Young Jewish professionals have started taking action against The Jewish Press in response to their advertisement for JONAH International, the Jewish gay “conversion” therapy organization.
Yesterday, as the social media outrage towards the JONAH ad on The Jewish Press’ website continued, Chaim Levin, a former JONAH participant and witness in the infamous lawsuit against the organization, commented on Facebook that he had initially discovered JONAH from the long running Jewish Press ad in question.
In July 2010, Levin and another former participant of JONAH, Ben Unger, alleged in an interview that as part of JONAH counselor, Alan Downing’s therapy, he requested that his participants strip off their clothing in front of a mirror and touch their genitals in his presence.
Both Unger and Levin encouraged the current social action.
Since Levin issued his comments yesterday afternoon on Facebook, Sarah Gross, a board member of Bend the Arc, a Jewish social justice organization, publicized a Facebook group entitled “Jewish Press: Stop Enabling Abuse.”
Within hours of its launch, the page had 152 likes.
The Jewish Press has yet to issue a response.
The Jewish Press’ advertisement for JONAH International, an organization dedicated to gay “conversion” therapy, sparked outrage on social media today.
The ad, featured on the site’s homepage, prominently displays the organization’s navy and white logo in the foreground, with their tagline mission statement — “Institute for Gender Affirmation: Overcoming Homosexuality” — and organizational website just below it.
Tovah Silbermann, a New York City resident who identifies herself as “a loyal reader,” was outraged by the ad. “This organization has caused so much pain and suffering,” she tweeted.
Sarah Gross, a young Jewish professional, took the campaign to Facebook. Using strong language, she shared a CNN article from 2012 that outlined the lawsuit in which gay men sued JONAH counselors who promised to make them straight. “It’s offensive,” she writes of the organization, and “I will officially not be reading articles on TheJewishPress.com after seeing an ad for JONAH [on their site].”
Both medical professionals and rabbinic personalities across the spectrum have denounced JONAH’s work.
An unprecedented lawsuit against a Jewish non-profit whose programs aim to “convert” gay men could become a “watershed moment” in history, says the head of a national advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Jews.
The case against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), brought yesterday in New Jersey Superior Court, would also “be a moment like in the Wizard of Oz, when the supposed wizard gets exposed as someone who’s not a good, truth-telling leader, but someone who’s destroying his community,” says Idit Klein, executive director of Boston-based Keshet.
So-called conversion therapy programs like JONAH “are destructive to the individuals they serve, and destructive in their message of bias and false claims of ‘curing’ people,” Klein told the Forward. “They clearly do not work, and have no basis in any kind of valid understanding of human psyche and identity.”
For Orthodox Jews who seek some kind of guidance through conversion therapy, results can be especially “devastating”, Klein said.
LISTEN TO A PODCAST WITH GAY ORTHODOX JEWS DISCUSSING THEIR FAITH AND SEXUALITY
“Gay men who grew up Orthodox and got treated by JONAH have talked about self-loathing, degradation, and damage to their sense of self, not to mention profound damage to their relationship with Judaism and the Jewish community,” she said. “It’s particularly painful for someone who grew up in Yeshiva, studies Tanakh, and relates to text as a source of authority in their lives. To be told ‘something’s wrong with you, it’s against Hashem and Torah,’ has driven people to take their own lives.”