When Barry Hirsh arrived at the home of Jeanette Bierman, he expected it to be nothing more than a routine cleaning job that would help raise money for the cult that he belonged to, called Divine Light Mission, or DLM. Little did he know that Rabbi Shea Hecht and his team of volunteers would forcibly take him to a safe house on Long Island and attempt to deprogram him from the grip of the cult’s brainwashing.
Barry’s story is told in Rabbi Hecht’s gripping book, Confessions of a Jewish Cultbuster. When it was first published in 1985, the revolutionary book, filled with vivid descriptions of the dangers that cults presented and true stories of daring rescues and the difficult deprogramming of brainwashed cult members, was extremely popular. Confining and deprogramming cult members against their will is a risky and at times illegal business, even when parents provide consent. But Rabbi Hecht is adamant in his belief that it was his moral imperative, as a rabbi and as an agent of the parents, to save these individuals. He risked his career, his freedom, and at times even his life, because, as he put it, “we can theorize a case, but when it comes to your son or daughter, there is a different set of rules.”
The revised version of Confessions of a Jewish Cultbuster, released in April 2013, leads us deep into the world of cults and those who combat them.
Like other cults, DLM preyed on emotionally vulnerable young people by promising to liberate them from the stresses of modern life. But its members became enslaved—body, mind, and soul—to the cult’s true objective of enriching its leader.
Feelings of low self-worth made Barry vulnerable to being brainwashed by the cult; they provided him with a sense of belonging and self-confidence. He joined the group and moved into an ashram in Baltimore, where the cult operated a profitable housekeeping service. He joined the other DLM members in deifying its leader, Maharaj Ji. He spent almost six hours each day in meditation, yoga, and chanting, inhibiting his natural thought process and bringing him to a mindless state. Cult members were distanced from family and friends and disengaged from their emotions so that they would be completely obedient to the cult’s beliefs and rules.
On that fateful day, Jeanette, the homeowner Barry was working for at the time, asked Barry to bring a stack of newspapers out to the curb for collection. As he did so, a van pulled up, the doors opened, and Barry was yanked inside and taken to a Long Island safe house, where his parents had agreed that he could stay during his deprogramming.
Barry turned out to be one of Rabbi Hecht’s most difficult cases. His eyes were hollow and his expression blank; his mind was completely under the cult’s spell. His deprogramming took more than three weeks, during which he was visited by a variety of people, from chassidic Jews to former cult members, all of whom explained to Barry how the cult’s “faith” was false and manipulative.
Eventually, Barry was deprogrammed, and although he rejoined the cult for some time, he ultimately went on to lead a normal life and remained close to his parents. He was only one of the many people whom Rabbi Hecht and his team rescued from the grip of the cults. During the 1980s, cults were widespread and pervasive and posed a serious threat to vulnerable young Jews. Following his father’s example, Rabbi Hecht devoted his life to deprogramming young Jewish cult members.
Although cults are no longer a topic of conversation in the 21st century, they have by no means disappeared; they have simply become more sophisticated. Instead of recruiting members on street corners, they find them on the Internet. Messianic Judaism, Scientology, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a few of today’s cults that use modern technology to increase their membership and line their coffers by luring vulnerable people.
The revised and updated edition of Confessions of a Jewish Cultbuster preserves the original chilling tales along with a contemporary perspective and vital information about 21st-century cults, as well as tips on how to prevent our children from falling prey to their devious recruitment tactics.
This book, available for purchase at your local bookstore and on Amazon.com, is required reading for parents and educators. v