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Regards from L. Ron Hubbard

Monday, March 04, 2002

Adar 20, 5762 Israel Time: 03:56

[link to original article]
At a Rishon Letzion primary school, they're giving out booklets called `The Way to Happiness,' written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. A father who protested was stunned to find out that Education Minister Limor Livnat had approved the project.

By Vered Levy-Barzilai

The sixth-graders at a primary school in Rishon Letzion were pleasantly surprised. They'd been expecting a routine social studies lesson, but the teacher had something different planned. She distributed small white booklets, and explained that it was "in honor of Family Day." Yardena, the school principal, had instructed the teachers to give them out. There are some very special and beautiful things written in here, the teacher told them. Now the class would all do a creative project using the booklets. It would be an original gift that they would give their parents this year.

On the cover of the booklet is the title: "The Way to Happiness: A Common-Sense Guide to Better Living." The children were asked to spend a few minutes quietly reading the booklets. They leafed through them, skimming over the headings. Page 1: "Take care of yourself - Maintain personal hygiene, take good care of your teeth, eat properly, make sure to rest." Page 2: "Have self-control - Don't take drugs, don't drink too much alcohol."

At this point, several children in the class were exchanging embarrassed glances and began giggling. But the teacher called them to order, and they continued reading. Page 3: "Don't be careless - Be faithful to your spouse." And, the explanation: "Unfaithfulness on the part of a spouse may significantly reduce a person's survival - Sex is the means by which the race produces its future, through children and the family unit. A great deal of pleasure and happiness may be derived from sex, but when it is not used properly, when it is exploited, it carries serious penalties. Apparently, nature has also attested to this. If you do not insist on the faithfulness of your sexual partner, you are exposing yourself to diseases."

The titters of discomfort intensified. "There were a lot of things in there that I didn't understand at all," says one girl from the class. "Some of it made sense to me. Some didn't. And there was a lot I didn't get. A lot of kids didn't have any idea what this was supposed to be about. But then the teacher explained to us that all we really had to do was to find one sentence or saying that we thought was the loveliest and most insightful. She gave us pieces of posterboard to write our sentences on. I chose the line: `The way to happiness is very quick for those who know where the margins are.' I liked it. The teacher also told us to decorate the booklet with colored pencils and markers, and to write a dedication to our parents. Then it made more sense and we just did it."

Her parents were very pleased with the gift. They smiled when they saw what their daughter had written on the back page in bright red magic marker: "To my dear family. I want you to remember that, in fire, water, heaven and earth, I will always love you." But their smiles disappeared when they noticed the name of the author of the booklet, which was printed in blue letters: L. Ron Hubbard. They knew who he was - the founding father of Scientology.

No, this can't be, the father said. It must be a mistake. When he checked further, he found that the name of a mysterious organization - The Foundation for Prosperity and Security in the Middle East - was also printed on the back page. Below it was an e-mail address and telephone number. He quickly dialed it. The recording he heard went something like this: "Thank you for calling. If you would like to order copies of "The Way to Happiness," please leave the pertinent information. If you would like to help distribute the booklets, please leave your phone number." Not a word about Scientology.

When the father typed in "The Way to Happiness" using the Google search engine on his computer, he found many sites, including the official web site of the Church of Scientology. The connection was clear and indisputable. Appalled, the father called his daughter's teacher. "What's this supposed to mean?" he demanded to know. "You know that this is a cult or a religion or whatever, that was outlawed in several European countries, and has been fighting lawsuits for years. And now you choose to distribute their material in school, as part of a class lesson?"

The father says that the teacher calmly responded that she had no idea it was related to Scientology, that she didn't know who'd written the text and hadn't bothered to check it out.

The next day, the teacher informed the school's principal, Yardena Cohen, about the matter. In response, Cohen sent the father a copy of a letter. It was a letter from Education Minister Limor Livnat to the head of The Foundation for Prosperity and Security in the Middle East. In it, on official Education Ministry stationery, Livnat wrote to the publishers of the Scientology booklet:

"Greetings. This is to confirm receipt of your letter and the enclosed booklet, `The Way to Happiness,' noted for its importance in educating youth about violence prevention. Violence is a scourge that must be uprooted. It does not and shall not have a place in the school system, and we will fight it tirelessly. Please accept my congratulations on this project. Yours, Limor Livnat."

In the margins, the school principal added a "reassuring" message to the father: "Pursuant to your questions and concern, I am enclosing a recommendation from the education minister that this booklet be used as a tool for fostering an atmosphere of violence prevention. Yours, Yardena Cohen."

But the message did not have its intended effect. The father scheduled an urgent meeting with the principal, at which he again raised his arguments against the authors and distributors of the booklet. Her response outraged him even more. "She said to me, `What difference does it make who wrote it?'" he relates. She said: "Read the contents. The precepts are certainly positive and educational. It's against violence, against vulgarity, against drugs. It's for respecting parents and loving children. It's for tolerance and family life - all the things we want to educate our children about."

The father shared his concerns about the distribution of Scientology material in school with the school administration and other parents, but no one joined his protest. All he could do was talk to his daughter and explain to her about Scientology.

If Limor Livnat, Yardena Cohen and the teacher had done their homework, and checked on the Internet, or looked in the Knesset archives, they would have discovered, among other things, that in the early 1980s, an inter-ministerial committee was established to look into cults operating in Israel. After five years of research and information gathering, the committee included Scientology among the mystic cults active in Israel.

Several Scientology centers are currently operating in Israel. The largest and most active is on Shoncino Street in Tel Aviv. The Church of Scientology was founded about 50 years ago by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986. Hubbard introduced the "auditing" technique: People undergoing this type of therapy had to tell him about their past and reveal their lies so as to come closer to recognizing their inner truth. This process was called "purification" and cost each patient a great deal of money.

Dan Vidislavski, 27, is the director of The Foundation for Prosperity and Security in the Middle East (Ha'amuta Le'sigsug Ve'bitahon Be'mizrah Hatikhon), which distributes the booklet. He is a follower of Scientology and a graduate of a workshop on business technology called "Wise International," founded by L. Ron Hubbard. However, he vehemently denies any connection between the booklet distributed at the school and the Church of Scientology, and says that his foundation has been especially active since the outbreak of the intifada.

"When I and some of my friends saw the level of violence in which the region was getting swept up, we decided that we had to do something. Since a significant drop in the levels of crime and violence was found in other parts of the world where the booklets were distributed, I decided to try it in Israel." He says the foundation's one and only objective is to distribute this booklet, which he insists has no connection with Scientology.

"These are two separate organizations. Like it says on the cover, the booklet does not contain any religious or political text. Scientology is about religious and spiritual knowledge. `The Way to Happiness' is a totally secular text. It is about basic moral principles that every person in every place in the world would agree upon."

But these precepts were written by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

"That's correct, but so what? He also once wrote science fiction books. Are they Scientology, too?"

How do you explain the fact that when you type in the name of your booklet on the Internet, you immediately come to the official site of the World Church of Scientology?

"I don't have an explanation for that. I suggest that everyone read the booklet and judge for themselves. And I don't understand the similarity you see between the two organizations. I only know that this is about another type of knowledge. Here, he uses one kind of knowledge and, there, he uses another. I believe in the messages that are in the booklet `The Way to Happiness.'"

Do you also live your life according to the principles of Scientology?

"Yes, I do use them in my life and I am very satisfied with them. But I don't make a living from it. Let me make this clear - All of my work in the foundation is on a volunteer basis."

Last year, Vidislavski sent copies of the booklet to Knesset members, ministers, educational institutions and media people. In certain areas of the country, it is distributed by direct mail right into people's mailboxes. Anyone who is intrigued by the contents and interested in finding out more is invited to register for a correspondence course. The cost of the course is NIS 350.

Naturally, Vidislavski doesn't see anything wrong with the fact that the booklet was distributed at the Ganim school and he can't understand why the father was so upset. He notes with satisfaction that, so far, they have managed to distribute the booklet at ten schools in Israel, including five in the Arab sector, and says that anyone who asks for a copy will receive one free.

Since 1971, when a U.S. Federal Court ruled that Hubbard's therapy method was illegal, the church has been fighting for the right to keep expanding. According to data published on Scientology web sites, the church had eight million members in 1997. Its activities, which practitioners say are focused on religion, charity and education, take place in 1,800 churches, missions and organizations in 129 countries, spread over every continent and in more than 30 languages. According to the church's Internet site, more than half a million new members join the church each year (there is no information on how many members leave).

In the United States, Scientology has many adherents and is popular among people in the entertainment industry. The church's ads tout big-name celebrity members like Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, John Travolta, Lisa Marie Presley, Kirstie Alley, Anne Archer and Chick Corea.

Three years ago, a group of Israeli parents with an affinity for Scientology founded the "Atid" primary school in the Mikveh Yisrael neighborhood of Holon. Other parents who innocently enrolled their children into the school were told that the institution offered a unique system of learning called "applied scholastics," which had proven a great success in hundreds of schools in the United States. L. Ron Hubbard's name wasn't kept hidden, but not many parents made the connection with Scientology.

In 2000, the school had 39 pupils in grades one through six. In July 2001, the Education Ministry decided to close the school, and canceled its license. The official explanation was that the school did not meet the required pedagogic criteria or level of studies. The parents appealed the decision in District Court. Judge Asher Grunis accepted their argument and ruled that there was no justification for closing the school. The Education Ministry appealed to the High Court of Justice. A ruling has not been handed down yet.

The father of the girl from Rishon Letzion isn't ready to let the matter drop. "I'm waiting for an answer, and it better be an honest and convincing one," he says. "I don't think that the teacher or the principal or Limor Livnat are members of this cult, but even if this was done with a lack of awareness, it's still outrageous. Educationally speaking, it's criminal negligence. From the people who are entrusted with my children's education, I expect maximum awareness, maximum sensitivity and maximum attention. No less than that."

Ezra Marom, the chairman of the school's parents' association, doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. "The pamphlet was distributed to all the students," he says. "There's nothing threatening or inappropriate in it. It isn't geared toward any religion or cult. There wasn't any missionary effort of any kind here. I spoke with Yardena, the principal, and she told me that she had thoroughly checked it out before it was distributed. She only gave out the booklet after receiving written approval from the education minister."

Did you know that the distributors of this booklet are connected with Scientology?

"No, we didn't know that. And even now, as I understand it, there is no direct connection. So there wasn't anything improper here. The parents' association gives full backing to the teacher and the principal. They acted properly. If a few parents were offended, or saw something missionary in this or something that reminded them of Scientology, then we regret that."

The following response was received from the office of Education Minister Limor Livnat: "The Education Minister had no idea that this was Scientology material. She thought it was part of a violence prevention project, and therefore gave her approval to it. The minister thanks the reporter for bringing this to her attention. The Education Ministry is unequivocally opposed to the introduction of any material on the subject of Scientology. A review done by professionals in the ministry found that the booklet contains no mention of Scientology. Rather, it discusses universal principles such as tolerance, restraint and acceptance of others. The ministry is unaware of whether the booklet has been distributed at other schools."

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