By RUTH EGLASH in the Jerusalem Post
The religion already has “several thousand” followers in Israel, spokeswoman says.
In a ceremony that included guests from all over the world, the local branch of Scientology inaugurated its new Center of Scientology in Jaffa last week.
The facility is the largest operated by the US-founded religion in the Middle East.
As well as aiming to serve its growing membership here, it will provide “Scientology-sponsored humanitarian programs throughout the region.”
While less than 10 years ago Scientology followers in Israel numbered only a thousand or so, Erin Banks, spokeswoman for Scientology in Israel, said that today there are “several thousand” or more Israelis who practice the religion.
The religious order has been frequently attacked as a cult, and is regularly in the media spotlight due to high-profile members such as US actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, as well as due to lawsuits and counter-lawsuits between the the Church and former followers who allege use of brainwashing tactics.
In recent years, similar Scientology centers have opened in cities in Europe, Australia, Africa and the US.
Several more centers are scheduled to open worldwide.
Scientology was founded by science fiction writer and philosopher L. Ron. Hubbard, whose book, Dianetics, is considered by followers to be a comprehensive and spiritual guide for living. The first Scientology organization was formed in the United States in 1952 [sic] and the religion has expanded to more than 10,000 organizations, missions and affiliated groups, with millions of members in 167 countries, according to its official information According to criteria recently developed by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs, Scientology is not seen as a dangerous cult in Israel.
Located on Jaffa’s Jerusalem Boulevard, the new Israeli center is housed in the historic Alhambra Theater and features seminar rooms, classrooms and dozens of rooms for “auditing,” the mysterious spiritual counseling that is Scientology’s trademark.
The renovated building, which was originally constructed in 1937 and was once a premier venue for Arab and Israeli music and theater, will also feature a permanent exhibition of L. Ron Hubbard’s now thriving religion and a rooftop terrace with a café.
According to Banks, the Church acquired the 5,500- square-meter premises several years ago and restoration of the structure, which had fallen into disrepair, was carried out under the guidance of preservation architect Eyal Ziv.
“Like any major renovation project there were challenges along the way,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “Particularly since we were dealing with a historic landmark of such cultural significance to the communities of Tel Aviv, but it was worth the hard work because what stands before us today is a restored centerpiece for Jaffa and a center that serves as a gathering place for people of all faiths.”
The movement hopes its new center will not only be a home to its various activities but will also reach out to the local and wider community by serving as a meeting place for members of all faiths “to unite on humanitarian initiatives.”
In dedicating the center last week, David Miscavige, chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center and ecclesiastical leader of the Scientology religion, said the new center was “a gift from the International Association of Scientologists to Israel.
“It represents our recognition that all religions hold central truths in common and thus may work together to achieve the common dream of universal brotherhood,” Miscavige said.
Foreign guests and an array of local civic and community leaders welcomed the Scientologists to their new home. Among those who attended the opening were Tel Aviv City Council member Meital Lehavi; Prime Minister’s Office Director for the Beduin Sector Muhammad Kaabia; Prime Minister’s Office Senior Coordinator on the Status of Minority Women Rania Pharyra; biblical scholar and author Dr. Rimon Kasher; and Jaffa Arab Christian Community chairman Peter Habash.
In her welcoming address, Lehavi said the goals of the new center fit well with the history of Alhambra Theater.
“It is a house for everyone, accepting everyone,” she said. “It is my great hope this house connects, integrates, welcomes and advances the hopes that exist in Jaffa. I am confident that by sitting together, thinking together and working together we keep Jaffa the home for everyone. Your new center will have an important part in leading the way.”
Kasher also spoke at the ceremony, saying that he believed Scientology “is the only religion that can create a connection or even affinity between the different faiths and the only one that can relieve the tension between religions.”