Ben Unger and Chaim Levin grew up in Orthodox Jewish homes in Brooklyn. They lived in traditional, socially conservative homes and tried to live up to the expectations of their faith and families.
They were gay, however, and were told they had to choose between being gay and Jewish – as if this were truly possible.
In a desperate search for “help”, Ben and Chaim found the “ex-gay” organization Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH). This was the discredited organization founded by Wall Street con artist Arthur Abba Goldberg, who went to prison for massive bond fraud.
Goldberg promised to “cure” both men of their homosexuality and make them straight. He recommended that Ben and Chaim have therapy sessions with Alan Downing, a “life coach” who often conducted his practice out of JONAH’s headquarters. Downing is also a senior trainer for the controversial “ex-gay” outdoor retreat, Journey Into Manhood, which is run by the organization, People Can Change.
While Ben and Chaim were in “therapy”, Downing admitted that he was still attracted to men. In time, the sessions devolved into a “psychological striptease”, where the men were asked to strip completely named and touch themselves.
Both Ben and Chaim say they were harmed by the therapy and consider Downing’s actions highly unprofessional, unethical and inappropriate.
Unfortunately, groups like JONAH and People Can Change often place vulnerable people in the hands of unqualified, unhealthy “life coaches” and counselors who are struggling to accept their own repressed sexual orientation. This creates disastrous situations where unhealthy, predatory behavior can occur.
Fortunately, Ben and Chaim have come to accept themselves and now live as out, proud openly gay men. They warn Jewish LGBT youth to avoid fraudulent scams like JONAH and accept themselves.