organization dedicated to assisting individuals with unwanted same sex attractions move from gay to straight" in January, 2004, in which we suggested that rabbis might refer congregants to them for reparative therapy, many concerns about JONAH and reparative therapy have been raised.

As rabbis trained in Jewish law and values, we base our religious positions regarding medical matters on the best research and advice of experts and scholars in those areas, along with concern for the religious, emotional, and physical welfare of those impacted by our decisions.  Our responsibility is to apply halakhic (Jewish legal) values to those opinions. 

Based on consultation with a wide range of mental health experts and therapists who informed us of the lack of scientifically rigorous studies that support the effectiveness of therapies to change sexual orientation, a review of literature written by experts and major medical and mental health organizations, and based upon reports of the negative and, at times, deleterious consequences to clients of some of the interventions endorsed by JONAH, the Rabbinical Council of America decided in 2011, as part of an overall statement on the Jewish attitude towards homosexuality, to withdraw its original letter referencing JONAH.  Despite numerous attempts by the RCA to have mention of that original letter removed from the JONAH website, our calls, letters, and emails remain unanswered.  As Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA, stated in 2011, "We want it taken down. JONAH said it was a letter of support, but if you read the letter it is not. They took an informational statement and reprinted it, and the use of that as an endorsement is an error."

We believe that properly trained mental health professionals who abide bythe values and ethics of their professions can and do make a difference in the lives of their patients and clients.  The RCA believes that responsible therapists, in partnership with amenable clients, should be able to work on
whatever issues those clients voluntarily bring to their session. Allegations made against JONAH lead us to question whether JONAH meets those standards.

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University and author of the 1974 Encyclopedia Judaica Year Book article, "Judaism and the Modern Attitude to Homosexuality," the first contemporary article to address the issue from the perspective of Jewish law and philosophy, had originally commended the work of JONAH.  In response to the negative reports about JONAH's activities and concerns expressed to him by respected mental health professionals, Dr. Lamm withdrew his endorsement of JONAH.

About the RCA:

The Rabbinical Council of America, with national headquarters in New York City, is a professional organization serving more than 1000 Orthodox Rabbis in the United States of America, Canada, Israel, and around the world. Membership is comprised of duly ordained Orthodox Rabbis who serve in positions of the congregational rabbinate, Jewish education, chaplaincies, and other allied fields of Jewish communal work.
For further information about this statement, you may contact:

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin

Rabbi Mark Dratch
Executive Vice President
The Rabbinical Council of America
305 Seventh Ave
New York, NY 10001

Reparative Therapy, "It wasn't kosher" on Joy Behar Say Anything!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Organization Promising Gay Cure Sued for Fraud

Today a ground breaking lawsuit was filed against Jews Offering Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH) offering reparative or ex-gay therapy, the 'cure' for homosexuality repudiated by the America Psychaitric, Psychological and Medical Associations, but nonetheless still recommended by many Orthodox rabbis. There has already been much press. Here is an article from ABC, and several others are compiled here. More to come.

Gay Men, Moms Sue NJ Jewish Gay Conversion Therapists

PHOTO: Chaim Levin,now 23, alleges he received "humiliating" gay conversion therapy and was "misled" into thinking he could become straight.

Nov. 27, 2012

Four gay men and two of their mothers filed a lawsuit today against a New Jersey conversion therapy group that claims to rid men of same-sex attractions and turn them straight.

The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court of New Jersey Hudson County, alleges that methods used by the Jersey City-based Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (JONAH) do not work and constitute fraud under the state's consumer protection laws.

Arthur Goldberg, JONAH's co-director, and Alan Downing, a "life coach" who provides therapy sessions, were also named in the suit.

The plaintiffs include Michael Ferguson, Benjamin Unger, Sheldon Bruck and Chaim Levin, all of whom used the services of JONAH when they were in their teens or young 20s.

Two of the men's mothers, Jo Bruck and Bella Levin, who paid for therapy sessions that could cost up to $10,000 a year, were also plaintiffs.

One of the plaintiffs alleges that therapy sessions that involved a virtual "strip tease" in front of an older male counselor, as well as reliving abuse and homophobia were "humiliating."

They are seeking declaratory, injunctive and an undisclosed amount of monetary relief, as well as court costs, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs have received legal help from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which claims in the lawsuit that conversion therapy is a dangerous practice that has been "discredited or highly criticized" by every major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional organization.

Three of the young plaintiffs are from an ultra orthodox Jewish background; Ferguson came from a Mormon background and met Downing at a "Journey Into Manhood" retreat, according to the lawsuit.

JONAH appears to cater to orthodox Jews, but its methods "do not have a strong religious aspect," according to SPLC lawyer Sam Wolfe.

The lawsuit alleges that some of the methods used included: telling boys to beat a pillow, the "effigy of the client's mother," with a tennis racket; encouraging "cuddling" between younger clients and older male counselors; and even instructing attendees to remove their clothing and hold their penis in front of Downing.

Attendees were also subjected to ridicule as "faggots" and "homos" in mock locker room and gym class role playing, according to the lawsuit.

"It's definitely cruel and unusual and doesn't work," said Wolfe. "They are peddling bogus techniques that have no foundation in science and are basically ridiculous and even harmful."

Wolfe paraphrased JONAH's message as: "All you have to do is put in the work to overcome your sexual attractions. If you follow our program your true orientation emerges and will turn you into a straight person."

"Often if what the conversion therapist tells them doesn't work, it's their fault," Wolfe added.

In 2008, when the plaintiffs were seeking help from JONAH, the cost of an individual therapy session was $100 and for a group session, $60. JONAH also "strongly pushed" attending weekend retreats that could cost as much as $700, said Wolfe.

Arthur Goldberg said he "knows nothing about the lawsuit," which was filed this morning, and referred to JONAH's website.

"We have a lot of people who were a success and were healed," he said of JONAH's 14 years in service. "Hundreds of the clients we serve are satisfied ... Our therapy is very conventional."

When asked about the group's practices, he said, "I can't tell you about the methodology." Goldberg admitted he had "no background specifically in counseling."

"I am the administrator," he said. "I used to teach family law."

When asked about instructing boys to take off their clothes, he said, "I know nothing about that."

Goldberg also said he had "no idea" how to reach Downing because he was an "independent contractor."

According to JONAH's mission statement on its website, the nonprofit group is "dedicated to educating the world-wide Jewish community about the social, cultural and emotional factors which lead to same-sex attractions."

"Through psychological and spiritual counseling, peer support, and self-empowerment, JONAH seeks to reunify families, to heal the wounds surrounding homosexuality, and to provide hope," the statement reads.

JONAH's Goldberg, who runs the business side of the nonprofit, says on the website that "change from homosexual to heterosexual is possible … homosexuality is a learned behavior which can be unlearned, and that healing is a lifelong process."

According to the lawsuit, JONAH cites the "scientific" work of Joseph Nicolosi, one of the primary proponents of conversion therapy and Richard A. Cohen, who was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association in 2002 for "multiple ethical violations."

Nicolosi's methodology is based on the belief that a weak father-son relationship and a dominating mother contribute to homosexuality. He advocates "rough and tumble games," as well as father-son showers, according to the lawsuit.

Cohen uses a technique called "bioenergetics" that includes having male patients beat a pillow, which represents their mother, as a way of stopping same-sex attraction, according to the lawsuit.

Conversion therapists also cite child abuse and bullying as a "primary cause" of homosexuality, according to the lawsuit.

The American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization, among other mental health groups, have cited the potential risks of reparation therapy, including "depression, anxiety [and] self-destructive behavior," according to the lawsuit.

Chaim Levin, the most vocal of the plaintiffs, is now 23 and a gay rights advocate who writes a blog, Gotta Give 'Em Hope.

He grew up in a Jewish ultra orthodox community in Brooklyn where religious leaders threw him out of the Hebrew-speaking yeshiva at the age of 17, when they learned he was gay.

Levin told that he had been abused as a boy and that he was "confused" by his sexuality and took a rabbi's advice and began 18 months of gay conversion therapy at JONAH.

[Levin filed a civil lawsuit against his cousin in July, alleging he was abused for three years from the time he was 6.]

When Levin met co-director Goldberg, he said the defendant told him JONAH could change his sexual orientation, "as long as I tried hard enough and put enough effort into it."

"He told me, 'You will marry a woman and have a straight life,'" said Levin.

"Given where I came from, with three older siblings who were married with kids and not knowing any gay people or English, I was sure I could change," he said. "That was the theology."

Levin first did a retreat with Downing, then saw him weekly at therapy sessions in Jersey City.

"A lot of the therapy involves reliving the experience," he said. Levin alleges he was forced to relive the sexual abuse by his cousin, "with no counseling afterwards."

But the most "humiliating" experience, the one that Levin alleges made him quit therapy, was being asked by Downing to take off his clothes, article by article and told to touch his "private parts" -- to hold his penis in front of a mirror to "be in touch with my masculinity."

"I told him I wasn't comfortable, but I desperately wanted to change and was ready to do anything," said Levin. Afterward, he said he felt "degraded and violated."

Today, Levin no longer identifies as orthodox, but said his parents have been "supportive" of the lawsuit.

Some Jewish denominations and many congregations are inclusive of homosexual congregants, and even New York's orthodox communities are more open-minded now, according to Levin.

"I had gone for help and they had misrepresented themselves," he said.

Monday, November 19, 2012

When I Lost Hope: Levin v. Eichler

Early this past July, I filed a lawsuit against Sholom Eichler, a first cousin who sexually abused me for four years starting when I was 6. From the day the abuse began until last year, I hadn’t felt confident, strong or ready to attempt to pursue justice and hold Eichler accountable for what he did to me. I was afraid. The people I counted on to protect and help me when I was young only fed that fear, allowing it to grow. I had confided in my school principal, Rabbi Lustig of Oholei Torah, when I was 14 and the years of secret pain were too much to bear alone. Rabbi Lustig advised my parents not to create “a family fight” by confronting Eichler or his parents and strongly urged them not to say anything. Consequently, Eichler remained a welcome presence in my parents’ home for the rest of my youth, and my family celebrated his wedding despite knowing that he brutally abused and molested me for four years of my childhood four years that I’ll never get back, four years that I live with everyday of my life.

It’s been difficult. And, forgiving my family and the caregivers who betrayed me is no easy thing. Yet, I am grateful to most of my immediate family members for their support that, although it came late, did still come.I have been lucky to have the unwavering support of my parents and siblings throughout the journey the past few years has taken me on. My parents stand proudly behind me and support me in the work that I do the cause I believe in and live for. They accept me completely as I am; my orientation is just another inherent aspect little different from the color of my eyes or my skin tone. Everyday, I hear from people whose families reject them, sometimes even disowning them, just because they’re gay. I had truly believed and feared that my family would never come around, but I was wrong. They have arrived, and I couldn’t be more proud to call them my family, my blood. They have been there for me as I have tried to pursue justice.

Before filing a lawsuit against Eichler, I attempted to envision the different scenarios that might result, but I was not prepared for what ensued. Many people sympathized with Eichler and recast the traumatic abuse as just “two kids fooling around,” others called the lawsuit a ploy for attention, and some even had the audacity simply to feed into the denial all too commonly surrounding abuse, dismissing what had happened to me with assertion that Eichler is “family man” incapable of the horrific crimes he committed against me, my body and my mind. It had taken years for me to regain some sort of wholeness with which I could try to move forward, and the negative reactions to the lawsuit challenged that.  

And, I lost hope. I had to take a step back. I had lost my way. I have spent the last few months trying to figure out my place, where I belong and what I want to do in the future. I have also done as much I can to begin to heal from the childhood trauma that I endured. I had lost the confidence that was so hard to build. I lost my drive. I was disappointed and angry with many people; it was truly horrifying for me to hear anyone try defending the likes of Eichler despite what was known. So many people were focused on “Jewish gay activist sues cousin for sexual abuse” that the story was lost. It was a headline that told them all that they thought they needed to know. It was a headline that allowed them to conclude that the abuse I experienced at the hands of Eichler must have been consensual despite his being six years older because I proudly identify as a gay man and had not told anyone while the abuse occurred. It was a headline that allowed people to continue to ignore abuse and to blame and dismiss survivors. The misguided conclusions people made about me and what had happened to me were far from reality; still, they were a source of pain.

While I don’t feel the need to defend my choice in taking actions against someone that hurt me, I do think it’s important to address some matters before other abuse survivors’ motives are questioned and they are harmed in the process. Eichler may have been a minor at the time of the abuse, but I was a child; I couldn’t consent, and I didn’t have a choice. Eichler exploited my vulnerability in feeling different and inferior, which made me a perfect target for a predator. He once told me that he had to be mean to me in public so that no one caught on to “our” secret. Eichler sexually, physically and mentally abused me. He devised elaborate strategies to isolate and intimidate me and to lure me away to commit unspeakable acts. Even after Eichler sodomized me with a pen when he became frustrated with my small, unaccommodating, fragile, eight year old anatomy, I was still too afraid to tell anyone. Like many other survivors, I was afraid and ashamed. That was why I kept it a secret for as long as I did, but when I was more able to understand what had happened I reached out for help.

My principal, family and community’s reaction are examples of what fed and continues to feed the pernicious silence that creates an environment conducive to abuse and that revictimizes survivors. I reached out again to my former principal upon retaining my lawyers, but he refused to cooperate, claiming that it was against Jewish law for him to get involved in any capacity. Rabbi Lustig knew what was at stake when he refused to cooperate less than a year ago, when abuse was no longer taboo and most rabbis called for everyone to help survivors achieve justice. Given Rabbi Lustig’s past and the history with running Oholei Torah for which he has not been held accountable, I cannot be too shocked by the way he continues to handle matters. My family, on the other hand, were there for me when I needed them this time, and it means so much to me. It’s been a long and painful road in finding some middle ground with my family. Instead of ignoring it and pretending like nothing happened as they had for too long, they were ready and willing to do whatever it took to bring justice and closure for me in any capacity necessary.

Justice and closure have been hard coming. Eichler and his family refuse to face the limelight. Neither he nor his family have publicly commented on the charges. There were those who thought he deserved his day in court; well, he got it, but he chose to not to use it. Eichler did not even file a response to the complaint against him, and a default judgment has been requested. And, it appears that his response to the default judgement against him will be immigrating to Israel.

I used to wish I could just escape from the past.Today, I think differently. Today, I want to move forward. I know that if I had missed the opportunity to pursue some justice as I decided after my 23rd birthday this past May, it would have been all the more difficult to move forward with my life, still burdened with a conflicted conscious and consuming secret. Now the secret is out, Eichler is exposed, and other children may be safer and other survivors find it easier to come forward. I am unapologetically proud of my choice to file a suit against Eichler for the damage he caused me. Now, I stand prouder and stronger, ready to move forward with my future while being mindful of the evils of the past. While they might be in my past, they continue to be a source of struggle for me and are a present reality for far too many people. The case was brought to court, but that does not mean it’s over; sadly, these battles are never over. Nonetheless, I am relieved to be in a better place in my life to do the things I hope and plan on doing; these include continuing to be an outspoken, unashamed survivor and an unapologetic critic of those who continue to feed toxic and dangerous environments in which abuse is covered up, and, most importantly, to put an end to the deafening silence that has handicapped so many of us.

Update on Tuvia Perlman

On Tuesday, I published a Facebook post about a man named Tuvia Perlman, who worked as a teacher and a choir director in Milwaukee after mo...