Is there such a thing as a self-hating Jew? Let’s revisit my old cult

After being refused a star on Springfield’s Jewish Walk of Fame, a deeply insulted Krusty the Clown growls  “All this time I thought I was an anti-Semite, but it turns out I’m just a self-hating Jew.”

Krusty is a cartoon character from “The Simpsons.” But the figure of the self-hating Jew has long had currency in Jewish life.

It’s an easy charge to make. If Jew “A” says something that Jew “B” deems harmful to the Jewish people, then “B” labels “A” a self-hating Jew.

Don’t like Israel? You’re a self-hating Jew. Stuff your face with shrimp cocktail on Yom Kippur or reject other Jewish practices? Then you, too, might be a self-hating Jew.

 

Garden-variety self-hatred I get. Many in our perfection-oriented culture fail to live up to their own expectations and end up hating themselves for it.

But does anyone really hate himself for being Jewish?

I’ve seen footage of Jews hobnobbing with Hamas. I’ve witnessed Jews screaming “Death to Israel.” I’ve heard Jews blast circumcision as a barbaric anachronism.

Those people don’t hate themselves. If anything, they love themselves for being so right.

I did have one personal experience with Jewish self-hatred. In my early 20s, I joined a cult. Not a religious cult like the Moonies. It was a psychology cult in L.A. called the Center for Feeling Therapy. Go ahead and Google it.

I met the founder when I was in high school and he was leading workshops at an Esalen-style retreat near San Diego. He was funny and charismatic, and I, an impressionable teen, fell under his sway. He started the center in 1971. I joined a few years later.

It was the most “me” I ever got during the “Me” decade.

On the surface the setup appeared respectable. The founders wrote best-selling books. The center was housed in a sleek two-story building on Sunset Boulevard. The therapy, loosely based on primal therapy, drew thousands through its doors.

In reality, it was a house of abuse and fear.

Like all cults, there was a strict code of behavior. Everyone had to express their feelings — whatever they were — as fully as possible or face ridicule. Thus, most expression was forced and fake. We always had to appear successful and date often (strictly hetero; gay people would come to the center to be cured).

Patients were beaten. Women were forced to have abortions. Some were ordered to sleep with anyone who asked them.

And the most stinging insult of all was: “You’re being so Jewish.” Any statement or behavior deemed wimpy, awkward or indecisive was labeled “Jewish.”

I remember one therapist — a Jew — accusing a patient of “carrying around his own personal Wailing Wall.”

Obviously these “therapists” had never met a macho 6-foot-tall Israeli soldier with an Uzi slung over his shoulder.

Ironically, a third of the patients and half of the therapists were Jews. But we were taught to despise our Jewishness.

Miracle of miracles, 10 years into all the physical and psychological abuse, the center vanished overnight after a patient uprising in November 1980. Somehow, despite pervasive mind control, the people found the courage to overthrow their oppressors.

It was a beautiful thing.

The aftermath resulted in a massive case before the state Medical Quality Assurance Board. Victims sued for millions. Therapists lost their licenses and were hounded into ignominy. Justice prevailed.

I don’t regret joining the center. Even though I, too, at times aped the thuggish behavior of the leaders, I repented for that one Yom Kippur long ago.

The fact is I learned a lot about myself there, and made some lifelong friends. But thankfully my three-year dalliance with becoming a self-hating Jew flopped big time.

Looking back, I view the center’s aim to crush the Jewishness out of me as akin to larger-scale efforts throughout history: the Persians of Haman’s time, the Greeks of Judah Maccabee’s time, the Inquisition of Torquemada’s time, and so on. We always bounce back like leaves of grass.

You can’t keep a good Jew down, and you gotta love that.

Dan Pine can be reached at [email protected]

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.