How a Nice Jewish Girl Escaped a Cult and Found Peace
How a Nice Jewish Girl Escaped a Cult and Found Peace
How a Nice Jewish Girl Escaped a Cult and Found Peace
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8).
I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx. I knew I was Jewish, but I didn’t know what that meant, other than dressing up and going to synagogue on the Jewish Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I liked being in synagogue but when the service was over, I had to resume my everyday life and act as if God no longer mattered. This and another matter confounded me.
Some of the other Jewish girls in my neighborhood wore dresses on Saturdays and spent all day at the neighborhood synagogue in observance of the Sabbath. Some girls did not even wear a dress on the High Holy Days. Yet we all considered ourselves Jewish.
As a child, I contemplated how big God would have to be if He had the whole world in His hands. As a teen, I began to question what it meant to be Jewish. I grappled with how on Yom Kippur, I was being cleansed from sins committed the previous year. I even fasted. I shuddered at the notion that if I did not live to the next Yom Kippur, I would die in my sins.
I pondered what I would have been if I were born into a different religion. I felt I had been rubber stamped a Jew, concluding that to be Jewish meant I had to do more Jewish things.
The times I was in synagogue, I read the English translation in the Siddur – the Jewish liturgy book. I read along with the Hebrew praising and acknowledging the God of Israel, the Melech Yisrael.
As a 21-year-old college graduate, I hankered to know more about the God I already knew existed. That did not change after being rescued from the cult’s tentacles that had been intricately woven in and around my mind.
I became a devotee of the World Organization for Righteous King Service (WORKS) (not the real name). I thought I had found a group of people who were putting their faith into practice. I had no idea about the pliability with which I would be manipulated into this religious affiliation.
Joshua 11:15: “As the King had commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua. And Joshua did as he was told, carefully obeying all the commands that the Lord had given Moses.”
It would be impossible to write about getting involved in a cult without mentioning that I was seeking spiritual truth. In order to reap spiritual benefit, mandatory obedience was the requirement. Within the cult, I did what I was told, but unlike Moses and Joshua, it was not the God of the Bible I listened to. I became a missionary by collecting money to save the soul of anyone who gave a donation to WORKS.
I first went to the WORKS temple one afternoon thinking I was going for a free vegetarian meal. Once inside the temple, I perused some literature on the book table claiming we are spiritual beings. After reading, I joined in the chanting and dancing. While eating, I listened to a presentation about their god. I stayed overnight to attend a class held before dawn thinking it would only be this one time and only for the experience. The first week, each time I wanted to leave, I was talked into staying by taking one day at a time. I was continually reminded that if I left, I would fall into spiritual decline now that I knew the truth.
After six months in the cult, my mother came to visit, and it became clear that there was no way out for me on my own or through my parents’ prodding. After three years in the cult, I agreed to a short visit home. My parents had arranged for a deprogramming.
Upon my arrival at the airport, I was met by my mother, who secured a scarf to drape my head, making sure my ears were covered on that cold February morning. I was fortunate my mother didn’t use the belt to strangle me. I was also fortunate she had started doing some research that led to the undoing of my cult experience.
My father picked us up in the family car and we headed for home. Making a quick stop for my father to meet a business associate was a ruse. I first became wary when my mother’s voice took on a desperate tone imploring me to go into the motel with them. Seated in the back seat of the car, my attention was drawn away from the WORKS book I was absorbed in. Peering at me were the eyes of a bearded, curly-haired young man fixing an unflinching, penetrating gaze on me like a laser beam. My head began to pound with muffled words: “If we have to, Robin, we’ll carry you – come on!” I was face to face with the devil.
The adrenaline coursing through my veins pulsed to the racing of my heart. I was completely caught off guard as I sat facing the enemy. Demon deprogrammers were going to try and bribe me out of the cult mindset.
I was ushered into a motel room thinking somehow I would have to escape my kidnappers. My strategy was to “cooperate, and then go back to the WORKS!” Gregory (not his real name), “the bearded devil” told me that the deprogramming would be different from what I had been led to believe by the cult leaders.
Gregory’s use of the word “deprogramming” heightened my terror because it was what I dreaded.
My religious conversion was held responsible for my estrangement from my parents. In the cult, family members are thought to come together briefly in this life, only to be eternally scattered like wind-blown fluff. I was determined not to gratify the deprogrammers by being one of their success stories. I remained an emotional paralytic, yet quickly learned that I could not feign being deprogrammed. I needed to see for myself how I was being manipulated in the cult. I needed to grasp that the cult was infringing on my personal and religious freedoms.
Gradually, by reading literature from other cults, the notions that strict adherence to the dogma, submission to authority and exclusivity of spirituality existed only in the WORKS for its loyal devotees were dissipating. I began to read WORKS’ literature as a critical thinker. The undoing of my cult loyalty began when I realized that my mind had atrophied by reverting to the “us against them mentality” when I didn’t want it to. I had not been functioning under religious persuasion but coercive persuasion.
In my right mind
Although I was coming to grips with the cult aspect of WORKS, it was not only my life that needed definition, but life in general. I had been blinded by the haze that offered only a false promise. The deprogramming was not an attempt to disprove the existence of God. Just that I no longer had to be a devotee in WORKS to be a candidate for spiritual life.
As the days wore on, I was less dogged by the cult mindset. However, I began to have dreams of entrapment. In one of those dreams, I lost my handbag, along with my wallet, which had all my identification. I have lost my identification. I have no identity.
Choosing not to be a member of WORKS did not preclude me from still thinking I had to be good enough and work hard enough to earn favor with God. I did not yet know that without some divine intervention, I was lost.
In the cult mindset, I was either a pure devotee or an unholy outcast. Like so many religions, we had a system. Like so many religions, we tried to get into God’s kingdom through good works.
I wrote this a few weeks after the rehab:
I plummet through hollowed-out hollers, through echo chambers in that place where the ice of life tries to freeze me, from out of that place where I was kept under lock and key, for someone else had been in charge, where I was hidden, especially from me.
My desire is to be, just as I would have others see. In my magical mystery space where gold is golden and love is molten, I dissolve and trust no one who might have design to spite me, in spite of my warmth and tenderness.
I was lost in the process of finding myself when it wasn’t me who I was looking for. After WORKS, I hungered to know more about the one true God. I joined the neighborhood synagogue. When I heard “Yeshua” uttered in unison by the congregation, I quickly referenced the English translation. Yeshua means salvation. Why was Jesus being spoken of in the Jewish Scriptures? I was in turmoil.
Years later, after a crisis when I realized I was not reaping fulfillment through my career, I attended a Bible study of the book of Esther in a local church, Jackie, (not her real name) a friend of mine, attended. I knew she went to church and I could tell she had peace and faith. I wanted to have what she had.
After several weeks of attending the women’s Bible study, one of the ladies asked me how I was, and I told her I wanted to get the toxins out of the cells of my body. She asked me if I wanted to pray to invite Jesus into my life. I said, “Yes.” I was not converting, just praying. I said the sinner’s prayer, and became a recipient of all of God’s promises and the priceless gift of eternal life. God’s Holy Spirit opened the eyes of my heart. Because Jesus Christ willingly is God’s Passover Lamb, any and all obstacles in knowing this one true God were forever removed. My revelation of the I AM WHO I AM (Exodus 3:14) culminated in realizing it was not what I must do, but what God has already done and makes available as a gift to all.
I grasped the contrast between a heavenly Father who alone fulfills His purpose, rather than a god needing me to earn his good graces. He is a faithful Father who calms the wind and storms of life, who provides a cloud covering from the scorching elements as He did for the Israelites in the wilderness; a Comforter, God’s Holy Spirit, a guide to understand the things freely given to us by the Father; and a Son, whose unique and perfect character is the only acceptable sacrifice, once and for all, to delete our imperfections, not to condemn, but to allow us to spend an eternity in God’s loving embrace, with all its benefits, starting now!
Upon reflection of the cult phenomenon, I wrote:
At the height of my climb out of the rubble of my mind, I cling, yet am mercifully supported, no longer clutching on feeble straws, having been engulfed in flames of fiction from the lack-luster-less-ness of lurid lies. Teetering at the pinnacle of perception of pernicious passion. I aligned myself to false promises, but not the Prince of Peace.
I now work in a tenured position, and rejoice in the exultation of my Jewish Messiah.
*Excerpted from Robin’s book, I AM Revealed: Behind the Ashram Door, available at Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Am-Revealed-Behind-Ashram-Door/dp/1938812700
Robin Barbosa has been a Jewish believer in Yeshua/Jesus since 1998. Her book, I AM REVEALED: Behind the Ashram Door, documents a journey from cult to Christ, exposing the cult phenomenon. Her story details how a 21-year-old college graduate was subjected to a cult’s coercive techniques and became fully fledged to its mission, leaving her unable to extricate herself until her parents’ drastic intervention. Her story is a psychological journey and heart-wrenching tale of family and faith that began with a curiosity that led to entrapment. Robin has a master’s degree in education and works in the public schools. She is married with two grown daughters and lives in New Jersey.