The Road To Truth // How one man escaped Scientology and returned to Judaism

By Jonathan Ottenstein

“Your mother is here.”


“Your mother is here, outside.”

“It can’t be. My mother is in Milwaukee.”

“She’s waiting for you outside. Go speak with her.”

I was part of the elite inner circle of the Scientology cult in Los Angeles. Initially, my mother had gotten very upset about my involvement in Scientology, but according to some letters I had received, she had apparently made peace with it. Therefore, I wasn’t suspicious about her visit, but I was nevertheless surprised.

“Hello, Ma. What are you doing here in Los Angeles?”

“Oh, Jonathan,” my mother replied, “my feet were bothering me, and the doctor said that a warmer climate might help them.”

I was skeptical. It was already May, and even Milwaukee warmed up in the spring. But I figured she felt that she needed an excuse to see me.

After a short conversation, my mother suggested that we go to a restaurant the next day. I agreed, and she told me that she would pick me up in a cab at an agreed-upon time.

She arrived, the following day, at the appointed time, but instead of the expected taxicab, she was riding in a car with a driver. She told me that she had hired this driver to drive us around. He was a heavyset guy with a cap and a small beard. He introduced himself as Jack and said that he was originally from New York City.

We drove around Los Angeles for quite a while, when I finally asked when we’d arrive at our restaurant, my mother assured me that we would be there soon.

We turned off the main road and onto a side street. Across the street was a parked car with its hood up. Suddenly, I heard shouts. In a flash, my mother was gone, and two guys took her place in the back seat of the car on either side of me. They told me not to move. For a moment, I was confused, wondering what had happened.

Then I realized I had been kidnapped.

“You can’t do this to me! It’s illegal!” I screamed in protest.

They told me to lie on the bottom of the car and they threatened me with physical harm if I tried anything, so I did as I was told.

After driving for what felt like a long time, they stopped the car and blindfolded me. They warned me not to scream as we entered a house, then into a room with iron bars on the windows. When I saw the iron bars, I thought I was in prison. I was angry and scared. The deprogramming was about to begin.

* * *

The above story is of the dramatic event of my kidnaping from Scientology in May of 1986 when I was 30 years old. After I was abducted, it took over a week for me to be deprogrammed. After that, I spent three years at a Chabad yeshivah in Morristown, New Jersey.

I was born in 1955 to a traditional, but non-religious Jewish family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was the oldest of four children. My grandparents were Zionists who had made aliyah to Israel in 1950. It did not work out financially, so they returned to Milwaukee after two years. My grandfather was not religious, but he was a proud Jew who believed in Jewish education. When they opened up a Jewish day school in Milwaukee, when I was five years old, I was sent there because of him. The school was Orthodox, but most of the students were not. I would wear a yarmulke and tzitzis to school, but take them off when I came home. For high school, I went to public school, followed by college and graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I graduated with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

In 1991, I moved to Portland, Oregon, for an engineering job. I was two thousand miles from my family and friends. I realized I had difficulty dealing with people. I also suffered from low self-esteem. There was a fellow engineer in my office who suggested that I try a weekend seminar, called Sage, to help improve my interpersonal skills. Sage was an encounter group of the type that was popular in the 1970s and ’80s. They operate by getting people together for a long weekend and breaking down barriers between people to help them confront their fears. This can be enlightening or dangerous, depending on the person

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