As 2008 was drawing to a close, Israelis may have been surprised while leafing through their newspapers to discover that something described as a "mass orgy" had almost occurred in Tel Aviv. A local organization of some sort was planning to contribute to the international celebration of World Orgasm Day on December 21 by staging a mass orgy to help achieve a simultaneous global orgasm for world peace. According to the very small articles buried deep in various newspapers, the event was canceled at the last moment as both the event organizers and venue owner began to receive multiple death threats. The Jerusalem Post, in a news brief entitled "Limp Finish for Planned Tel Aviv Orgy," identified the event organizers as the "sexually liberal Raelian Movement," which was described by Ha'aretz as "an alien-centered religion," which believes that "mankind was created by aliens who arrived here thousands of years ago in UFOs."
As the intellectually curious began to open their laptops and grope their way toward Google, it became evident that the Raelians are indeed a UFO religion, perhaps the largest UFO religion in the world, established in France around 35 years ago by Claude Vorilhon, former sports-car journalist and test driver now known to the faithful as Rael. Vorilhon claims to have encountered and received knowledge from a human-like, four-foot-tall extraterrestrial race of beings known as the Elohim, who gave Vorilhon the name Rael, along with the task of spreading their message to all mankind. What was the message? According to the group's Web site (www.rael.org), it was as follows: "We were the ones who designed all life on earth. You mistook us for gods. We were at the origin of your main religions. Now that you are mature enough to understand this, we would like to enter official contact through an embassy."
This message was later to be expanded and expounded upon in the Raelian Movement's basic text, Message from the Designers. The Raelians believe that as soon as the embassy is built, the Elohim will return to Earth, along with such prophets as Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad - all having been sent by the Elohim, and all having since been kept alive on the Elohim's planet through the science of cloning.
Now numbering around 70,000 worldwide, the group's membership in Israel is said to be around 250. Metro recently made contact with some of these Raelians at a Sheinkin Street cafÃ© in Tel Aviv. Kobi Drori, 55, introduces himself as the Raelians' spokesman in Israel and says, "We are a part of Judaism, of course. We are the secular part of Judaism." Asked if Raelian groups worldwide - even those in Arab countries - consider themselves "part of Judaism," Drori's reply is an emphatic "Absolutely!"
Leon Mellul, 59, agrees. Unlike Drori, whose conventional appearance would enable him to pass as any high-tech company's CEO, Mellul's long gray hair and longer white beard seem much more a part of the surrounding Sheinkin Street milieu. He says, "I'm the National Guide for Israel of the Raelian Movement, which is the equivalent of 'Bishop' or 'Grand Rabbi' of the Raelian Movement - of the Raelian branch of Judaism in Israel. And I also take care of the whole Middle East region, which involves all the Muslim countries, the Arab countries. The movement began in December 1973 when there was a meeting between Rael and the Elohim. Rael is the name given to him by the Elohim. It is the root of the word 'Israel.' We consider ourselves as the real Jews. This is because we recognize the Elohim as our creators, but not as an entity or a god."
Says Drori, "I want to emphasize one very important thing. People who read the Bible in English can't understand what the Bible is talking about. Because 2,300 years ago, Ptolemy II, the king who was ruling in Alexandria, invited 72 clever - so-called clever - Jewish rabbis to translate the Bible into Greek, and after that to other languages. And they decided to deceive. Hebrew is a very accurate language. If something is written in plural, it means plural. Unlike English, where the king says 'We are the king.' He's using plural to express honor. The word 'elohim' is plural. And those rabbis knew perfect Hebrew and Greek. But they changed it and mistranslated it to mean 'god' - one supernatural force. They took the word 'adonai,' which is also a plural - the singular is 'adoni' - and mistranslated it to mean 'lord' when actually it means 'lords.' They distorted the essence of the Bible, so people who read the Bible in English can't understand that it's talking about people - plural - that came from another planet. It's embarrassing, because the Bible is talking about the very opposite of what Judaism says."
Mellul interrupts to observe that spreading the Raelian message here in Israel is fairly easy relative to the task in other countries, because Israelis both speak and clearly understand Hebrew, the language of the Bible. This greatly simplifies the job of explaining the true meaning of the word elohim. "We believe that the Elohim were people who came to our planet from another planet many years ago - more than 25,000 years ago - and created all life on Earth with genetic manipulations of DNA. They are the ones that contacted and sent all prophets from all religions, among the most important ones being Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and all the others we know from the Bible, like Elijah and Isaiah, among others. The Elohim met with Rael on December 13, 1973, and they telepathically induced him to meet them in the center of an old volcano in France. He went there and met with them. They talked together for six days and revealed their message."
Were they "people" like us? "Yes, of course!" says Drori, "They were people like us. It's written in the Bible - you just have to read it. They created us in their image, in their likeness!" His emphatic, almost impatient tone of voice suggests that this is something that should be obvious even to an idiot. He softens a bit and continues, "They are a little bit short - about one meter and 20 or 30 cm. And they love us like their children." They are not among us; they live on their own planet but, says Drori, they watch us and monitor our progress.
"And they're very sad about what's happening, as they watch us kill each other," Mellul interjects. "The day people understand that there is no supernatural god, that we have all been created equal by people like us coming from another planet, with a high level of technology and genetic manipulations of DNA, they will stop making wars. Why are there wars? Because always, the problem of humanity has been different religions, different tribes. One believing in something, the other believing in something else. One having this god, and another one having another god. Or maybe, they are praying to the same god, stupidly - a god that doesn't exist at all. This is the cause of all our problems. On September 11, when the jets were crashing into the World Trade Center Towers, some people on board were praying to Jesus, others to Allah, and it was so stupid. The day people understand the message of the Elohim, all of our problems will be solved."
And what was their message? Mellul becomes quiet for a moment, as if he is carefully choosing his words. He finally says, "Since 1945, we have reached the era of apocalypse, which means revelation, not deception. This started with the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6. Since then, the Elohim decided to send their last messenger. This was when Rael was born, on September 30, 1946. He is the last of the prophets, the last messenger of the Elohim and, of course, the long-awaited messiah."
After a pause for emphasis, Mellul continues, "The Elohim asked him for two main things. The first one is to spread the message worldwide, so that people will understand that we have all been created equal, without any difference between sex, race or religion. And that it's now time for us all to stop believing and start trying to understand. Because now we have the technology to understand. Not like when our forefathers were in Egypt, because they, the Elohim, led us out of Egypt. And they were the ones that met with Abraham and all the prophets. At that time, our ancestors could not understand because they were primitives lacking in technology. But now, we are able to understand because of our technology. We can fly in the sky. We can manipulate DNA. One day, we are going to create a human being, either by cloning - that has already happened - or by other ways. And when we create this human being, there will be no more place for God." Raelians believe that at least one human being has already been cloned through an affiliated company called Clonaid.
"The second thing they asked him was to build them an embassy, close to Jerusalem preferably, which will be the Third Temple, where they can come and meet with all the world leaders, and give us their scientific heritage, which can solve all of our problems. So this is the main message of the International Raelian Movement, the message that was given to Rael," Mellul explains.
What with National Guide Mellul approaching his 60th birthday, Israel branch spokesman Drori being 55, married with two sons and a "daytime job" with a company that manufactures cosmetics - and both of them apparently sane and quite evidently articulate - the question that inevitably arises is how do intelligent, well-educated, mature adults become attracted to a religion that revolves around UFOs? What draws them to religions like Scientology - which teaches that our souls were banished to Earth 75 million years ago by Xenu, the despotic emperor of the Galactic Federation - or Heaven's Gate, whose members committed mass suicide in 1997 to escape planet Earth, which they believed was about to be "recycled"? For Raelians like Drori and Mellul, understanding the "true nature" of the Elohim was the answer to questions that had nagged them for many years.
Drori explains it this way: "I've been in the movement for 10 years. My basic education is in psychology and business management. When I was a child I started asking questions like where do we come from, who are we. And extraterrestrial civilizations always interested me. For many years, I was looking for answers. Then I met the book The Truth about God. On the cover, there were two statements: "There is no supernatural god, and no evolution." A strong believer in a supernatural god as well as what he had learned about the theory of evolution in university, Drori was shocked. "I thought to myself that if someone has written something that is 180 degrees opposite to what I am thinking, then one of us is completely wrong. So I reread the book again and again. And I reread the Bible, and started to read the Koran, and the New Testament, and I started to compare them, along with all of the other mythology. And very quickly, I understood that the Bible is not talking about a supernatural god, not at all. And then I had the problem of evolution. But because the knowledge is now open on the Internet, I was able to read many, many articles, even by A.J. Miller, a Nobel Prize winner in genetics, who said that evolution is not possible. And I was angry about why I wasn't shown these articles in the university. Many more articles have appeared since that back up Rael's statements about intelligent design, instead of evolution."
Mellul recalls, "When I discovered Message from the Designers, it answered all my questions. I was born in a traditional Jewish family in Morocco. I was myself religious, wearing tefillin every day. And going to synagogue, observing Shabbat and all the festivals and holidays. But, I had questions. Why do they say 'elohim hayim' if there is just one god? Why is the word plural if it refers to just one god? And all the answers I got were, 'Well, that's just the way it is. Don't ask questions. We are the people who must obey first and ask later.' These answers came from rabbis, from my family and also from teachers in school. But when I read Rael's book, it was like a puzzle coming together in my head. I was pulled out of Judaism, I was brought in. Now I understand what it is to be Jewish. To be Jewish is to know who the Elohim are and to recognize them as our creators. It is plainly written in the Bible, and I can prove it to any rabbi."
Others are perhaps attracted to the Raelian Movement by the group's famously liberal attitudes toward sex. Sexual activity is seen as a form of emotional healing; homosexuality, bisexuality, nudism and masturbation are accepted, and permanent marriage is discouraged. In an attempt to put this into perspective, Mellul says, "We are for freedom of sexuality, because nobody 'belongs' to anyone, even when we are married." Drori interjects, "People, particularly journalists, confuse free sex with freedom of sex. We are for freedom of sex. Free sex is sleeping with anyone. We are dealing with free choice and sex without guilt."
Which brings us, inevitably, to the canceled "World Orgasm Day Orgy", as reported recently in the local media. Mellul takes a deep breath, smiles and says, "Okay... when someone has an orgasm, he doesn't feel like killing anyone right afterwards. It's like a drug. We have an orgasm, we feel relaxed, we feel good, and we don't want to kill anyone. We develop a higher consciousness. So, we wanted to teach people to evolve - to make love and not war. Of course, the journalists made this out to be an orgy. It was not planned to be one. It was planned to happen on the International Day of Orgasm for Peace. We planned it to bring peace." Mellul and Drori promise that similar events are planned for 2009.
Are these people crazy? One can perhaps only answer that question with another one: what is "crazy" and what is "normal" at this late date? One thing that does seem reasonably certain is that it feels very difficult to dislike a group that describes itself as "working toward the first embassy to welcome people from space... sweeping the world with the most politically incorrect and fearlessly individualistic philosophy of non-conformism."