I was going to New York City to tape an interview for a one hour documentary on Heaven’s Gate and reached out to see if I could finally meet Todd Kadish, an attorney who is an ex-modern Orthodox Jew. Todd and I had had several very interesting phone calls and I really wanted to meet him in person. He and Isaac Carmignani, an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, helped start what they termed an ex-fundamentalist support group a number of years ago. I had the good fortune of meeting Isaac previously and he kindly offered to assist me with a case in the New York area involving a Korean Apocalyptic Bible cult. Both are super smart activist ex-members.
This article gives a good summary of this ex-fundamentalist support group.
In the past year, I have been researching Jewish organizations which are Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox with a special interest in groups with “outreach specialists” who are trained on techniques of how to recruit American Jews here in the United States and during trips to Israel. I admit, despite getting some initials calls from concerned families, I had not been asked to roll up my sleeves to really investigate until this year. Of course, I was familiar with the well-known non-profit Footsteps which supports anyone wishing to exit the Orthodox world and learn how to cope in society. I had been introduced months earlier to Todd by ex-Jehovah’s Witness, Dick Kelly, one of the main forces behind the new nonprofit, The Open Minds Foundation.
For anyone familiar with my story, they know I belong with my family to a Temple for some 19 years and identify solidly as a Jew, but I am also aware there are patterns along the Influence Continuum in which any group can be evaluated. That being the case, I was fascinated to meet Todd and several others. So when I knew I would have an evening free, I reached out and he contacted some others to see if they would like to meet for dinner and chat. At dinner, Todd introduced me to a man who was raised in Chabad and was now quite cynical and upset at how he was raised. He is very critical of all religion, including my Renewal Judaism, and repeatedly teased me at dinner that he thought I still stuck in the cult of Judaism. Naturally, I explained my model and encouraged him to visit my website and read my books. I also met an ex-Mormon man, an ex-Muslim woman, another ex-Jehovah’s Witness, and at the last moment, I invited Sarma Melngailis to join us.
Sarma has been a celebrity Raw Foods/Vegan expert and founder of Pure Food and Wine– one of the top vegan restaurants in New York City. She herself had had a terribly traumatic experience of control. About the meeting afterward, she told me it was so great to meet others who had also experienced undue influence. I heard from Isaac, Todd, and the others that they found it so interesting to meet Sarma and understand someone who was victimized by a person. I first received an email from Sarma in March, Sarma (used with permission):
I’m not sure what I’m asking for but I know what I’ve been through in the past few years is similar to having been in a cult, but more of a cult of one. And I think for that reason it’s even harder for many people to see how I could have been influenced to believe things that seem “crazy” to most.
If you Google my name you’ll see I’m being charged with crimes. Meanwhile, my educational and career background are reasons often cited that I “should have known better.”
I have significant amounts of evidence (thankfully) that validates what I went through but as I’m now learning, it’s not necessarily going to help me. There was an article written in Vanity Fair which covers some of what happened to me (albeit in a rather sensationalistic way).
For the past 15 years, until a year ago, my life has revolved around working to shift the public towards a plant-based diet, for people’s health and well-being, preservation of the environment, and animal rights. A person came into my life encouraging all of those things, and over time his reason for coming into my life veered off into a narrative involving my being a chosen one of sorts, and special, different from regular people, and indeed meant to change/save the world. I feel I can write this to you with less embarrassment/shame than usual. Most people get a funny look on their faces when I try to explain this, or how, as the Vanity Fair article points out, I could have believed that my dog was immortal. I went to an Ivy League school after all and ran a successful business, they will point out.
If nothing else, I’m pining to speak to someone who could say, “I understand.”
Finally… if I can make it through this ordeal, I badly want to help educate the public about these kinds of things, however, I can. As it was put on Leah Remini’s show, to “dry up the pool of recruits.” Or, in the case of one-on-one abuse, to disempower these predators by alerting the public that these things can happen, and what signs to look for.
Since this all happened to me I also learned that something called “Intimate Partner Coercive Control” was criminalized in the last year or so in the U.K. yet, unfortunately, it is not officially a crime here. When I researched coercive control it all resonated so much, except that there was another layer in my case. The layer which fit onto it was this cult sort of influence. The techniques used by cults to draw people in and keep them all felt so familiar to me.”
Unfortunately, despite many people, including investors giving statements of support for Sarma to the Court that they knew it was Anthony and not her who was the power behind the criminal behavior, she was still sentenced to 4 months in jail starting next week June 21st. Sarma has told me that after she serves her time, she wishes to help others. She has been so heartened to hear from so many other women about their abusive, controlling experiences.
After meeting all of these wonderful people, I was reminded how much a support system of understanding individuals can make a difference for someone leaving a cult or other high-control situation. Talking to others, even if they come from a different background than you, can do a lot to help unearth your authentic self. Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses find it interesting to learn how Ex-Mormons were also coerced into proselytizing. Ex-Scientologists usually discover that the loaded language terms they were forced to learn have a lot in common with those learned by someone who was once involved in Transcendental Meditation (TM). It’s often easier to process your own experience when you look at what someone else has gone through in another cult. By having discussions like these, not only will you begin to understand that you are not alone in having been unduly influenced, but you can develop a support system to help you in your recovery.