Adventure to Booneville (1974)

The recent passing of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon (September 3, 2012) put me into reminiscence mode–returning me to the Fall of 1974 when I was a new graduate student at UC-Berkeley. The details are (after some 38 years) a bit fuzzy, but I’m sure I remember the essence of the events pretty well.

A young Jewish man–a grad student at UC–came to the Hillel Foundation building with an alarming tale. He himself was Australian, and he had earlier gone to San Francisco Airport to pick up three friends of his who were Jewish students at an Australian university who were coming to visit. When he arrived, he was astonished to find that the plane had arrived early and the students were nowhere to be found.

He was approached by a person who was looking for people willing to join a new commune dedicated to the Reverend Moon in Booneville, California. This person happily told him that his three friends had arrived, had been offered the opportunity to journey to Booneville, and had accepted.

The young man returned to Berkeley and came to the only place he thought he could find some help, namely the Hillel Foundation.

The Foundation was, at that time, led by a charismatic young rabbi named Steve. Unfortunately, at that moment, Steve was sick as a dog with a horrible case of the flu. The young man explained his predicament to student who happened to be a grad student with lots of connections in the (academic) community, so eventually a “posse” was formed to rescue the “kidnapped” students.

One of us called Steve to explain that we were heading for Booneville, and he begged us to come to his house first so that he could plan the mission with some “adult supervision.” Steve was (and correctly so) deeply concerned that one or more of us would do something foolish and perhaps ourselves fall into something on the wrong side of the law.

We met at Steve’s house and Steve pleaded with us not to do anything foolish or violent. Knock on the door, ask to speak to the students from Australia, and see whether they were indeed in any danger. If so, call the cops.

And so, off into the night we drove in some old jalopy one of the posse happened to own. Booneville is not all that close to Berkeley (about 120 miles) so it took us three hours to get there and it was deep night when we arrived. We decamped down the road from the compound and then trudged up the road to the gate. A couple of the posse were in deep conversation about scaling a fence to “invade” the property.

A young woman came to the gate and said that the new Australian visitors were indeed there and had just finished their dinner. Eventually, she brought one of them out to the gate. The student was excited to see his friend from Berkeley and made an effort to convince him to stay with them–that is, with the Moonies there in Booneville. Our guy told his friend that he didn’t understand the nature of the compound, that he was in grave danger of being “brainwashed” and they really needed to come back with us to Berkeley. The student went back to talk to his colleagues. After considerable time and discussion, they all came down the path, left the compound without any obstruction from the residents, and off we headed back to Berkeley.

They were in a second car driven by the Australian expedition instigator so I didn’t personally hear the conversation among the Australians. But I later learned that they were furious at being deprived of a fun time, good food, and perhaps above all, attractive young ladies who were in abundance in Booneville.

We returned to Berkeley without incident. We were all satisfied that we had saved three Jewish souls from the clutches of the Moonies, whether they wanted to be saved or not.

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