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Field report: Visiting the mission that told the Church of Scientology to take a hike

Dani_Lemberger

 
It’s not every day that we’re in Haifa, Israel, so we decided we had better take advantage of the situation and drop by to see Dani and Tami Lemberger at their remarkable breakaway Scientology mission.

Back in 2012, we considered it one of the most sure signs that David Miscavige and the Church of Scientology were in a crisis. A mission that had been operating since 1992 and providing steady income for the church broke away en masse and has remained an independent Scientology mission since then.

Dani and Tami had been Scientologists since around 1980, and Tami had won multiple awards as one of the best auditors on the planet. Each of them had spent huge amounts of money going up Scientology’s “Bridge to Total Freedom.” And like so many other longtime, loyal church members, they had become disaffected by Miscavige’s management style, and by changes he was making to the church, with an intense new focus on fundraising.

But rather than simply walking away, Dani and Tami conferred with their other partners at their mission — the Dror Center in Haifa — and then, as a group, all walked away from the church.

As part of that process, they made a trip to Texas in June 2012 to visit with former church executive Marty Rathbun, and then with former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder in Florida. On their way back to Israel, we met with Dani at Newark Airport for a couple of hours and wrote about his remarkable rebellion for the Village Voice.

Now, we were finally going to get a look at this singular place in Scientology history.

Dror Center is in an industrial section of Haifa, just off a highway, and as we pulled up we weren’t sure what we were in for. Inside the courtyard you’re surrounded by a collection of small buildings, and all around you there’s aging factory equipment sitting around. Dani is happy to explain what’s going on.

Tami’s grandfather had built the place in the 1930s, a pin factory that employed local Jews and Arabs, as recorded in fascinating photos in one of the numerous offices on the property. After Dani and Tami got heavily into Scientology, they managed to impress her father with it, who by then had inherited the factory complex.

Now Dani and Tami own it, and Dani showed us that Dror Center occupies only a small portion of the parcel. He has about 20 tenants on the property, including one that tears apart old cars out back, and a legal office up front. “I’m a wealthy man,” Dani told us, and we remembered that he’d been a highly-paid business executive for many years. He explained that the old factory makes money in rents, and he doesn’t need Dror Center to bring in a dime.

And maybe that’s why the place has such a relaxed air. We met several auditors and students during our visit. There was a TR 0 staring session going on in the “academy,” and Dani showed us his aged Finnish sauna they use for the purif. But we sensed none of the hurry or nervousness or “make it go right” mania that you hear about at Scientology facilities.

We felt a real calm in Tami’s office, where she does auditing, and her certificates and trophies line the walls. We couldn’t help ourselves and hoisted her lion trophies for being named best auditor on earth, and man, were they heavy…

 
Tami_Lemberger

 
Don’t you miss the awards events, and all that pomp and circumstance? we asked her. No, she said. They have a good thing going at Dror and don’t need Miscavige and his crazy events, they said.

It was here in Tami’s office that we met their three partners, auditors who had been trained by Tami and then were made equal owners of the center with Dani and Tami in 2010. Even then, Dani pointed out, they had ideas that were more democratic than a typical Scientology organization. But what finally pushed them to the brink, he says, was reading Debbie Cook’s infamous letter that she put out on New Year’s Eve, 2012. If someone they respected like Cook, the former “captain” of Scientology’s spiritual mecca in Clearwater, could explain so clearly why David Miscavige was the problem with the church, then that was something they had to take seriously.

After their 2012 breakaway, the Lembergers went through some pretty typical harassment. But they tell us that for the most part now, they’re left alone. And they really have no interaction with Scientology’s “Ideal Org” in Jaffa.

Dani is suing Scientology, and we hope to have an update on that for you soon. For now, Dani says he can’t talk publicly about it.

At his office, Dani told us again about his own changing relationship with David Miscavige. When he started Dror Center in 1992, Dani says, there wasn’t really anything by L. Ron Hubbard in Hebrew. So he took it upon himself to translate the beginning text, Learning How to Learn, and printed up 1,000 copies at his own expense (see photo, above). He sent the very first copy he received to Miscavige, who sent him a letter calling him “highly commendable.”

Later, when Dani was kicked out of the church for breaking away, in his “declare” document, which we printed recently, his translation of Hubbard material into Hebrew is now listed as a crime.

Well, that’s Scientology.

Dani continues to explore the higher levels of Scientology thought, and he talked about it freely with us, even though he knew quite well that we are pretty skeptical that L. Ron Hubbard actually discovered any secrets to the universe.

But that was OK. He didn’t convert us, but we had a swell time all the same.

 
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Bonus items from our tipsters

Mark your calendars!

 
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3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on July 2, 2016 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield

 

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