Four gay men say a Jersey City organization provided them with phony counseling sessions — including nudity and trash-talking one of their mothers — to “cure” their homosexuality when they were teenagers.
In a lawsuit filed in New Jersey Superior Court, the men, and two of their mothers, contend the sales pitch and methods used by Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing are fraudulent because homosexuality is not something that can be cured and the group’s techniques don’t work.
The young men said at a press conference that JONAH’s counseling sessions were humiliating and involved nudity, pillow beating and physical and verbal assaults.
Chaim Levin, 23, of Brooklyn said his mother, Bella Levin, spent more than $10,000 on his counseling over 18 months. He said he was brought into a locked, mirrored room with a male counselor twice his age and told to strip.
“I felt it was an unsafe environment. I was naked with a man twice my age and he told me to touch myself,” Levin said. “I resolved never to go back . . . never to talk about it.”
Benjamin Unger, 25, of Brooklyn said he was ordered to beat a pillow with a tennis racket and shout “Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!” in synchronization with each blow.
“I had to beat my mother up to heal from being gay,” Unger said. JONAH counselors, he said, believe mothers are to blame if their sons are gay. Unger said he didn’t talk to his mom for months after that, but they are on good terms now.
The young men said they also were repeatedly placed in situations where others in therapy sessions screamed humiliating words like “faggots” and “homos” at them in mock locker room and gym settings. They said the goal was to make them mad and get in touch with their masculinity.
Levin and Unger said JONAH founder Arthur Goldberg, a disbarred lawyer from Jersey City, targets his pitch to Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish communities and to Mormons in Utah.Goldberg did not respond to calls left at his office and home. Neither did counselor Alan Downing of Jackson, N.J., who was identified in the lawsuit as the counselor who asked the young men to strip.
According to court papers, the conversion therapy used by JONAH has been discredited by the American Psychological Association and other professionals who contend homosexuality is normal, not to be cured, and that conversion therapy is dangerous because humiliation harms people.
The therapy sessions cited in the New Jersey lawsuit occurred between 2007 and 2009. Lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Cleary Gottlieb firm of Manhattan attended the press conference with the men.
Two mothers are named as plaintiffs because they paid the bills: $100 for an individual session, $60 for each group session and $700 for weekend retreats. The plaintiffs seek unspecified triple damages and that JONAH be shut down.