The topic of last week's Livingston's World on Jnet radio caused a lot of consternation. Many believe that Scientology is sinister, and that it is filled with (as one listener put it) 'nutters' and should be avoided at all costs. So why do so many, including Jews, join their ranks?
Sharon Cohen is a nice Jewish girl from Manchester. She came from a traditional Jewish home where shabbos was celebrated with candle lights and kiddush on a Friday. But she was shy and this was exacerbated by a stutter. She found it hard to communicate with her peers, and had no-one to turn to for guidance.
At the tender age of 17 she stumbled upon the Scientology Centre. Their communication course caught her eye. Could this be the answer she wondered. She went in and was enveloped with acceptance. She did her course and a few more courses and thirty years later her stutter is gone, no sign of shyness and is happily married to Scottish Scientologist Graeme Wilson. Together the couple spend every day of their life working at and practising Scientology.
Sharon came into Jnet Radio studio with her husband Graeme this week to talk about her life, her choices and reconciling her Jewish Culture with Scientology. After all she still uses words like schlep and takes hubby home for Friday night dinner with her family.
'Did you convert to Scientology' I ask. 'No' says Sharon 'there is no conversion process'. You do the courses and learn tools that to be the best you can be. Its non-denominational. Anyone can be a Scientologist.'
Scientology is just a series of courses I venture. Graeme insists it's a religion. They have a church and they pray in it. But who do they pray too? 'Whatever works for you' he said and then goes on to quote Rabbi Hillel 'Judaism is about loving your neighbour as you would yourself... the rest is narrative' Scientology is based on Love Thy Neighbour'.
The bad press they get is unrelenting. But Graeme is unphased. 'The bad press is based on misconceptions. It won't stop us doing our charitable work around the world. We run drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, run aid and education programs in the slums of India and we provide humanitarian aid in disaster zones. It is for anyone and everyone and these programs are funded by Scientology.'
That's very nice, but what about ordinary people. Don't they get fleeced? 'On an individual level some courses are free but most are paid for.'
Fair enough, after all Jewish education in cheder and schools has to be paid for and should you continue to learn you would have to pay for that too. What other ways do they get funding?
'We have many donors who wish to contribute to our various programs and much funding comes by this way.'
But if you become a Scientologist don't you have to give the organisation lots of money? 'It is not compulsory' says Graeme 'but obviously donations are welcome'.
What about allegations that their founder L Ron Hubbard put forward the belief that humanity came from aliens. 'L Ron Hubbard used to write science fiction in his early years. He was a successful writer and he used the proceeds to do research and studies for Scientology. In all my years as a Scientologist no-one has ever told me that alien story. Perhaps this misconception was taken from one of his science fiction books?'
Is L Ron Hubbard regarded in the same way as Jesus or Mohammed. 'No, L Ron Hubbard was an ordinary man with a vision, that's all'.
Are there many Jewish Scientologists 'Yes, many' says Sharon. 'There is also a thriving centre in Tel Aviv'.
How did Sharon's parents feel about this 'I was at the scientology centre one day and a rabbi came by to have a chat with me. That was my mum's doing. The thing is I was so happy that there was no point in her trying to stop me. They accept that this is my path and Graeme and I enjoy shabbos meals with them'.
Livingston's World airs every Thursday between 6pm and 9pm
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