A group of gay men and their moms are suing a Jewish therapy center in New Jersey that claims to turn homosexuals straight.
The lawsuit charges that the center, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), is guilty of consumer fraud for failing to quell the homosexual urges of its clients, as it had promised.
Arthur Goldberg, JONAH’s co-director, and Alan Downing, a ‘life coach’ who counsels therapy sessions, were also named in the suit. Goldberg did not return MailOnline’s phone calls on Tuesday and the center provided no contact information for Downing.
The therapy sessions, which cost up to $100 weekly, sometimes involved clients and counselors undressing in front of each other, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs allege that some of the center’s ‘healing’ methods included encouraging ‘cuddling’ between younger clients and older male counselors and instructing attendees to get naked and hold their penises in front of Downing. Attendees were also asked to role-play as students in a locker room as others ridiculed them as ‘faggots’ and ‘homos,’ according to the lawsuit.
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.
Bruck’s and Levin’s mothers, Jo and Bella, are also named as plaintiffs. They said they gave up to $10,000 to the center annually for counseling sessions that didn’t work.
‘Sadly, there is no accountability for those who practice conversion therapy,’ said Ferguson. ‘They play blindly with deep emotions and create an immense amount of self-doubt for the client. They seize on your personal vulnerability, and tell you that being gay is synonymous with being less of a man.’
Ferguson said the counselors misrepresented themselves by claiming to hold the ‘key’ to patients’ new sexual orientation.
Unger said the counselors had convinced him and many other attendees that his mother was responsible for his homosexual tendencies.
‘These counselors are skilled at manipulating you into believing just about anything,’ he said. ‘During my time with JONAH, they told me constantly that my mom had made me gay. I was so convinced that I refused to have any contact with her for several months, which caused a great deal of damage to our relationship.’
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, claims that its clients were ‘lured into JONAH’s services through deceptive practices.’
‘Despite the consensus of mainstream professional organizations that conversion therapy doesn’t work, this racket continues to scam vulnerable gay men and lesbians out of thousands of dollars and inflicts significant harm on them,’ said Christine P. Sun, deputy legal director for the SPLC.
The plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as an undisclosed amount of money and court costs, according to the lawsuit.
JONAH, based in Jersey City, claims on its website that through ‘gender affirming processes’ and ‘reparative therapy,’ that homosexual individuals can be turned straight.
‘[We] need to understand that change from homosexual to heterosexual is possible, that homosexuality is a learned behavior which can be unlearned, and that healing is a lifelong process,’ writes Goldberg, the center’s co-director.
The website advertises a book by Goldberg, ‘Light in the Closet,’ saying it ‘explodes the “gay gene” mystique, offering hope, compassion, direction and vitally needed information to gay strugglers, their families, friends, and surrounding community.’
Levin, 23, is now a gay rights advocate and blogger. He said he was been sexually abused as a boy and that he felt confused about his sexuality, so he took a rabbi’s advice and began conversion therapy at JONAH.
He quit the therapy after 18 months, saying it made him feel ‘degraded and violated,’ he said.
Goldberg told ABC News that he knew nothing about the lawsuit and insisted that the center had been successful in converting hundreds of homosexuals to a ‘straight’ lifestyle.
‘We have a lot of people who were a success and were healed,’ he said. ‘Hundreds of the clients we serve are satisfied … Our therapy is very conventional.’