6 Mar 2011

Children in London's ultra-Orthodox community have no personal, intellectual or religious freedom

The Telegraph - UK February 25, 2011

Inside the private world of London's ultra-Orthodox Jews

London's insular, close-knit Haredi Jews live by age-old traditions, yet are flourishing in the face of the 21st-century pressures

By Mick Brown

On my way to meet Isaac Kornbluh, who runs the Schomrim neighbourhood patrol (the word means 'guardians’) in the Haredi Jewish enclave in Stamford Hill, I managed to misplace his address and found myself lost.

The Haredi – strictly-Orthodox Jews who trace their ancestry to 18th-century Eastern Euope – are one of the most close-knit, insular and private communities in Britain. More than 20,000 live in Stamford Hill, in north-east London. But it is a community, it seems, in which everybody knows everybody, and where a stranger is noticed.

As I fumbled through my notebook, a woman stopped. 'You look lost,’ she said helpfully. Ah, I wanted Isaac? First left, then right, number 16.

It is a community too in which everybody seems to be in a hurry.

Earlier that afternoon, I had been sitting on Clapton Common, a small park adjacent to a busy main road. Stamford Hill is a cosmopolitan neighbourhood, but even here the Haredi are strikingly conspicuous. Across the park stood a large, Victorian brick building - a centre of learning, perhaps, or a synagogue, and men and boys moved back and forth across the park, all dressed in variations of the traditional Haredi dress - the high-crowned black hats, ringlets and frock-coats.

In the 18th century, the Hasidim - the largest group of Haredi Jews, who comprise perhaps ninety per cent of the Stamford Hill community - were noted for the ecstatic fervour of their worship. 'They conduct themselves like madmen,’ railed a denunciation by the rabbinical authorities of the day, 'and explain their behaviour by saying that in their thoughts they soar in the most far-off worlds. When they pray...they raise such a din that the walls quake.’ But on the streets of Stamford Hill they looked as solemn as undertakers, hurrying purposefully along, their gazes fixed firmly ahead, a world apart from from the idlers outside the betting shop, the hoodies loitering on the green.

Beneath their hats and locks they had a scholar’s pallor. Many, one noticed, wore spectacles. It was once assumed that it was strain brought on by the long hours of study in the yeshive, or Torah schools, that affected the eyesight of so many Haredi men. However, a study in Israel suggested that much of the blame lay with shockelling - the fervent rocking backward and forward motion that students make as they read the texts, and which causes an incessant change of focus in the eyes leading to myopia.

'Let me tell you something,’ said Isaac Kornbluh. He was a short stocky man of 61, grey bearded, curls protruding from his yarmulke. He was dressed in a white shirt, the tzitzit, or ritual tassels - a reminder of God’s commandments - dangling over his black trousers. 'People in this community have lots of children, and they’re always busy. 24 hours a day. They’re going to the synagogue, going to study, to work, to see their family, back to the synagogue, social events in the evening. It’s a very full life.’

Kornbluh is, by his own description 'a fitness fanatic’ who jogs five or six miles each day - not a type, it seems, much found in the Haredi community.

'I try telling my friends, you need to live healthy. They say, “I’ve got no time...”. I maintain, if a person wants something he’ll find the time. I say to them, in the morning after you go to pray, go out for a brisk walk...’ He laughed. '“Got no time....”’

While mainstream Judaism in Britain is in decline, as people 'marry out’ and abandon the faith, the Haredi community is expanding at a phenomenal rate.

A report by the Board of Deputies of British Jews in 2008 estimated the size of Britain’s strictly Orthodox community at close to 30,000 people, around 10 per cent of the nation’s Jewish population. Within the Jewish community at large, the Haredi have traditionally been regarded as , eccentric, inward-looking - some would say religious extremists.

In many ways they are a community frozen in aspic - a repository of life as it was lived in 19th century Eastern Europe, where tradition is held sacrosanct and modernity is largely scorned.

It is a deeply conservative community that venerates religious learning above all else and in which Yiddish is the primary language. FFollowing the Biblical commandment to 'be fruitful and multiply’, families of seven or eight children are common; relations between the sexes are stringently policed, and arranged marriages are the norm. It is a community where a lack of secular education means that economic hardship is rife, and dependence on benefits is high. A community where television, secular newspapers and visits to the cinema are forbidden, where the internet is frowned upon, and where outsiders are treated guardedly.

The word Haredi is a fairly recent coinage, an umbrella term for strictly Orthodox Jewry. It’s literal meaning is 'fearful’ - in this context 'trembling in the face of God’. The Haredi see themselves as defenders of the faith - engaged in struggle which dates back to the rise of the Jewish Reform movement in early 19th century Germany, when liberal thinking started to challenge the traditional religious teachings and practices. Along with that came the increasing assimilation of Jews within mainstream society and a rise in secularism in which religious learning was exchanged for the scholarship of the university. In the face of this drift from tradition, the Haredi regarded themselves as the last redoubt of orthodoxy, taking sustenance from their rigid observance of the halacha - the body of ethical and ritual injunctions governing Jewish life. Even their appearance symbolised a defiant resistance to any trace of modernity. The Holocaust brought the Haredi to the brink of extinction, but also created the conditions that enabled the spread of ultra-orthodoxy, the determination to remake the past - its language, its dress, its rituals and practices - in new soil, in Israel, America and Britain.

There are now estimated to be around 1.3m Haredi worldwide, and according to a 2007 study by Dr Yaakov Wise at the University of Manchester, strictly-orthodox Jewry in Europe is expanding more rapidly than at any time since before the Second World War. In Britain - home to the largest Haredi community in Europe - almost three out of every four Jewish births are in the Haredi community. If current trends continue, the strictly-Orthodox will constitute the majority of British Jews by 2050.

The Haredi community first took root in Britain in Gateshead at the end of the 19th century, when a small group of Jews from Lithuania docked in Newcastle upon Tyne. Appalled at what they regarded as the laxity of the local synagogue, they established their own on the other side of the river.

They built Britain’s first yeshiva (an institution for Torah and Talmudic study), a women’s seminary, and a kollel - a centre of rabbinical studies for married men.

With all of the great centres of Orthodox Jewish scholarship in Europe having been destroyed during the Holocaust, Gateshead became the largest such centre outside the United States and Israel. It remains the principal centre of learning for the Haredi in Britain.

In Stamford Hill, a small Haredi community that had lived in the area since the end of the 19th century was swollen dramatically by the influx of pre-war refugees and survivors of the Holocaust. The population has grown with arrivals from Israel and America. Now within a tight geographical area, little more than a square mile, there are no fewer than 74 synagogues, or shuls, 32 orthodox schools, kosher supermarkets, butchers, fishmongers and a multitude of other businesses.

To the outsider, the Stamford Hill Haredi community may seem like one confusing, amorphous whole, but in fact it is made up of a number of different streams, mostly Hasidic.

Hasidism had its roots in Podolia - what is now Ukraine - in the early 18th century, a populist movement that emphasised an ecstatic form of worship, deeply rooted in mysticism, and that quickly spread throughout Eastern Europe.

The Hasidim are themselves subdivided into numerous rabbinical dynasties - the Satmar (the largest group), the Gerer, the Belzer and the Bobover, all taking their name from the village or town in Poland, Hungary or Ukraine where they originated, and each distinguished by some slight variation of religious practice and of dress.

At the head of each dynasty is the grand rabbi, or Rebbe - nowadays all of whom are to be found living in Hasidic communities in New York or Israel. More than just a religious teacher, the Rebbe is held to be the fount of all wisdom and authority, on domestic, financial and marital matters - the repository of a stream of learning and wisdom that extends back through the rabbinical teachings and commentaries, to the Talmud and the Torah, and thus to Abraham, Moses and God Himself.

Walking around Stamford Hill, it is the geometry of family relationships that you notice. There are groups of mothers uniformly dressed in the mandatory dark coats and long skirts, and wearing the wigs that are an obligation for married women, pushing prams, a handful of children in tow. There are groups of men, but seldom men and women together.

Modesty is paramount to the Haredi, and the mingling of the sexes is strictly regulated. Unmarried boys and girls will have little contact with the opposite sex outside their families. At concerts and wedding parties men and women will always be separated. A Haredi man will avoid making eye-contact with any woman other than his wife, and would never shake hands.

Among the Gerer, the more traditional will observe the rule that even husbands and wives should not be seen walking on the street together, giving rise to the joke: 'Who was that woman I saw you with last night?' 'Not my wife! Not my wife!'

The Torah, the Five Books of Moses that constitute Judaism’s founding texts, and which are held to be the unmediated word of God, contains 613 Mitzvot - or 'dos and don’ts’ - of which one, held among Haredi to be perhaps the most important, is to study Torah.

The act of study is a supreme religious obligation, as much for the layman as the rabbi, and the talmid hakham - the student of the Talmud, the compendious volumes of rabbinical discussions pertaining to Jewish law and custom - is venerated above all others.

All Haredi children in Stamford Hill attend Jewish schools, all of them single-sex, and all but one of them private.

An Ofsted report on faith schools schools in 2010 noted that most of these Haredi schools have few resources, and many are in converted houses. Fees are heavily subsidised by the community at large, but for families with five, six or more children to educate the burden can be crippling.

For boys in particular, education revolves almost entirely around religious studies. The school week can sometimes be more than 40 hours, with the non-religious curriculum taking up only six or seven hours, mostly covering English, mathematics and general knowledge.

In the last round of Ofsted inspections in 2008, more than a third of the strictly Orthodox schools under inspection were criticised for the quality of their secular education.

Schools argue that many aspects of non-religious studies are actually covered in the study of the Talmud ('a place,’ as the writer Jonathan Rosen has described it, 'where everything exists, if only one knows how and where to look’) but the Ofsted report noted that it 'can be difficult even for experts to decipher the curriculum’.

By their mid-teens boys will have entered a yeshiva, where they will remain until their shidduch - an arranged marriage, which usually happens between the ages of 18 and 20. A married man will then go on to a kollel, either full or part-time. In recent years, the enthusiasm for study has become more, not less, intense. Until the 1970s full-time learning in the kollel was unusual - Gateshead was the only one in Britain. But now it is estimated that more than 20 per cent of married men continue their studies in a kollel well into middle-age and beyond, supported by their family. It is not unusual for wives to take on the burden of providing for their families.

This emphasis on religious learning exacts a high price in other ways. Haredim may be well educated in Jewish law, but many are poorly equipped for employment in the outside world. Few boys will have GCSEs, almost none will have A-levels. More than ten per cent of men obtain a rabbinical qualification, but very few have a professional one. Many take jobs in the community that allow time for study.

A 2003 survey suggested that between a quarter and a third of all men work in property; 18 per cent work in retail; 17 per cent teach in local Haredi institutions. The diamond business, centred in Hatton Garden, is a traditional mainstay. Such are the ties to the community that very few will chose to work outside it.

Of the Orthodox Jewish day schools in Stamford Hill, the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School is the only one to have voluntary-aided status.

The school’s principal is Rabbi Abraham Pinter. I met him at his office at the school. He sat behind his desk, wearing a black beaver hat and top coat. His grey beard gathered in clouds around his face, and sharp, amused eyes blinked behind rimless glasses.

Rabbi Pinter is a ubiquitous and much-respected figure in Stamford Hill, a man who seems to enjoy his position as the public face of the Haredi community. He runs three schools, and is an influential voice in any number of bodies and organisations. In 2008 he was listed at number eight in The Times’s Jewish Power List - ahead of Lord Levy and Israel’s envoy to London, Ron Prosor.

A discursive conversationalist, much given to jokes and ruminations, he has a reputation for worldliness - 'he has a Blackberry,' somebody told me.

He is the scion of a distinguished rabbinical dynasty; his brother is the rabbi of his own synagogue in Stamford Hill - not an important one, Rabbi Pinter suggested with disarming candour; compared with others in the community it was only 'Ryman League’.

Yesodey Hatorah was founded in 1942 by Rabbi Pinter’s father as an independent school with separate sections for boys and girls.

The girls' senior department became a voluntary aided school in 2005, and at the same time moved into superb new, purpose-built accommodation. Tony Blair attended its official opening. The school has 260 pupils, from 11 to 16, drawn from all sections of the Haredi community.

When the school became voluntary aided, Rabbi Pinter told me, there had been some parental concern about having to follow certain aspects of the national curriculum.

'For example, the law is that you have to provide sex education. But parents can choose to opt out. 100 per cent of our parents opt out. Sex education is something we deal with on our own terms through the Jewish curriculum, based on very strong family values.’

He twisted a lock of grey hair in his fingers.

'A question I’m asked is, “How many teenage pregnancies do you have in the community?” To which I reply, “Are you talking about inside or outside marriage? Outside marriage, none.”’

I had never seen a school as clean and orderly as Yesodey Hatorah, nor a more well-behaved body of students. The last full Ofsted report on the school provided an embarrassment of superlatives, rating it 'exceptionally and consistently high’ in virtually all categories. 'Attendance is well above national average,' the report noted. 'Behaviour is superb; in a student questionnaire over 90 per cent stated they liked learning, and above all their joy is obvious.'

While the education of boys is centred on religious study, girls enjoy a much more balanced curriculum, at primary and secondary level. In 2009 83 per cent of the pupils at Yesodey Hatorah sitting GCSEs gained five or more A to Cs.

The attitude to learning was what defined a Jew as Haredi, Rabbi Pinter said. 'For the Haredi, higher education would be in Talmud or Jewish learning; in a modern Orthodox person it would be going to university. There is a difference in aspiration. For a modern Orthodox person getting a doctorate might be an aspiration in its own right; a Haredi person would say, “What do you need it for? You could be an authority in halacha [Jewish law] - why would you want a PhD in physics?”

'I’ll show you...’

He rose from his chair and called out for his secretary.

'Mrs Greenhouse!’

A smiling face appeared at the door.

'Mrs Greenhouse, when you’re looking for a son-in-law what are you looking for - a doctor or what?’

'No someone who will carry on with the study of the Talmud. Learning...’

'You wouldn’t want your daughter to marry a physicist?’

Mrs Greenhouse shrugged. 'A physicist? I would say second-rate. A doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, I would say second-rate. Somebody else might say, "My son the doctor”. My son the doctor, very nice, but I would say, “My son the rabbi”; that’s important to me.’

Rabbi Pinter laughed. 'So a girl would look at a doctor and say he didn’t make it in learning!’

The phone rang, and Rabbi Pinter answered it. It was the London editor of Hamodia, 'the newspaper of Torah Jewry’, which is published in Israel, New York and Stamford Hill, and to which Rabbi Pinter acts as unpaid consultant. 'With respect,’ he said, 'you want me to talk to a tuppence ha’penny Israeli newspaper when I’m talking now to The Daily Telegraph?’ He gave me a broad wink, and hung up.

'People will tell you I’m wasted here,' he said with a laugh. 'I can think out of the box - and that skill I got through Talmud. I can think straight, I can think horizontally, and I can think with my head as well. Talmud develops a person morally, ethically and intellectually.’

Almost all of Rabbi Pinter’s students at Yesodey Hatorah would go on to study at a seminary, either in London, Manchester or Gateshead. None would go to university - 'because at present there isn’t the environment for Haredi girls to do that’ - although some might do Open University courses while continuing to live at home. His daughter, he said, had gained a BA, 'without stepping into university’, and now teaches history at the school. Midwifery is a particularly popular option - and in Stamford Hill there is no shortage of opportunities to practise it.

But for women, the primary expectation is to marry, create a home and raise their children in the faith. 'Our experience,’ Rabbi Pinter said, 'is that the better educated girls turn out to be the most successful mothers. For us, that’s the most important role a woman plays.’

Because of the size of families, and the emphasis put on continued religious studies, poverty is a real problem in the community. A 2006 study of the Stamford Hill community, Between Torah Learning and Wage Earning, published by the Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies in Jerusalem, estimated that more than half the households below retirement age were receiving a means tested benefit of some sort, 62 per cent of families in the study were receiving child benefits, and 70 per cent receiving housing benefits. Of those, 70 per cent reported finding it 'difficult’ or 'very difficult’ to fund the gap between housing benefits and real rent levels.

Agudas Israel Community Services is an independent body that gives advice to the Stamford Hill Haredi on welfare, employment and immigration issues. An affiliated housing association has more than 500 residential units in Stamford Hill, neighbouring Haringey and Manchester.

Housing, Michael Posen the director of the advisory service told me, was a major concern among many Haredi in Stamford Hill. Of the 3,500 families in the community, more than 2,000 live in private rented accommodation; housing is scarce and and there are high levels of over-crowding.

The proposed government changes to cap housing benefit at £400 for properties of four bedrooms or more threaten to bring further hardship, Posen said. He estimates that more than 100 families in the community will be affected.

'As a community we’re very much aware of the financial state of the country and agree that something has to be done. But a lot of what the government has proposed will affect larger families disproportionately to smaller families. Vastly disproportionately.’

People in the community had a mixed view of drawing benefits, Posen went on. 'I have had people come in here who on principle will not claim anything at all, including child benefit. There are some people who will take child benefit, but they won’t take housing benefit because they don’t want to rely on a government hand-out. But in terms of stigma... not generally because there are so many people have to rely on it. It’s not a social security benefit; it’s not income support; it’s not signing on. Jobseeker's Allowance, yes there would be embarrassment.’

I wondered, would worsening financial straits perhaps encourage people to have smaller families? 'No one’s going to say that,' Posen said. 'There are people who for medical or emotional reasons might be encouraged to use contraception; but for financial reasons... that would be against our whole ethos. For that we can rely that we will be looked after by God.’

'There is a love of children, which is very central to the community,’ Rabbi Pinter told me. 'To us it’s the reason why we’re here. It’s all about continuity.’

It might be argued, I said, that in this day and age one should be thinking about limiting numbers. He shot me a look. 'It’s like saying, you’ve got this wonderful school building - what do you need all these bloody kids here for?’

An authority in Jewish law offered another view. In some parts of the community people’s worth was measured 'by how many children they have and how long their beard is’, he said with a sigh. 'Some people will express frustration that there are people having large numbers of children. But that’s balanced against the fact that in the Jewish world there’s a very strong premium on having children. We’re good at once in a while being completely wiped out. It’s one of our historical specialities.’

The important thing to remember about the Haredi community, Posen told me, was how tightly knit and and mutually supportive it was. There was a complex web of organisations and voluntary groups giving support on everything from care of the elderly to providing bridal gowns for those unable to afford them.

It was a place where people rich and poor live cheek by jowl, where one is expected to help the other, and where people dug deep. Rabbi Pinter had described it to me as 'a model of The Big Society in practice’.

Posen pointed out of the window of his office. Next door was a block of Agudas Israel housing association flats, where virtually everybody, he said, lived on benefit support. Beside that was a large house - 'you can just see the swimming pool’ - owned by a man who had made his fortune in property and the diamond business. 'But he would never think of moving out.’

According to a 2002 survey of the Stamford Hill Haredi, 'Torah, Worship and Acts of Loving Kindness’, more than half of the community is actively involved in some form of voluntary work - compared with around seven per cent for London overall - with some people working for as many as eight different organisations.

(The same survey threw up an enlightening statistic on the depth of religious observance: of the men questioned, 81 per cent had attended a religious talk in the previous two months, compared with two per cent who had attended a concert of classical music, and only one per cent who had watched a sports event or visited a cinema. 28 per cent, however, had visited a shopping centre.)

Crime within the community is rare; there are no gangs, no knifings; violent crime is virtually non-existent, domestic abuse rare - although fear of being the victim of crime or of anti-Semitic abuse is high. The Shomrim comprise some 20 volunteers, manned with two-way radios, who provide a sort of instant-response citizen force which Isaac Kornbluh told me could be on the scene of a bag-snatching or an assault within one or two minutes, tailing the offender until the police arrived to make an arrest.

The community has its own ambulance service, Hapzolah, with trained paramedics, and two weekly newspapers.

The Jewish Tribune, which is published from Stamford Hill, concentrates more on parochial issues. Hamodia ('the informer’) carries world news from its New York and Israel offices, and general stories deemed to be of interest to British Orthodox Jewry - a report on anti-Semitism being taught Islamic schools, Government cuts on migrant workers - as well as local news.

The tone is avowedly religious, everything refracted through the Torah way of life. There is no coverage of the arts, sport or books. Secular culture simply does not exist. The photographs are almost exclusively of distinguished rabbis, beaming out from behind capacious beards, behatted men gathering for some speech or celebration. It takes a moment for the outsider to put his finger on what is missing. There are no pictures of women. It is forbidden.

'The intention is that a person who doesn’t have a television, use the internet or read a secular newspaper can buy Hamodia and read all the news you need,’ Vicki Belovski, a freelance writer who works as the paper’s community news editor, told me.

News coverage is necessarily selective. One of the biggest stories of last year, Wikileaks, was not reported at all. The paper does not cover anything to do with the internet, Vicki Belovski told me, and it would have been unthinkable to report that Julian Asssange had been accused of sexual assault. 'It’s a family newspaper. We’re very careful about anything like that. There shouldn’t be any news in the paper that, in theory, the most sheltered person couldn’t pick up and read with their children.’

Abiding by the Torah injunction of shmiras halashon - 'guarding the tongue’ - local news in the paper avoids anything that might offend or be controversial. Within the community there had been much discussion over the subject of kosher milk. Traditionally there was one supplier that had the stamp of approval from the Kedassia, the rabbinical authority that certifies products as kosher; now a second supplier is selling milk that is cheaper. Cut-throat commercial dealing, squabbling rabbis - it had all the elements of a page-one lead, but Hamodia had not touched the story.

When I discussed this with Rabbi Pinter he shrugged. 'The editor is a particularly nice person and he doesn’t want to upset anybody. Anything that would be critical of somebody in the community would be considered gossip. It’s not what the community expects.’

But supposing somebody was being dishonest, or some sort of abuse of power or position was occurring? Is it not the paper’s job to report that?

'The Rabbinate have to deal with it. It’s not the newspaper’s job. People find out about things,’ Rabbi Pinter went on. 'But let them find out from somewhere else.’

A Haredi man put another spin on this. Stamford Hill was a place where many of the more grievous social problems that afflict the wider world were almost totally unknown. But it was also a community that tended to treat the things it didn’t want to see - the use of drugs, domestic difficulties, broken marriages - as if they didn’t exist at all.

In recent years, child abuse has become a subject of much discussion in the American Hasidic community, with revelations of abuse by rabbis that echo the scandals that swept through the Catholic community.

In 2008 the Jewish Chronicle reported that a rabbi from New York, Nochum Rosenberg, who runs a hotline for children to report abuse, was forced to flee from a Stamford Hill synagogue where he was listening to a lecture after being recognised and chased by 200 Haredi men. Reports of the incident posted on Jewish websites in America prompted hundreds of comments, the majority attacking Rabbi Rosenberg’s campaign.

On Dunsmure Road there is a parade of kosher shops - a baker, a butcher, a supermarket. A railway line runs near by and beside it - with exquisite irony - a street named West Bank. I had it in mind to visit a synagogue, and in a shop selling Judaica, music CDs and greetings cards, I bought a yarmulke, to the evident amusement of the sales assistant. Garishly painted portraits of great rebbes, living and dead, hung on the walls - home decoration.

In the darkening afternoon, the schools were letting out, and the streets were thronged with mothers and children, earnest Torah scholars hurrying home for tea and family duties, the gutteral cadences of Yiddish carrying on the air. London had never seemed more like a foreign city.

At the bottom of Egerton Road stands Stamford Hill’s largest and most impressive place of worship, the New Synagogue - a handsome Edwardian replica of the 19th-century Great St Helen’s Synagogue in the City of London, long since demolished. The New Synagogue was originally of the United Synagogue affiliation, but became defunct some 25 years ago when that congregation dwindled and its last remaining members moved away. In recent years it has become the headquarters of the Bobov Hassidim (considered the most dandified of the sects, I was told, because of their custom of wearing their white knee socks pulled over their black trousers) who, with the help of an English Heritage grant, have restored the building to its original glory.

The door was locked. On an impulse, I crossed to a building on the other side of the road and pulled open the door. It was a yeshiva. A group of teenage boys milled in the hallway between lessons. They greeted my appearance with looks of shock and surprise. A stranger, and a goy at that! A boy stepped forward and I explained that I wished to look at the synagogue. He disappeared to consult with somebody, then returned with a key saying he would show me himself. He was 14, he said, 'but people say I look older’. His upper lip and cheeks bore the faint traces of a moustache and beard. At the door I reached in my pocket for my new yarmulke. 'They sold you that?’ The boy’s voice wavered between amusement and disbelief.

He stepped inside and gestured proudly towards the soaring marble pillars, the cupola’d ceiling. 'See how beautiful it is.’

Ranged in shelves along the back were bound copies of the Torah, the Talmud. The boy pulled out a volume and turned the pages - right to left in Hebrew - running his finger over the blocks of text, here the teaching, here the commentary on the teaching.

So do you want to be a rabbi, I asked.

'Yes. Maybe.’ He paused. 'So are you thinking of becoming a Jew?’

I was told that I should meet Joe Lobenstein. A bastion of the Haredi community, Lobenstein has lived in Stamford Hill since before the war, when he arrived in Britain as a refugee from Germany. He is vice-president of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, and was a local councillor for 38 years (the Haredi of Stamford Hill are as dependable an ethnic voting bloc as the Tammany Hall Irish in 19th-century New York) and four times mayor of Hackney.

He is a succesful businessman, who runs a large electrical cable distributors. I met him at his warehouse in Leyton, a short drive from Stamford Hill. Lobenstein founded the business 61 years ago with his father, and now runs it with two of his sons. He has eight children. 'It’s part of our religion not to count grandchildren. But I can tell you I have enough to man a number of football teams.’ He paused. 'Actually I’ve lost count.’

The Haredi community, he said, was wary in its association with outsiders, he said - a legacy of history, perhaps. He remembered how when he first became a councillor in 1962 people thought he was mad.

'How can you, a Jewish boy, just come out of the clutches of Hitlerism, get into political life? It was very unusual for anybody to mix in this political environment. But I did.

'Naturally there are people who are more fearful than others. It’s a question of the individual. But we do business... I have customers of all persuasions. I get on with everybody. I wear my skullcap and I do what I have to do, and people have to take me as I am.’

Lobenstein is 83 but he still comes to work each day, after morning prayers, and studies the Torah each evening. 'The Torah is, or ought be, a lifestyle for every Jewish person. There are some people who don’t observe some of these laws.’ He shrugged. 'That’s a great pity. A person who lives by the Torah is a happy person, and a group of happy people are by definition a happy community.’

To preserve this happiness, he suggested, it was necessary to keep the outside world at arm’s length. 'For example, you will not find an Orthodox Jewish home with a television. It teaches people how to steal; it shows people how to kill. So why should I expose my children and my grandchildren to this lifestyle which I regard, and my religion regards, as absolutely abhorrent.’

The immorality of today... He shook his head. For much the same reason he would strongly discourage any of his grandchildren from going to university. 'University life today is so infested with revolutionary ideas and secular ideas that I would not like my grandchildren to be exposed to that sort of influence.

'It doesn’t say in the Bible that you mustn’t send children to a non-Jewish school; it’s just that when you look around and you see what’s going on here... it’s the promotion of a lifestyle that I regard, and the Jewish religion regards, as abhorrent.’

We talked about the dilemma facing Stamford Hill - the rapid growth of population, the rising rents, the overcrowding. For some years there had been a running battle with the local Hackney Council, he said, which has placed stringent limits on roof extensions. 'In my years as a councillor I have met hundreds and hundreds of residents of this borough who have complained about the state of the road, the cleanliness, all sorts of things. Not a single person has complained to me that there are too many roof extensions. Some people in our community feel that some people in power don’t want to oblige us...’ His silence implied a multitude of agendas. 'It makes people feel uncomfortable,’ he said at last.

I asked Lobenstein if he might arrange for me to visit a kollel. 'People don’t much like the press,’ he said. 'I’m not sure it would be appreciated.

Perhaps a synagogue on Sabbath? He looked doubtful. 'Ask Rabbi Pinter.’

Rabbi Pinter gave it some thought. 'Why don’t you ask somebody else?’

At length I found my way to nearby Golders Green, a more affluent area than Stamford Hill and home to a large Orthodox community and a small Hasidic one.

Sabbath begins at sunset on a Friday. The synagogue was the converted ground floor of a house on a quiet residential side-street. The congregation comprised some 50 men, all black-hatted, some in frock-coats, some in black suits, some in bekishes, the long silk gown traditionally worn on Sabbath and special occasions. Several wore the flamboyant fur Sabbath hat, or shtreimel.

Sabbath is seen as a time of ecstasy, to enjoy the world. The keening sound of the traditional Sabbath song, Lekhah Dodi ('come my beloved’), which likens the Sabbath to a bride, filled the small room; the chanting of prayers sounded like water running over stones.

A rabbi had invited me to join him, his wife and seven children and some friends for the Shabbos meal. The Sabbath law prohibiting anything that 'creates work’ encompasses a range of activities from driving or taking a bus, to switching on an electric light. The lights in the house had been set on an automatic timer, and the switch on the downstairs toilet bore a sign, for my benefit perhaps, 'Do not turn off’.

The food, the wine - a kosher cabernet from Galilee - and the conversation flowed. It was both an intoxicatingly joyous family occasion and a profoundly religious one, the rabbi an extrovert combination of paterfamilias and teacher. Over gefilte fish, he engaged his 14-year-old son in a lively debate on the Talmudic concept of yiush ('despair’) - at what point the finder of a lost object is permitted to regard it as his own. The roast chicken was followed by a learned discourse - 'tonight’s Torah portion’ - on the subject of Moses’s stammer, the rabbi cradling his baby son on his lap as he talked. And the songs! One after another of traditional zemirot , or table hymns - this one from the Gerer, this one from the Bobover - songs of deep devotion and high sentiment. A woman at the table brushed a tear from her eye. The bride of Sabbath had arrived. The baby slept peacefully in the rabbi’s arms.

It would be true to say that many of the 613 Mitzvot that form the basis of Haredi life have little application to life in 21st-century Stamford Hill. Few would be minded to destroy fruit trees during a siege, for example, or to contemplate dwelling permanently in Egypt.

But the diktats relating to diet, worship, family and commerce have been refined over centuries of rabbinical commentary and debate into a labyrinthine body of law and custom that governs every aspect of daily life - reinforced by what are known as 'gezerah’, or the precautionary measure - a fence, as it were, to guard against any possible transgression.

'For instance,’ Michael Posen told me, 'the rabbis have said that you should not be in a locked room with a member of the opposite sex, even though nothing is going on. But it’s to avoid you coming into an opportunity of doing something that’s incorrect.’

By this same principle, that it is better to be safe than sorry, it is deemed advisable not to go into a newsagent - who knows what you might see on the top shelf? - and to use a special 'kosher’ phone, on which text-messaging is disabled. 'You can open a text and it can start a process,’ Posen explained. 'It can lead to other things...’ He did not specify what.

Strolling around Stamford Hill, it occurred to me that to be Haredi was to walk with one’s eyes half-closed to the enticements and corruptions of the world around you, the advertisements on hoardings, and the side of buses - what exactly is Twilight? - the blare of pop music from a shop doorway. How to preserve the values of the community - and by definition its separateness - in the face of the wider society around it... It was the question that puzzled me wherever I went.

I asked Rabbi Pinter, how aware would his pupils be of the currents of popular culture eddying through society? Would The X Factor figure in his pupil’s conversation on a Monday morning?

'They wouldn’t be aware of what The X Factor is.’ He paused. 'I’m not sure I’m aware of what The X Factor is. But I think they’d say, what are they all going crazy about? One of the reasons why our children are so focused on education and why they are doing so well is because they don’t have those distractions. They have a real appreciation for a modest way of life. I think they would say, why are we idolising David Beckham and - what is she called? The Posh person? What are we getting out of this?’

But living by a code of such tightly imposed rules and guidelines, what cost was exacted in individual freedoms?

Rabbi Pinter thought about this. 'Everybody nowadays talks about “my rights”. What that usually means is “I have the right to do what I want and you have to take responsibility for that, because I have no responsibilities at all”. We don’t believe in that. There are limitations to individualism, and I will willingly give up that individualism because I believe I’m part of a society that is more important than me as an individual.’

Supposing, I asked, somebody had come to the realisation that they were gay? Rabbi Pinter sucked in his cheeks. 'They would be offered support and advice. We wouldn’t make you marry - well some might, but I wouldn’t. But it’s not a lifestyle that you can carry out. So a gay person would limit their behaviour or leave the community.’ He paused. 'I think most would knuckle down.’

There were, of course, young Haredi who rebelled against the burden of conformity - of course there were. But they were few. When I asked about this the word most often used was 'dysfunctional’.

'An outsider may say that whether you study the Torah for an hour each evening or switch on Coronation Street is simply a cultural variation,' one man told me. 'But that’s not how it’s presented to us - and, more important, it’s not how it feels to us. Sitting around the Sabbath table or figuring out a Talmudic conundrum with a child is not just like having Sunday roast together as a family. To us, it is part of what we see as our sanctification, something that is uniquely ours and which we will fight tooth and nail to hold on to. The child who won’t attend the Sabbath meal will have his or her parents concerned not simply that he or she is antisocial or may be depressed but that it is the beginning of drifting away, and that they’re losing the child. That is not only in defiance of the child’s parents and family but of our whole way of life.’

For a boy and girl to go out together on a date, to go to pop concert, to dissent from the code of dress - such things, it was suggested, would be almost unthinkable. 'For a child in the Haredi community to buy a pair of jeans,’ Michael Posen told me, 'there would have to be something really troubling him.’

But if there is a fence, it is a fence that has holes. At the London Jewish Film Festival last year there was a screening of the American film, Romeo and Juliet In Yiddish, which tells the story of a young masters student who seeks the help of two Hasidic drop-outs from Brooklyn to translate Shakespeare’s play into Yiddish. To the astonishment of many in the audience, a large contingent of young Haredi from Stamford Hill turned up to see the film. The comedian David Schneider, who was chairing the evening - and who himself studied Yiddish at Oxford - made a point of greeting the group, 'Hello, this is a cinema, this is electricity...’. eliciting a huge cheer from the Haredi themselves.

But it is the internet that constitutes perhaps the greatest trojan horse for outside influences to enter the community. Computers are tolerated, but ostensibly only for business. In the Jewish Tribune, I read a column by Yitzchak Reuven Rubin, a venerable Manchester rabbi, warning of how the internet 'slips into every nook and cranny with a subtle power that can overwhelm the sturdiest of souls.’ Members of 'the Torah community', he warned, 'should remain ever vigilant'.

A desperate - and ultimately futile - caution. 'Anyone with half a brain has realised that the attempt to control it has failed and could never have succeeded,’ one Haredi man told me.

Despite rabbinical disapproval, he went on, most people have internet access, if not at home then at local libraries. How else to book a flight to America or Israel for a sister’s wedding? He suggested I Google Shloime Gertner, whose sentimental religious and wedding songs have made him a star in the London Haredi community (I had heard of Shloime - 'The Hasidic Robbie Williams!’ as one person put it). There was no shortage of YouTube videos, and Shloime had more than 1,000 Facebook friends.

Surfing the web, I even came across a couple of Haredi bloggers - a particularly challenging pastime in a community where to openly express a controversial or contrarian opinion is to bring opprobrium on your head, and where to do it in a medium that is already disapproved of is to be twice damned. The liveliest blog goes under the name of If You Tickle Us (Boy Will We Laugh). It was here that I read an irreverent account of the kosher milk controversy ('Stamford Hill is in a lather or, given the subject matter, perhaps that should be a latte’).

I contacted If You Tickle Us and asked if we might talk. He replied: 'I’d love to talk and even meet, but....’ He would, however, send some thoughts. I received an email a few days later. I felt I was reading samizdat. He wrote at length about living in a community which had, he said, to some extent achieved its aim of 'trumping modern life’, which cherished its traditions, its religious observances its strong family values, but which also 'flatly ignores or denies the many problems inherent in its way of life'.

'Since the Torah is the truth,’ he wrote, 'our path must be of primrose, and since our path is indeed of primrose it proves the supremacy of a Torah way of life. Hence it follows that to criticise some of the fundamentals which underlie our way of life is to challenge the Torah itself. Problems are thus ignored if not denied altogether, criticism is silenced because an alternative is unfathomable, creativity and originality is suspect if not heretical, and change when necessary is either smuggled in unnoticed or presented as a legitimate variant of the status quo.’

He wrote of the limitations of an education system in which 'scholarliness is often a euphemism for ignorant piety’, and where the emphasis on religious knowledge left most students ill-equipped to face the outside world.

'If dissociating yourself from the broader society extends to cutting yourself off from basic knowledge like maths, geography, history and even simple skills like writing which in turn feed into an inability to earn a living, respectfully and honestly then the question must be: what is gained by such insularity?’

'Very few,’ he went on, 'will confront the fundamental issues, or that our way of life is not suited for everyone. So many spend a frustrated life of unfulfilled potential. This generates envy, extremism, dependency and an overall despondency which is seldom discussed.’

But it was also, he wrote, a community of immense warmth and self-reliance, with a level of philanthropy that would 'leave you gaping’; a community that instilled a powerful sense of identity, 'a pride in who you are, your culture and your history.’ It is, he concluded, 'a way of life that I love a great deal but which I am also frustrated with in almost equal measure. But ultimately it is my own and there is a Talmudic expression which encapsulates my feelings. “A person prefers a single measure of his own to nine measures from someone else”.’

A few days later I received another email. That morning he had attended the 8am service at synagogue, and there was a story he wished to share.

'I had walked in late and donned my prayer shawl and tefilin in an anteroom. As I was wrapping myself in my prayer shawl I accidentally jabbed the guy standing near me. This is a guy who though I see him regularly in the morning I have never exchanged a word with. While unwrapping myself I said “sorry” to him. He bent forward and said with a smile, “We Hasidim don’t say 'sorry’, we serve a jab in return”.’

The more time I spent in Stamford Hill, the more I thought about the contradiction of a community whose values depend on keeping the world at bay. It is a community that must, inevitably change. Economic hardship, rising rents, a chronic shortage of accommodation, limited employment opportunities, all mean that the Haredi must increasingly look outwards. Stamford Hill can no longer support its burgeoning Haredi population, but where are they to go?

For years, there has been talk of a diaspora, of perhaps 100 or 150 families, enough to build the foundations of a new community, with its own synagogues, schools and kosher shops, relocating elsewhere. In the early 1980s there was talk of taking over a former psychiatric hospital in St Albans that was being converted into residential accommodation. But nobody wanted to move to St Albans.

More recently, there were discussions with the then mayor of London Ken Livingstone about transplanting a Haredi community within the Thames Gateway, of pioneering in Milton Keynes, or close to Stansted Airport. 'It’s always been my dream,’ Rabbi Pinter told me. 'The problem is it probably needs some government involvement in helping us to do that. But if we can build an infrastructure somewhere out there, why not?’

Joe Lobenstein was doubtful.

'On paper this is fine, but it won’t work.’ He shrugged. 'When I got married - 58 years ago - there was already talk of moving to Ilford. It’s all talk. We are so wedded to Stamford Hill. We’ve got our synagogues here, our schools, our clubs - there’s no question of moving.’

He thought for a moment.

'I’ll tell you the truth - we are always concerned. We always have problems. But always bear in mind we have a pattern in the past.’ He told me a story to illustrate this. When he took his driving test, 'about 65 years ago’, the examiner had asked, 'What do you think is the most important part of the car?'

'I wasn’t quite sure what he was driving at - was it the brakes, the steering wheel? And then it occurred to me, I think it’s the wing mirrors. And I’ll tell you for why - you cannot drive forwards without also looking backwards. We look at how our parents grew up, our grandparents grew up. The times have changed, the environment has changed, but our basic way of life must continue from generation to generation.’

This, he said, is what I needed to understand. 'We are survivors.’

This article was found at:


Children indoctrinated in Orthodox community to fear anything not kosher require special therapy to overcome anxieties

The Independent - UK May 11, 2011

An unorthodox way to talk it over

How do you persuade an ultra-insular community to speak out? Jessica Elgot, this year's winner of the Wyn Harness prize, reports

In the world beyond the kosher bakeries and Yiddish supermarkets of Stamford Hill in Hackney, London, a blue hat isn't a great cause for concern. But in this strictly Orthodox Jewish community where friends wear black or brown hats, agonising over a blue one can be enough to drive someone to seek help.

That's the tip of the iceberg, says José Martin – founder of Talking Matters, a unique counselling centre for the Stamford Hill community. Other widespread concerns include reductions in housing benefit and funding a private, religious education for between six and 10 children.

Ms Martin says: "One lady was really troubled by whether she could wear a blue hat. That to most people would be a non-issue but in this community it can be huge."

And it can have major consequences, Ms Martin explains. "There are arranged marriages, shidduchim. If little Moishe starts acting differently, people start saying, 'Don't marry into his family.' The pressures to conform here are double anywhere else."

Talking Matters, based on the top floor of Stamford Hill's library, was set up in 2001 to help people to face their fears of doing anything outside the norm. Although no real figures exist, the impoverished, secretive community is thought to be 20,000-strong with 50 synagogues in two square miles.

Many of the clients, especially children, are still unable to vocalise their issues. Therapies now include art, acupuncture, reflexology, reiki, shiatsu and music.

The centre aims to deal with anxiety before clients have breakdowns. Ms Martin says problems go back decades. "We have Holocaust survivors who didn't talk and, now three generations down the line, people have learnt certain behaviour."

Ms Martin, previously Hackney Council's Orthodox liaison officer, realised no help existed for this community. "Everyone was too scared to set something like this up because people would say, 'What's wrong with them or their family?' I don't have those issues."

Now the organisation helps 1,500 people a year, including children.

"Ninety-nine per cent of our counsellors are Orthodox Jews, but our dance therapist is Eastern European, our shiatsu therapist is Lebanese Muslim. I think we are the only Orthodox Jewish group around which is that integrated."

Tova Charazi, the group's previous female outreach worker, said the group commands a unique trust. "Here we understand the faith issues but because we are not really ultra-Orthodox, they trust us. They can talk to us and not everyone else will find out."

Humanistic counsellor Ronen Naor says most of the problems he encounters have never been voiced before. "There's a lot of conditioning in this community. And then they grow up and start to have doubts."

Phobias can be a major issue. "The kids are frightened of dogs, bees, wasps, anything that's not kosher. So we give them plastic lions and tigers. I say to parents, 'It's plastic, you don't have to eat it.' Challenging is very important. It might have four legs and fur but HaShem created it. We challenge social norms but not beliefs."

Ms Martin was originally advised she would be lucky to get a 10 per cent quota of male clients. But now, 67 per cent are men. "The reason is, girls bake challahs together and then they talk," Ms Martin says.

"For men, if you're not learning Talmud well enough, or if you've got bills to pay, there's no one to confide in. Your wife, the rabbi, they all have expectations."

But the organisation has funding concerns of its own. Funded by the local Primary Care Trust, operations in north-west London must shut down, after a grant was pulled. Ms Martin says: "We spent three years building it up and we were just starting to get GP referrals.

"Fundraising is a non-starter. People here don't donate money for counselling. We've tried it twice and got nowhere fast.

"The Government want groups like ours to start charging for their services, but for six years, we've been charging £5 per person per hour. It's going up to £7.50 next April and even then it doesn't cover the loss we will make.

"But I have emunah, I have faith. We keep having great successes. If you work hard, God will make sure it happens."

About The Wyn Harness Prize

The Wyn Harness Prize for Young Journalists was established in November 2008 in memory of The Independent's former assistant editor Wyngate Harness, who died from an inoperable brain tumour in 2007.

Jessica Elgot, 24, was awarded the 2011 Wyn Harness prize for this piece. The judges said her piece "treated a serious subject in an entertaining way, without losing sight of the underlying issues".

Jessica is a reporter for The Jewish Chronicle, and a graduate of the Cardiff School of Journalism and the University of Nottingham. She says: "I've always been fascinated by the strictly Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill, a community which even mainstream Jews have little insight into. I first encountered Talking Matters writing a piece on an award they won from Hackney Council, and was struck by this tiny little charity who are dealing with these issues of repression in many families, which can date back to the Holocaust. It's tragic that it's these smaller, specialist charities whose tiny budgets are being slashed to ribbons by local authority cuts, who now have no option than to charge their struggling clients more money."

This article was found at:



Children in London's ultra-Orthodox community have no personal, intellectual or religious freedom

Child protection policies improving in some Orthodox Jewish communities, but not in ultra-Orthodox ones

Israel's ultra-Orthodox cults indoctrinate and intellectually abuse children, and shun those who manage to escape

An abuse of belief

Isolated from the rest of the world, and proud to be so

European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg: Orthodox Jewish Movement Fanatical, Dangerous and Radical

Ban of Orthodox blog by rabbis could change views on handling sex abuse

Brooklyn rabbinical court orders sect members to report crimes to community council not to outsiders 

Simmering sex abuse scandals in Orthodox communities heats up with allegations against high profile Israeli rabbi 


"Child protection policies improving in some Orthodox Jewish communities, but not in ultra-Orthodox ones"



  1. Jewish sect girls ordered back to Israel

    by Ingrid Peritz and Patrick Martin October 05, 2011

    It is an enclave of ultra-Orthodoxy in the midst of the Laurentian mountains of Quebec, and its family practices have sparked an international tug-of-war with Israel.

    Lev Tahor, a community of religious Jews on the edge of the forest north of Montreal, has carried on largely away from the glare of public scrutiny for years. Women and even little girls dress head to toe in chador-like veils and marry as young as the age of 16. Residents have limited contact with outsiders. But now the Hasidic sect in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts has become the focus of attention since two teenaged girls headed here were stopped by Canadian authorities and sent back home.

    The girls, aged 15 and 13, were forcibly detained by Canadian immigration officials in Montreal and returned to Israel apparently under order of an Israeli court. The girls’ great-uncle had petitioned for the writ out of concern that the girls would be harmed by the group in Canada, that their property would be taken, and that they could be forced to wed male members of the Lev Tahor sect. In Israel, the sect is sometimes called the Jewish Taliban because of the way the women dress.

    The spiritual leader of Lev Tahor in Canada, Rabbi Shlomo Elbarnes, opened his study to a journalist on Wednesday to deny that he is coercing anyone to come to his community. He insisted anyone is free to leave.

    “Use force? We want everybody who is not 100 per cent happy ... to leave us,” Mr. Elbarnes said in an interview on Wednesday in the book-lined room, about 100 kilometres north of Montreal. He said girls typically marry as teenagers, and partners are “suggested” for them. But he said marriages are not forced. “The women here choose of their own will.”

    Mr. Elbarnes was convicted in 1994 by a U.S. court of kidnapping a 13-year-old boy studying with him; he fled to Canada in 2001 on a temporary visa and later obtained refugee status. He eventually brought followers of his anti-Zionist sect to the Laurentians, and the group in Sainte-Agathe has grown to about 50 families. The goal is to recreate strict religious observance in an “old-fashioned” way of life, he said. “It is necessary to keep our traditions.”


    Two years ago, the woman leader of the sect in Israel, Bruria Keren, was convicted of severely abusing her mentally-retarded son and sentenced to four years in prison. When social welfare agents accompanied by police arrived to take the child away, a small riot broke out in the community. A majority of Beit Shemesh’s 72,000 people are ultra-Orthodox Jews from a variety of Hasidic sects. Lev Tahor is one of the most extreme.


    Israeli Judge Rivka Makayes found “there is some defect in the parents’ perception of ways of life,” and ordered that the girls be returned to Israel. The writ, the judge said, would remain in effect until an Israeli family court holds a hearing next week to determine whether the extremely pious lifestyle practised by the parents involves such a defect and whether the court should intervene in the affairs of the children.

    The judgment of the court could have implications for other members of the sect, most of whose 300 or so members live in Beit Shemesh, about 40 minutes west of Jerusalem, not far from where David is believed to have fought Goliath.

    If the court rules the lifestyle is illegal or inappropriate, social welfare agencies would be empowered to remove children in the Lev Tahor community from their parents’ care.

    read the full article at:

  2. Israeli sociologist explores the Haredi community

    by Patrick Martin Globe and Mail October 7, 2011

    The story this week about two Israeli teenage girls being sent by their parents to an extreme Hasidic sect north of Montreal, only to be returned to Israel while a court determines their fate, brought to mind a famous case of another child being abducted by an ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) relative half a century ago.

    Yosalle Shuchmacher was six years old in the late 1950s when his secular parents left him in the care of his Haredi grandfather. When the parents went to collect him, the grandfather refused to return him and hid him, first in Israel, then in New York, so that he would receive a proper religious upbringing (among Haredim).

    It took four years, but eventually, with the help of Israel’s intelligence service Mossad, the boy, then 10, was located and returned to his parents.

    It is only incidents such as these, or cases of Haredim rioting when traffic comes near their communities on the Sabbath, or when construction unearths an ancient cemetery, that we delve into this community and its ways that seem strange to most of us.

    In a fascinating new book, Theocratic Democracy, Israeli sociologist Nachman Ben Yehuda, takes a deeper look and explores how and why the community and its many divisions and sects have mastered the use of violence to assert their religious agenda.

    He writes:

    “Haredim strive to have total control over individual life, from the exterior – clothing – to the inner psychic making, including feelings, emotions, perceptions and cognitions. This totalitarian aspiration is the result of a feeling that the Haredi lifestyle has a full, all-encompassing hold on the ultimate and eternal truth. This feeling can give much comfort, and a strong sense of security, to the believers, but it also breeds suspicion, zealotry, contempt and lack of tolerance for what is different. It also seems to grant permission to Haredi control agents to intervene – supposedly in the name of that transcendental truth – in each and every aspect of one’s life.”

    “The Hebrew word Haredi derives from harada –fear and anxiety – meaning “he who is anxious about and/or fearful of the word of the Almighty.” This is not a simple fear, but anxiety to live the kind of life that the Almighty instructed the disciples to live, as is expressed in the Halakha. The term Haredi refers to a distinct form of Judaism, the practitioners of which see themselves, first and foremost, as committed to strict adherence to Halakhic rules, and view themselves as a society of students, or pupils, defending itself against the secular world.”

    Worth reading.


  3. For members of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Gur sect, sex is a sin

    Y., a Gur Hasid, fainted during his pre-wedding counseling session. R. left the sect because she could not stand its alienation of women. A. was sexually harassed as a youth by a religious supervisor. On breaking taboos - and silence.

    By Tamar Rotem, Haaretz Israel February 10, 2012

    When R. was a girl, she came into the possession of the books in the "Anne of Green Gables" series, which her parents did not allow her to read. One Yom Kippur, when her family was at synagogue, she slipped away from the women's section. In her parents' room she shed a tear when the protagonists, Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe, kissed for the first time. When she became engaged a year later, she expected that some of her innocent, romantic fantasies would come true in her own marriage.

    On her wedding night, her brand-new husband called her into the living room, where a large picture of the Admor of Gur - the rabbinic leader of that Hasidic sect - hung on the wall. He told her she had to imagine the rebbe's face when she observed the mitzvah of ishut (conjugal relations ), so that she would have "righteous" children.
    As she tells this story, R., who is now 30 years old, shakes her short-cropped head as if in disbelief. A few years ago, already the mother of two children, she divorced her husband and left the Gur Hasidic sect.

    R. was outraged by the research, whose findings were described last week in Haaretz, about the concept of kedusha (sanctity ) among Gur Hasidism, which revealed the ethos of prishut (separation ) and its strict practices aimed at restraining sexuality. According to her, the depiction of these sacred strictures as merely a supreme value, to which the Hasidim are prepared to devote themselves totally, is imprecise, to put it mildly.

    Gur is a large Hasidic sect, numbering tens of thousands of members. Most of them follow the "official line" they are taught in their schools and yeshivas. However, quite a considerable number observe the strictures only during the first years of their marriage, and thereafter see them as guidelines that can be relaxed in the privacy of their own homes.

    R. and her girlfriends who were raised in hard-core Gur families - some of whom left Hasidism by the skin of their teeth - speak of the heavy psychological price paid by women living in a world where kedusha constitutes an ongoing, restrictive way of life, imposed with severe emotional coldness. They describe a society in which the men, who until their wedding night hardly ever have looked directly at a woman, keep their distance and alienate themselves from their wives as well.

    The women's descriptions were embellished by male former Gur Hasidim who spoke about the implications of being educated toward a life of prishut. Out of the desire to maintain their relationships with family members who are still part of the Gur community, most of the speakers preferred not to identify themselves by name.

    According to Dr. Benjamin Brown, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, criticism of the regulations laid down by the late Rabbi Israel Alter (also known as the Beis Yisroel ), who led Gur from 1948 to 1977, goes back as far as the 1960s. Among the critics was Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky (1899-1985 ), known as the Steipler. Kanievsy was the brother-in-law of the world-renowned rabbinical authority Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (the "Hazon Ish," who lived 1878-1953 ) and the father of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the leading rabbinical authorities in Bnei Brak today.

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    The Steipler wrote that one should not necessarily act according to the sect's strict regulations, which he said mainly cause suffering to women. To this day his views are studied in instruction sessions for bridegrooms in the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic ) ultra-Orthodox community, who are encouraged not to refrain from sexual relations. Among other things, the Steipler wrote: "It is known that a woman's main hope in her world is to have a husband who loves her ... but heaven forfend that he observe the measure of prishut, whereby he hurts his wife."

    The commandants

    R. was considered a good and pious student at the seminary for young women where she studied. Her family, which had a lofty status within Gur, arranged a match with a groom who did not deviate one iota from the doctrine of kedusha.

    "My family," R. recalls, "were good people with good values, but my husband was the product of his education. In Gur sex is a sin. He was convinced that if he loved one woman, this would be a slippery slope and he would become a pervert. The men are severely warned about this."

    At the only encounter she had with him before the engagement, R. did not like her designated groom, she says, "But I thought that if the Rebbe of Gur says it's suitable, then it's suitable. The Rebbe is not God's messenger on earth: He is God."

    At the wedding, she recalls, "When we were in yihud [where the couple is left alone immediately after the wedding ceremony], he kept making sure that the fabric of my dress wouldn't touch him. My feeling was that he found me disgusting."

    Nevertheless, R. says she wanted to love the man who was intended for her: "I kept trying to connect with him, even during the time I was fighting the rules [of kedusha]. I tried to explain to him that this [sort of life] was irrational. But that didn't help."

    In Gur Hasidism, there is a network of men called commandants, who counsel the young grooms regarding marital relations. If there is one thing L., a friend of R.'s, could not stand in her marriage, she notes, it was the commandant's intervention in her intimate life.

    L.: "Early on in my marriage, it sometimes happened that at 1:30 A.M. on the night of my immersion [in the mikveh, or ritual bath, to render her pure for marital relations], he would phone to consult. The commandant told my husband to set a clock for 3 A.M. because only until dawn is it possible to observe the mitzvah. We fell asleep and suddenly the alarm clock rang. It was pitch dark - because in marital relations you cover even the light of the clock. I didn't wake up. The whole evening I had cleansed myself in order to be immersed in the purification pool at the mikveh. I had worked that day. I was tired. And nevertheless he performed the mitzvah. If that isn't rape, what is it? That's how we started out life. Already the next day, you are ritually impure."

    D., a former Gur member who also fled the sect with her two children, describes entire nights when she sat in the bathroom and wept because her husband treated her cruelly. "While I would cry, he would be fast asleep in his bed, a meter and a half from me, clutching his tzitzit, with an angelic smile on his face," she relates.

    D.'s husband, who actually came from a more open family and thus presumably wasn't committed to kedusha, used the regulations as a weapon against her. Sara Einfeld, a former Gur Hasid, says: "Men are liable to use this to control their wives and avoid treating them well, in the guise of spiritual 'elevation.'"


    Y., a Gur Hasid, sent me the following message: "It is important to me that our outcry reach the sane world," he wrote.

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  5. continued from previous comment:

    We met under the cover of darkness in a secular neighborhood in Jerusalem. A fellow in his late 20s, Y. appears to be a full-fledged Gur Hasid, but inwardly he has stopped believing and he abhors the sect's rules.

    "When I was nine or 10 years old," he recalls, "the mashgiah [supervisor] at the heder called the children in for personal talks. That's how I understood for the first time that there are things about the body that are forbidden. In the conversations with the counselors the feeling is that they are walking on eggshells. On the one hand they are warning you [about sex] and on the other hand trying to withhold information that there is such a thing as sex. There is a code name for this: Yiddishkeit [Jewishness, a Jewish way of life].

    "When I was 15 the mashgiah interrogated me, asking: 'What happens with you at night in bed?' He became all serious when I told him - completely naively. 'These are absolute prohibitions,' he reprimanded me. I was very upset and kept thinking how I could do penitence. This is the main frame of mind in Gur, beating your breast for the terrible sin of sexuality."

    Y. learned to walk along side streets quickly, and with his eyes cast down: "We didn't know what we were missing out on. I wasn't even thinking about women then. I didn't see my body. At the mikveh we'd compete to see who could go in and get out the fastest. There was one boy who managed to take his dip and get dressed, all in nine minutes."

    Presumably a young man who has grown up completely separated from any female figure will feel strange when he is brought before a woman on the eve of his engagement. Indeed, says Y.: "The meeting was one big stutter," he relates. "I felt I was riding in a train and there was an engine pulling me. I did not have an independent opinion, I was so accustomed to my parents deciding for me."

    Y. did not see his intended at all during the next two months. "You are not allowed to think about her, about the wedding, at all. I would not have recognized her in the street had I seen her. It's a disaster that there is no guidance for bridegrooms before the wedding. When the counselor told me, two hours before the ceremony, about a woman's period and intimate relations - I was in shock. After all, my whole life they had taught us that this was something forbidden."

    Like many grooms, Y. fainted during the conversation with the counselor. There are others who throw up. "I saw black circles in front of my eyes and all of a sudden I found myself on the sofa," he recalls.

    But the greatest crisis of all came when Y. realized he could not establish a relationship with his wife: "I was not supposed to know anything about love, but I remember myself praying to God to bring me a match that would grant me love and a real relationship."

    Y.'s wife did not want to budge from the strictures of the sect, he adds: "She believes that if she opens up to my love, she will damage her 'paradise.'"

    Nor did Y.'s counselor leave him alone. "I got a phone call. They had told him I had walked in the street with my wife" - which is against Gur regulations. "After that I got it. I would wait for my wife at the bus stop to help her with the stroller and the children. In Gur it is forbidden to help a woman."

    A., also a young man in his twenties, has had doubts about being a Gur Hasid, but has decided to remain in the sect. He says he keeps making efforts to lessen the feeling of alienation he feels from his wife, and she - whom he defines as "one of the strong ones" (in terms of faith ) - has made some concessions. Today this enables him to live within the community, and yet he still does not forgive it for meddling in his life when he was an adolescent.

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  6. continued from previous comment:

    "The institution of the commandants is a disgusting mechanism in my opinion," he says. "When I was about 14 years old, a mashgiah interrogated me about some strange thoughts that I was having. I was an innocent lamb. He succeeded in exposing my innermost self, he drew out the marrow of my bones. I am damaged to this day because they did not respect my intimacy. I think this is sexual abuse in every respect. They gave me to understand that hell awaited me if I didn't confess."

    A. believes that the institution of the commandants serves as a refuge for Hasidim, who satisfy their own lustful urges by means of voyeurism and conversations about the sexuality of married couples and young boys.

    "They are obsessively concerned with this," he says. "There are also wonderful people, counselors who help in matters of fertility, for example, but they are few."

    According to A., the commandants have total independence, and in the absence of a written code of kedusha, also encourage extremism.

    A. himself was released from some of the constraints of kedusha thanks to his financial independence. According to him, "Gur Hasidism applies force mainly upon the young learners, who are 'nourished' around the community table. The moment the Hasid starts working, like me, he is not dependent on them."

    By force of pride

    In R.'s former environment, she says, they continue to this day to live by the rules of kedusha. "The girls in my class, my aunts, my sisters-in-law, my sisters - all of them are living that way."

    At one time she went along with them: "I wasn't educated to be critical. I lived in a sheltered world. I thought people only do good. That it's necessary to admire the admor. I didn't wake up until my marriage. Then I realized that a woman in Gur is a vessel in the service of the man. I envied men for going to learn when I had to clean and cook. I was strangled by the kedusha rules, and in the end it was a matter of life and death for me - and I preferred to leave."

    R. adds, "Most of the women are submissive because they don't know anything about rabbinical law or Gemara. In the Gemara there are stories that are full of sexuality, but [the authorities] only teach the line about Rabbi Eliezer, who had intercourse with his wife as though possessed. The women can't fight it because they don't know that both things exist.

    "Women hold themselves together thanks to the pride instilled in them for being part of a select unit. Look at the others, they are told - look at the secular, look at the Lithuanians: They are like cats. We are angels, ascetics. And if the women want something different, they are ashamed. You are not supposed to want your husband to stay home and not travel to the Rebbe [in Jerusalem] every three weeks. After all, you are driving him to sin, and causing him to stray from the path of Hasidism - and you definitely don't want him to hug you."

    R. agrees that it is possible for relations of mutual respect and caring to develop even in the most pious Gur families. But that is not enough, she notes: "There is emotional alienation. There are no demonstrations of affection, the whole matter is taboo. It reminds me of marriages in royal dynasties in Europe intended for the perpetuation of the kingdom."

    S., a Gur Hasid of 30 who has left religion, recently attended his sister's wedding. "I saw how she was dragged to the wedding canopy with an opaque cloth covering her face," he relates. "I thought about how she was feeling, thinking that soon someone would be touching her in an automatic and insensitive way, and I wept. I think this is traumatic, but I know that her culture and her locked-up world prevent her from feeling what they are doing to her."


  7. Losing her religion - and her children

    A rabbinical court granted 'Ayala's' husband custody when she lost her faith. One woman's struggle against the religious system.

    By Netta Ahituv | Haaretz June 6, 2013

    Curiosity is a celebrated trait among the secular, but is considered dangerous in the ultra-Orthodox world. And God, if he exists, is Ayala’s witness that she possesses plenty of it. According to her husband, a pious yeshiva student, that curiosity is the mother of all sins. It is the reason he is demanding that Ayala be forbidden to see her six children − so as to ensure that she will not transmit even an iota of her inquisitive nature to them.

    For close to a year, she has been waging a battle in a rabbinical court to get her children back. Because all the cases in rabbinical courts are heard in camera, Ayala has to use an assumed name for this interview. She is a beautiful woman, smiling, energetic and warm. It’s hard to imagine her stuffed into a wig, obedient and prudish. But everyone who knows Ayala is used to seeing her shift between the exterior codes: when she meets with her children, she dons the guise of a Haredi woman.

    Her story begins in the usual way for a girl growing up in a Haredi home: schooling in a branch of the Beit Yaakov educational network for Haredi girls and an arranged marriage at the age of 18 to a yeshiva student from one of the extreme sects of the Sephardi segment of the Eda Haharedit. His occupation: Torah study 14 hours a day, from 9 in the morning until 11 at night. Their first child, a boy, was born nine months after the wedding, followed by five other children at approximately 18-month intervals.

    “I was very ideological,” Ayala says. “I wanted my husband to learn and devote himself, and I didn’t mind staying home with the children all day. When they were asleep I did transcription work in the house in order to provide for the growing family. That is what I believed I was supposed to do, even if it was hard. Our life as a couple was not easy. He is insular and unsociable. He cut me off from my girlfriends, because he refused to visit them on Shabbat, and he barely agreed to let them come to us. It was the same with my family. In the Haredi world, women have to live their lives according to the husband, and so it was.”

    Life at home was as difficult for Ayala as her social life. “He could not express emotions; everything was done coldly. Intimate life was hard, too. It wasn’t until later that a woman told me that what he did is called rape. I didn’t understand that it was rape, because I didn’t resist. The idea is that a woman is forbidden to oppose her husband in any situation: as much as the husband wants, the way he wants and whenever he wants. Even if you are not feeling well. So, how can it be rape if you say yes?”

    It is important for Ayala to emphasize that not all Haredim “are like that,” and that this is not a law in the religious world, or in Judaism. “There are many lovely sides to Judaism, but there are also people who are vile under the auspices of the Torah, people who know how to bend the tenets to their own use. You can find religious authorization for every kind of behavior and every perversion − it depends on the person himself and on how he wants to behave.”

    Seeking to resolve their differences, the couple went to a rabbi. God is testing you, the rabbi told Ayala. “I truly believed that this would gain me a good place in heaven,” she says. Life went on, though Ayala occasionally snapped and the couple returned to the rabbi. He persuaded her each time that she was a righteous woman and urged her to soldier on.

    “It is not customary to complain, certainly not against one’s husband,” she explains. “You have to paste a broad smile on your face and walk around as though everything is just fine. That’s how it is with the Haredim: they sweep everything under the carpet, until they trip over it.”

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  8. Losing God

    Things could have gone in the same vein, she says, “if only I had continued to believe that there is a God, and that I was doing everything for him. Believing helped me all those years; otherwise you don’t have the strength to go on.” Ayala did not lose her belief overnight; the process was long and gradual. But she never imagined that losing God would mean the loss of her children as well.

    The starting point of her journey outward from the depths of the Haredi world lay in her insatiable curiosity. “I love to learn − everything, no matter what − so I asked my husband if we could learn together. I tested him before his exams or asked him to tell me what he was learning while I worked in the kitchen. Those were good times. When we learned together we got along excellently. About six years ago, as we were studying together, we arrived at a discussion of outlook and faith. We read Maimonides’ ‘Guide for the Perplexed’ and I had some questions. When I asked them aloud, he said I was crazy, that women do not ask questions, for as the Gemara says, ‘Whoever teaches his daughter Torah, it is as though he taught her frivolity.’ He threatened to stop learning with me. After that we studied only the weekly Torah portion and the Jewish laws. The era of Jewish philosophy was over.”

    Nevertheless, she says, “I continued to read more and more on the Internet. The questions pounded in my head, and when someone asks questions, it is impossible not to provide answers. Many Haredi women who are told it is forbidden to ask questions simply do not ask them. I could not stop asking. Once my appetite was whetted, I could not be stopped. I read as much as I could, and in a process that lasted for a year and a half I slowly lost God. I felt depressed, because the ground was pulled from under my feet. I felt I was not normal and thought there were no other people like me in the world. It was a long, painful process.” She relates this part of her story skillfully: it is obvious that this is not the first time she has satisfied people’s curiosity about this aspect of her journey.

    The next stages are less easy to talk about. During the period of asking questions, Ayala became pregnant again, for the sixth time. This time it was a daughter, after five sons. Happy about the future baby, she reached the end of her term without any problems. But then she had the feeling that something was wrong with the fetus. She went from one doctor to another and was told by all of them that the baby was fine, “just a little hyperactive, nothing more.” After a few tense days, she gave birth to a dead girl. On that day, her doubts about God’s existence ended for good. His absence was confirmed.

    “This was after a year and a half of doubts and uncertainties about God,” she recalls. “I told myself that this is his opportunity to prove to me that he exists. That whole night I did not feel the baby moving. My husband was asleep and I had no one to talk to. For the first time in my life I prayed to God in my words, the first prayer I had truly felt. I told him, ‘I don’t know whether you exist or not, but if you want to bring me back into your party, this is your chance. If you exist, you know what I am going through for you. I know you don’t perform miracles and will not be able to give me back my daughter, but no one will know about that. Only the two of us know that there is a problem, so it will not be called a miracle. I won’t tell anyone; do it for me. I have invested so many years in you, now invest in me.’

    “Of course, nothing happened, and I gave birth to the dead baby without seeing God. For a Haredi woman who sees God when she is doing the dishes, washing the floor, when her child gets a scratch or in any of the most minor situations in life, to go through a whole birth without seeing God is meaningful.

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  9. From my point of view, I received the final confirmation that he does not exist. That put the lid on my faith.”

    The traumatic childbirth experience also provided the final confirmation of her husband’s lack of consideration. “He told me that when we leave the hospital, I have to smile and show everyone that all is from heaven and for the best. I remember that as we were leaving, with me drenched in tears, a Haredi man my husband knows went by, and he ordered me to turn around so that the acquaintance would not see that I was crying.”

    ‘My prison’

    The period that followed was the most excruciating yet. Without faith, Ayala could no longer bear life’s hardships. “I did not believe I would be rewarded in heaven. Suddenly I remained alone with my fate.” She asked permission from a rabbi to use contraceptives, as she felt she was no longer capable of becoming pregnant after losing the baby. However, the rabbi refused to sanction this; he had heard about her “heretical” reflections and believed another child might give her something else with which to occupy her mind. Four months after the disastrous delivery, Ayala again became pregnant. It was another boy.

    Two years ago, she happened to see an article about an Internet forum called “Haredim against their will” ‏(in Hebrew‏). Her curiosity piqued, she waited until her husband left for the all-night eve-of-Shavuot tikkun, involving the study of Jewish sources, and organized a domestic tikkun of her own, in which she read the forum’s entire archive.

    The writers are religiously observant people who have lost their faith, but do not want to break up the home. The result is that they live as Haredim against their will. “My eyes were opened − I was not the only crazy one,” Ayala says. “There are others like me in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv. Suddenly I had legitimization for the whole process I had undergone. A few days later I registered myself in the forum, became active in it and met some of the people personally. I, too, thought that I would not wreck my family under any circumstances and therefore would live as a Haredi against my will.”

    Ayala thought of her situation as “my prison,” but felt that as long as she could bend the bars a bit to see the world outside, she could make do. She started to listen to nonliturgical music, joined a city library and asked her husband if she could enroll in the Open University. “How does a Haredi woman persuade her husband about studies? She tells him that in three years she will have a degree that will generate a good living.” Ayala received a scholarship and started to study sociology. “That was my way to preserve my sanity without wrecking the home,” she says. But her husband and the community were leery. One day she was invited to a neighborhood functionary who took out a checkbook and offered to pay her whatever she wished if she would discontinue her studies. Ayala’s refusal sparked her complete ostracism by the Haredi world. From that moment, no one in the neighborhood spoke to her. At the same time, her husband discovered that she was in contact with the Internet forum − she was photographed by a private investigations agency hired by families of some of the forum’s members during one of the group’s outings. He demanded a divorce.

    This was the start of Ayala’s still-ongoing legal saga. In addition to marriage and divorce, a rabbinical court is entitled to deliberate matters related to child custody and alimony, provided no previous claim in this regard has been submitted to a Family Court. It often happens that one of the sides wants the divorce proceedings to be heard in a particular court, so he or she rushes to file a complaint in the court of choice ‏(see box‏).

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  10. Ayala was the first to launch divorce proceedings − in a Family Court − but then her husband agreed to give the family a chance to set things right. For a few months, they tried to restore domestic peace. The Family Court closed the case, and five days later, her husband launched divorce proceedings in a rabbinical court, demanding custody of the children.

    Ayala’s lawyer, Moshe Ben-Shimol, filed a complaint citing dishonesty in the husband’s actions. According to the complaint − which was rejected − the husband pretended falsely that their relationship was about to improve, whereas his real intention was to get the case transferred to a rabbinical court. “We believe that Ayala’s husband thought that if the case were heard in Family Court, his chances of being given custody of the children would be poorer than in a rabbinical court, because children of this age are usually raised by their mother. He therefore got the case transferred to a rabbinical court by totally invalid means,” Ben-Shimol says.

    Less than second-class

    Ayala hoped that things would not come to a divorce, because “to be children of divorced parents in the Haredi world is awful. It’s a lot less than second-class.” For four months she lived with her husband under the same roof, willing to take the insults he hurled at her in front of the children.

    “He was hurt, and he mocked and humiliated me,” she says. At this point, Ayala began to be followed and photographed, in an attempt to cast aspersions on her as a parent. In another wily move, the children’s father complained to the social-welfare authorities that Ayala was neglecting the children by studying for university exams. “In a conversation I had with the social worker, she understood that I was not neglecting the children. She advised me to leave the house and not endure this daily humiliation. For the children’s sake I did not want to renounce my faith completely, but the Haredi society kicked me out. The absence of faith itself did not interfere with my continuing to live there − it was the hard life with him and the ostracism by all the others that made it impossible. If things had been good for me there, I would have stayed.”

    A Haredi rabbinical court began to hear the divorce case eight months ago. “Since then, the rabbinical court has done everything possible, by means fair and foul, to prevent her from seeing her children, with the entire Haredi street mobilized in this story,” Ben-Shimol says. “With each request, the husband is given 21 days to respond and to gain precious time, in which the children barely see their mother and undergo wild brainwashing. Twenty-one days is a long time for children not to see their mother, yet surprisingly, in other cases, when the rabbinical court wants things to move quickly they occur with a few hours.”

    At first, the rabbinical court decided to place the children under the joint custody of both parents. Ayala abandoned her studies, found a job as a secretary in a computer company and moved into an apartment in the same neighborhood, which she shares with another woman. She thought a new life was about to begin for her: the children would be with her from Saturday evening ‏(after the end of Shabbat‏) until Wednesday, and with her husband the rest of the week.

    Her apartment is modest and not especially elegant, but pleasant. The balcony is jammed with things: a small bicycle, a mattress for a child’s bed, “secular” books alongside books on Jewish philosophy.

    Ayala’s flatmate cordially offers a snack. The kitchen is packed with food, in case the children come. The building itself houses mainly Haredi families. A mother with twins ignores Ayala elegantly on the path leading into the building. An outsider could hardly imagine the turbulence that seethes below the seemingly placid encounter between the two women.

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  11. Toward evening, the street bustles with human activity, mostly of Haredi men returning home, as well as little girls in long skirts and boys with tzitzit − fringes of the small tallit, or prayer shawl, worn under the outer garment − sticking out. All in all, it’s a tranquil picture of a pleasant residential neighborhood.

    But behind this tranquillity, too, a storm lurks. In the past few weeks, posters about Ayala have begun to appear on some of the notice boards in the neighborhood. “His wife has been ensnared in Satan’s net,” they say, “and after she became a total heretic, she wants to drag her children down with her. Her innocent, just husband has launched a bitter war for the young children to grow up for God and his Torah. This is costing him a fortune. He has indeed triumphed, but where can he go with a huge hole in his pocket???”

    Ayala’s children live, go to school and wander around in this neighborhood. They have certainly seen the posters and know that they refer to their mother.

    On the day after Ayala moved into her new apartment, she received a handwritten notice, signed by a rabbinical court judge. The notice stated that joint custodial rights were being suspended immediately and informed Ayala that a hearing on the subject would be held the following week. In the hearing, the husband’s representatives stated that Ayala was taking drugs, but in the same breath it was also decided that she would be allowed to see the children on Sundays and Mondays and to visit them in her former home at any time.

    “This is a disturbing decision in itself,” Ben-Shimol says, “because if a person can raise her children on Sunday and Monday, then why not on Tuesday, too?” Ben-Shimol demanded that Ayala be tested for drug abuse. If she were indeed found to be taking drugs she would give up the children, he told the court; but if not, the previous equal custodial rights would be restored. The court declined this offer, and the charges remained hanging in the air. Drug abuse is not the only trumped-up charge Ayala has had to cope with. In another hearing, the court was told that an alehouse was operating in her apartment, and recently she was accused of joining a cult.

    The children stayed with Ayala once, but then were told that God does not protect their mother’s “accursed house” and that something terrible will befall them if they go there. Since then they have been afraid to visit. “From the viewpoint of the Haredi street, it would be better if the children were insane and were not raised by me, because I am not religiously observant,” Ayala explains.

    A source familiar with the case and with the workings of rabbinical courts confirms this: “The rabbinical court does not consider itself a court as such, but a rabbinic institution. They want to save Ayala’s children from becoming nonreligious and care nothing about their welfare. They will go to any lengths to ensure that the children remain with their father and in the Haredi milieu. They will balk at nothing. The needs of small children are of no interest to them. It’s not an orderly court, but shtetl behavior. You have to understand that the members of a rabbinical court are under terrible pressure from the Haredi street, which will not forgive them for allowing children to be removed from a Haredi home into a secular home. This is an ironclad principle for them, and any other form of pressure is far less potent.”

    Ayala relates that, at this stage, she agreed to accept any compromise: “To forgo everything, to repent, to do whatever is needed in order to be with my children.” Her husband refuses to talk to her. Indeed, he did not invite her to the bar mitzvah of her firstborn son or to the birthday party for their 3-year-old. On the day of the bar mitzvah, the boy himself came to Ayala’s apartment and asked her to attend.

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  12. She went with two women friends, who wanted to give her support in the face of the looks of reproof she had to contend with from everyone else. She missed the little one’s birthday, as she only found out about the celebration afterward.

    “When I asked the nursery-school teacher why she didn’t invite me, she said that he told her not to let me know. The whole Haredi world is collaborating with him, and there is no organization that can help me.”

    On visits to the children at their home − in Haredi attire, of course − Ayala must endure her husband’s verbal abuse. He follows her everywhere, and the children look to him for permission before answering her questions. Sometimes he throws her out in the middle of a visit, always with a different pretext. On one occasion, for example, he claimed that her telephone wasn’t kosher. ‏(Smartphones are considered nonkosher because one can surf the Internet with them.‏) Under the law, sanctions are supposed to be imposed on anyone who does not uphold custodial arrangements that have been decided upon. “We are asking for the terms to be enforced, but it is not happening,” Ayala and Ben-Shimol say. Ayala asked for an objective welfare worker to check the children’s condition, as currently the welfare official is a Haredi man. “I am not asking for anything that is not coming to me,” she says. “All I want is for the case to be dealt with by social workers who are not associated with the rabbinical court. I also want the children to see a psychologist, to help them cope with the difficult period they are undergoing. But the court refuses.”

    At this point, Ayala delivers a monologue, which recurs in various versions: “I am their mother and I love them. I am ready to raise them like Haredim and to observe all the rules when they are with me, so they will have the stability they need. Right now they are in a bad way. Every child has the right to grow up with his mother, and my children are no exception. I am not trying to make them become nonreligious, all I want is for things to be good for them.”

    Ben-Shimol adds: “During recess at school the children run off to their mother. They go to say hello to her without anyone seeing. Great mental pressure is being exerted on them.”

    For some time, Ayala wanted to petition the High Court of Justice against the behavior of the rabbinical court, but did not have the money to pay the court fee. Recently, she obtained the necessary funding through an organization called Mavoi Satum, which, as its website ‏states, “opens the dead end” for “agunot ‏(women whose husbands have disappeared‏) and mesoravot get ‏(women who have been refused a Jewish divorce‏).” Ben-Shimol is representing her pro bono.

    On June 2, she filed a petition requesting the High Court to order the case removed from the authority of the rabbinical court, to issue a restraining order under which the children will be removed from the custody of their father and to appoint a neutral social worker to examine both parents. “We are not asking the court to decide whether the children will be transferred to the mother or the father, but to appoint an objective individual to examine the fitness of the mother and the father, to examine the situation and to arrive at sensible decisions,” Ben-Shimol explains. “If the court decides that the father should raise the children, we will give up. But I am convinced that this will not be the case, because the only reason it is happening now is that the father is a Haredi and the mother is not.”

    It is inconceivable, Ben-Shimol says angrily, that in Israel in 2013, a mother’s children should be taken from her only because she has different beliefs from her husband. “And on top of everything else, this is being done by an official, state-financed judicial tribunal. It is not a private court, but one in which every Jewish citizen is liable to find himself.

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  13. People should take to the streets against this; politicians must take action. Rabbinical courts should be stripped of the right to make decisions that are liable to conflict with our way of life. Why is the question of child custody heard in rabbinical courts? Why are we willing to have a religious-legal body – on which there is no place for women and which is dominated by a Haredi worldview – judge us in our civic lives?”

    Asked whether he is optimistic about the possibility that Ayala will be allowed to raise her children, Ben-Shimol replies, “Yes, because I believe that this story can bring people into the streets and induce politicians to throw down the gauntlet and take action. It’s a bit late in Ayala’s case, because the children have already been brainwashed, but we have to try. This is a story with national themes − we have to change the system.”

    Ayala says that for her, the optimal situation is for the children to remain Haredim, “because that is the situation in which they were raised and that is what they know.”

    Still, she would be happy if they also learned mathematics, English and geography. “Those subjects will make it possible for them to find their way in life by themselves. Whatever they choose will be fine with me. I will accept them as they are, because I know what a terrible feeling it is when you are not accepted as you are. I miss the children, the way in which they shared their lives with me. I was their sounding board. Sometimes I come to my apartment and it is so very quiet. I miss hugging them and kissing them. I have a great deal of love to give them, so many things to tell them.”

    Ayala is effectively in limbo, Ben-Shimol says. “She is not Haredi and not secular, she is in a hard place in the middle. To be secular is not only not to be Haredi. In the day-to-day world, to be secular is to connect with a different culture and way of life from what you have become used to as a Haredi person, and it is a long, hard process.”

    Ayala has a somewhat different take on the situation: “I don’t think a secular world exists. Rather, there is a world that is not Haredi, which has no uniform rules and with which I am completely unfamiliar. I enjoy it when I manage to conduct a conversation about religion with secular people, just an ordinary conversation.

    “I believe that I will be able to conduct a regular life, even though I am starting relatively late, at the age of 32,” she says defiantly.

    Ayala has a Facebook page, and a month ago she replaced her fictitious username with her real name and added a photo of herself.

    “I reached the conclusion that exposure is easier than hiding and being afraid that people will find out,” she says. As for which secular-world experiences she would like to try, she says she hasn’t yet been to a theater performance or to a large-scale musical event, “in Caesarea or something like that.” She also wants to drive a motorcycle, “but all very slowly, because first of all it’s important for me to organize my life and get my children back.”

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  14. Zamlen Kwitner, a senior ombudsman in the rabbinical courts, states in response, “Because confidentiality applies to cases heard in the rabbinical courts, I cannot reply to your questions without breaking the law. However, because the complaints that were made known to you create a distorted picture of the panel of judges that is dealing with the case, I checked the ‘facts’ on which the complaints that were conveyed to you are based. I am very sorry to have to say that there is no truth to the complaints, some of which are based on a mistaken interpretation by the complainants. If the complainants apprise you of all the decisions, you will see that there is no factual basis for the complaints.”

    Uncivil courts

    The rabbinical courts in Israel pass judgment according to the halakha‏(Jewish religious law‏) and other Jewish sources. The courts are empowered to pass judgment in cases of conversion to Judaism, last wills and marriage and divorce between Jews. The divorce cases can also involve alimony, visitation rights, the division of property and custodianship. However, the details of the divorce can also be worked out in a Family Court, which is actually a Magistrate’s Court where the judges are experts in the family sphere. This duality sometimes leads to what is known as a “race of authorities,” when one of the sides rushes to be the first to file for divorce in the court of his choice ‏(secular or Haredi‏) − whichever he or she thinks will better their prospects.

    All rabbinical court hearings are confidential, as they deal with sensitive family affairs. By the same token, the judgments are also confidential and are not made public, in contrast to the judgments handed down by the other courts in Israel. In addition to the public injustice this causes, by creating opaqueness instead of transparency, confidentiality is also the bane of lawyers, as they are not aware of precedent-setting rulings that might assist them in their arguments to the court.

    The law setting forth the jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts was enacted in 1953, but is actually an inheritance from Ottoman times, when each of the religions in Palestine was empowered to pass judgment on its adherents according to its religious laws. The law states, “Matters of marriage and divorce of Jews in Israel who are citizens or residents of the state shall be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts.” Thus, even a Jewish couple who were married in a civil ceremony outside Israel in order to evade the Rabbinate, or for any other reason, must go through a rabbinical court to get a divorce.

    The situation is that a religious body is conducting the civil affairs of Israel’s inhabitants.


  15. Wife Of Haredi Cult Leader Escapes Cult After Being Beaten By Hasidim

    The wife of haredi Lev Tahor cult leader Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans has reportedly fled the Quebec-based cult for safety in Israel after being beaten by a mob of her husband’s followers.

    Shmarya Rosenberg • Failedmessiah.com June 16, 2013

    The wife of haredi Lev Tahor cult leader Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans has reportedly fled the Quebec-based cult for safety in Israel after being beaten by a mob of her husband’s followers.

    Rebbitzin Helbrans objected to the beatings and punishments the cult imposed on children as young as six months old, and the forced separation of young children as young as six months old from their families.

    "I heard knocking from the men’s side [of the synagogue]. Eight or ten men with white plastic chairs came [to the women’s side] and and beat them me with them. I was going to die, [I was]screaming…I did not understand what was happening, I did not understand why [it was happening. I fled.] They chased me home…threw snow at me…and beat me and beat me, and beat me,” she said in a recorded telephone call to a relative that was made available to the Israeli haredi news website Beharei Haredim.

    The Lev Tahor cult reportedly employs harsh and often illegal penalties to punish or ‘educate’ cult members.

    These penalties include savage beatings of children, forced marriage and forced divorce, forced marriage of minors as young as 14 (it is likely there may have been forced marriages of even younger children, but they have not been documented), forcing members to wear shoes several sizes too small, extreme ostracism, fines, denial of food, confiscation of religious books as a punishment for misbehavior, forced separation between parents and children as young as six months old that often lasts for months and even years, and complete isolation from cult members’ non-cult-member families.

    Haredi leaders including the previous Satmar Rebbe and the rabbinic leadership of the Mea-Shearim-based anti-Zionist haredi umbrella organization Edah Haredit backed Helbranes and Lev Tahor for years, until finally admitting recently – after years of deying reports of child abuse and other crimes – that Lev Tahor is in fact a destructive cult.

    [Hat Yip: The Lion.]


  16. Young Ultra-Orthodox Jews Struggle Against Tradition

    New York City receives immigrants from all over the world, including New York City itself.

    A handful of young ultra-Orthodox Jews are struggling to leave their neighborhoods in Brooklyn to take up less religious or even nonreligious lifestyles in other parts of the city. They often hide their desire for a different life. When they do or say something, their families and communities might turn on them. Sometimes they're told they'll never make it if they leave.

    One young man fought to leave behind the only world he knew.

    Samuel Katz is 21, and he's accumulated his library of sacred texts, science books and classic literature gradually. Only religious books were allowed in the insular Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he grew up. New York City pulsed all around him, but he lived a world apart. Men and women were separate. Everyone ate strictly kosher. They spoke Yiddish almost exclusively.

    Katz and the other boys studied at a yeshiva, or Jewish school. There were no public schools, no concerts, and minimal interaction with anyone outside the community. But when he was 10, his parents divorced, and things changed for him.

    "We were a school of 1,300 boys," Katz says. "I was the only child from a divorced family. And I didn't want anyone to know because there was such a stigma on it. I was looking for some escape. So there was this library next to my house. Actually, my first secular book I read — I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. And I read it with a dictionary and I compared every word. Took me like a month or something."

    The more Katz read, the more he wanted to read. Books on psychology, human behavior and philosophy.

    "Nobody knew about it. Just my secret life," he says.

    Then, Katz went to a Darwin exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. He found himself staring at an evolutionary timeline of actual hominid skulls, and he imagined his head at the end of that line.

    Katz took an advanced physics class at Stony Brook University. He cherishes this page of his notebook, when his professor began teaching about electromagnetism.

    "You know, I've studied God's law all my life, and you're a Jewish male — I mean, you're the pinnacle of creation. And suddenly you're not the pinnacle of creation. You're the endpoint at this moment in time and something else will happen soon. It's hard to explain what that was like, but it was beautiful," Katz says.

    When he was 16, Katz went to a prestigious religious school in Israel, and he struggled. He confessed his secular interests to the dean of his school — a scholar whom he greatly respected.

    "And they put me in a single room so I don't corrupt anyone — so I don't talk to any other students. Friends came telling me — staff is asking about me, whether I'm saying things, which was miserable. I mean, it was absolutely terrible. Finally I just said, 'I'm going home,' " Katz recalls.

    When he got back to New York, Katz felt like he was leading a double life. He'd pray and study at temple, but he didn't tell his family that he was eating pork in private and that all he really wanted was to go to college. But he needed help getting his GED, which is where an organization called Footsteps came in.

    read the rest of the article at the link above

  17. Holocaust Survivors Blast Nazi Garb at Protest

    By ARON HELLER Associated Press

    ABC News - JERUSALEM January 1, 2012 (AP)

    Images of ultra-Orthodox Jews dressing up as Nazi concentration camp inmates during a protest drew widespread condemnation Sunday and added a new twist to a simmering battle over growing extremism inside Israel's insular ultra-Orthodox community.

    Religious extremists are facing increasing criticism for their efforts to separate men and women in public spaces, and Saturday's protest, in which a child mimicked an iconic photo of a terrified Jewish boy in the Warsaw Ghetto, added to the outrage.

    Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered Saturday night in Jerusalem to protest what they say is a nationwide campaign directed against their lifestyle. The protesters called Israeli policemen Nazis, wore yellow Star of David patches with the word "Jude" — German for Jew — dressed their children in striped black-and-white uniforms associated with Nazi concentration camps and transported them in the back of a truck.

    Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial denounced the use of Nazi imagery as "disgraceful," and several other survivors' groups and politicians condemned the acts.

    "We must leave the Holocaust and its symbols outside the arguments in Israeli society," said Moshe Zanbar, chairman of the main umbrella group for Holocaust survivors in Israel. "This harms the memory of the Holocaust."

    Six million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. About 200,000 aging survivors of the Holocaust live in Israel.

    Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up 10 percent of Israel's population. In the past, they have generally confined their strict lifestyle to their own neighborhoods. But they have become increasingly aggressive in trying to impose their ways on others, as their population has grown and spread to new areas.

    Extremist sects within the ultra-Orthodox community have been under fire of late for their attempts to ban mixing of the sexes on buses, sidewalks and other public spaces.

    In one city, extremists have jeered and spit at girls walking to school, saying they were dressed immodestly. They've also battled with police over street signs calling for segregation and attacked journalists who have covered their neighborhoods. In recent weeks, a few young Israeli women have caused nationwide uproars for refusing the orders of religious men to move to the back of public buses.

    These practices, albeit by a fringe sect, have unleashed a backlash against the ultra-Orthodox in general, the climax of which came last week in a large demonstration where protesters held signs reading, "Free Israel from religious coercion," and "Stop Israel from becoming Iran."

    Rabbi Yitzhak Weiss, one of the organizers of Saturday's protest, said the use of Nazi symbols was intentional and aimed at highlighting what he said was a campaign by the secular media against his community.

    "The idea was to convey a clear and simple message: that wild incitement against the ultra-Orthodox community will not be tolerated," he told The Associated Press. "The Israeli media's incitement is reminiscent of the German media's before World War II."

    One of the protesters, Yaakov Israel, told Channel 2 TV that his community feels "persecuted" by the Israeli establishment. "We feel what is being done to us here is a spiritual Holocaust," he said.


  18. Ultra-religious schools test Israel's high-tech future

    By Maayan Lubell December 22, 2011

    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - There are no computers at Maoz Hatorah, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys school on the outskirts of Israel's bustling high-tech commercial hub, Tel Aviv.

    In the classrooms, English, mathematics and science lessons are kept to a minimum.

    "If we devote our time to secular studies there will be none left for faith," the headmaster said.

    Most ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys receive little education in secular subjects up to age 14 and none afterwards. The bulk of the school day is instead focused on religious instruction, in preparation for a life devoted to the study of Torah (Jewish law) that many will pursue as adult men.

    Some in Israel say this leaves graduates no chance to get a job or integrate into modern society.

    Critics are concerned the poor education of the state's fastest-growing population, known in Hebrew as "haredim" or "those in awe," threatens Israel's thriving economy and cutting-edge research and innovation.

    "There are two States of Israel in one," said economist Dan Ben-David, head of the Taub Center for Social Policy Research.

    "One is a state of high-tech, universities and medicine at the forefront of human knowledge. And then there are all the rest, who make up a huge and increasing part of Israel and who do not receive the skills or conditions to work in a modern economy."

    Though haredi schools are partly or fully state-funded, curricula are guided by ultra-Orthodox rabbis who resist outside intervention. Those have remained largely unchanged for the past 60 years.

    As a succession of Israeli coalition governments have relied on the support of ultra-religious parties for their survival, any move to reform haredi schools is politically dangerous.

    Haredim make up about 8-10 percent of Israel's 7.8 million population. Many are supported by the state and live well below the poverty line.

    They mostly reside in their own towns and neighborhoods, shying away from Israel's secular majority. Haredi men wear traditional black garb, a dress code that goes back centuries.

    With an average of eight children per family, haredim are a young demographic, and a fifth of Israeli primary school pupils attend haredi schools.

    "If they continue to get education below Third World standards, it will be the end of Israel," Ben-David said.

    As haredi women do not engage in full-time religious study, they are taught all subjects at school as girls and have an unemployment rate around 40 percent. But about 60 percent of haredi men do not work, devoting themselves instead to religious study.

    Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics issued a survey this month which said that only 31 percent of haredi primary schools taught science, 54 percent taught English and 83 percent mathematics.

    From the age of 14 most ultra-Orthodox boys attend "yeshiva" school where secular subjects are off the agenda.

    "It is a severe and very serious problem," Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said in September. "The educational system ... is failing to prepare Israel for the modern world and we're falling further and further behind.."

    Haredim see their education in a different light.

    They advocate a pious way of life, dedicated to keeping God's laws.

    "This is the reason we come into the world and it can't be done without studying Torah," said Rabbi Assaf Avitan, head of Maoz Hatorah school which teaches 500 boys, aged 3 to 15.

    Avitan said that at that age the school's priority is to instill the right values in the children, and argues the demanding education makes the children a quick study.


    read the full article at:


  19. Deborah Feldman's 'Unorthodox' Chronicles Years of Shocking Repression in Hasidic Jewish Life

    By Cavan Sieczkowski | IBTimes February 8, 2012

    Deborah Feldman had finally had enough. After 23 years of living in what she describes as an oppressive and insular community, she abandoned her Hasidic Jewish sect for a life of freedom.

    Deborah Feldman chronicles a life of strangling repression in a New York Orthodox Jewish household in her new book, "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots," out Feb. 14. Her book delves into her past struggles, including sexual assault, an arranged marriage and a divorce.

    She described life in a Jewish sect that has turned its back on the modern world, as "a reaction to the atrocities of Holocaust," to The New York Post. Most members are descendants of Holocaust survivors who fled to America during WWII. She said: "Hasidic Jews in America eagerly returned to a heritage that had been on the verge of disappearing, donning traditional dress and speaking only in Yiddish, as their ancestors had done." The community emphasizes family life and reproduction in order to "replace the many who had perished and to swell their ranks once more. To this day, Hasidic communities continue to grow rapidly, in what is seen as the ultimate revenge against Hitler."

    Now 25-years-old, Feldman turned her back on the Satmars in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood just two years ago, emboldened by classes she took at Sarah Lawrence College where she read enlightening books like "Pride and Prejudice" and "Little Women." The books opened her eyes to a world that could be.

    Some might be surprised to hear that Deborah Feldman grew up in such a progressive city as New York, but the enclave has rules of its own. "They've passed more laws from out of nowhere, limiting women-there's a rule that women can't be on the street after a certain hour," Feldman told The New York Post. "We all hear these stories about Muslim extremists; how is this any better? This is just another example of extreme fundamentalism."

    Her mother had abandoned her and her father was mentally disabled, so she lived with her grandparents. She could only wear skirts that covered her ankles and high-necked blouses made of thick woven fabric so nothing would show her body. She could not read books in English because her grandfather claimed it was an "impure language."

    At 12-years-old, Feldman was sexually assaulted by a cousin, but she kept it a secret because she was made to feel as if it was something she had done wrong. "It's obviously all your fault and not his, and you need to keep quiet about it," she told The New York Post.

    As a young girl, she was ordered to obey and respect any and every adult in the community. Feldman said that this insular mindset paradoxically puts its children at risk. "There was this old man on my street who, every day on my way to school, would be sitting on this bench, and would call out to me and offer me candy," Feldman told the Post. "I told my grandfather, and he said, 'Well, he's older than you, so you have to talk to him out of respect.' The guy was, like, a pedophile," Feldman continues. "And we were taught to respect him." As a kid, she was told all outsiders hated her, and that if she spoke to anyone non-Hasidic, she "risked getting kidnapped and chopped to pieces."

    At 17-years-old, she Deborah Feldman was forced into an arranged marriage with a virtual stranger. At that time, she had never even heard the word "sex," much less learned anything about it.

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    "No one ever said the word 'sex,' or even 'vagina,' to me. We had no clue. We were like, 'It'll work out.' It never worked out," she said. "There is an actual rule that you learn before you get married that you are never supposed to look at genitalia. You can't look at yours, and you can't look at his. It's always dark. There's no hole in the sheet, but it's pitch dark and there's no looking and there's a lot of fumbling around, and you're wearing your nightgown rolled up to your waist."

    After she was married, she was required to shave her head and wear wigs, which Feldman rebelled against because it depressed her.

    "I only shaved my head for a year. I just got tired of seeing my head like that in the mirror. It felt really depressing - like an embarrassing secret. I have a hard time cutting my hair now, because I remember how long it took to grow it out the first time," she told The Post.

    Because of other particular rules in the Orthodox community, Feldman said that women are forced to "feel like this animal" due to their menstruation.

    "For two weeks every month, he can't touch you," she said. "If you're sitting on a sofa, you have a divider between you. It makes you feel so gross. You feel like this animal in the room. If there's a question about your period, you take the underwear and put it in a zip-lock bag, and give it to your husband. He takes it to the synagogue and pushes it into this special window and the rabbi looks at it and pronounces it kosher or nonkosher. It's so disgusting."

    Deborah Feldman had a child with her now ex-husband. Her son is 3-years-old now and when she left the community she took him with her. Her husband currently lives on the fringe of the Satmar community, as there is no place for divorced individuals.

    Her relatives reacted shockingly to the news of her publishing "Unorthodox." Feldman started receiving hate mail.

    "My family started sending me hate mail, really bad. They want me to commit suicide. They've got my grave ready," she told The Post. One email said "R U ready to CROKE [sic]." Another read, "We are most definitely going to rejoice in your misery."

    "But I think the book is a protection in this situation, because [my relatives] are terrified of having their actions become public. So it's an insurance policy, in a way," she said. "There's a reason why Hasidic people in New York get away with so much. There's this sort of tacit arrangement: They don't do anything the media can criticize."


  21. Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse

    By SHARON OTTERMAN and RAY RIVERA, New York Times May 9, 2012

    The first shock came when Mordechai Jungreis learned that his mentally disabled teenage son was being molested in a Jewish ritual bathhouse in Brooklyn. The second came after Mr. Jungreis complained, and the man accused of the abuse was arrested.

    Old friends started walking stonily past him and his family on the streets of Williamsburg. Their landlord kicked them out of their apartment. Anonymous messages filled their answering machine, cursing Mr. Jungreis for turning in a fellow Jew. And, he said, the mother of a child in a wheelchair confronted Mr. Jungreis’s mother-in-law, saying the same man had molested her son, and she “did not report this crime, so why did your son-in-law have to?”

    By cooperating with the police, and speaking out about his son’s abuse, Mr. Jungreis, 38, found himself at the painful forefront of an issue roiling his insular Hasidic community. There have been glimmers of change as a small number of ultra-Orthodox Jews, taking on longstanding religious and cultural norms, have begun to report child sexual abuse accusations against members of their own communities. But those who come forward often encounter intense intimidation from their neighbors and from rabbinical authorities, aimed at pressuring them to drop their cases.

    Abuse victims and their families have been expelled from religious schools and synagogues, shunned by fellow ultra-Orthodox Jews and targeted for harassment intended to destroy their businesses. Some victims’ families have been offered money, ostensibly to help pay for therapy for the victims, but also to stop pursuing charges, victims and victims’ advocates said.

    “Try living for one day with all the pain I am living with,” Mr. Jungreis, spent and distraught, said recently outside his new apartment on Williamsburg’s outskirts. “Did anybody in the Hasidic community in these two years, in Borough Park, in Flatbush, ever come up and look my son in the eye and tell him a good word? Did anybody take the courage to show him mercy in the street?”

    A few blocks away, Pearl Engelman, a 64-year-old great-grandmother, said her community had failed her too. In 2008, her son, Joel, told rabbinical authorities that he had been repeatedly groped as a child by a school official at the United Talmudical Academy in Williamsburg. The school briefly removed the official but denied the accusation. And when Joel turned 23, too old to file charges under the state’s statute of limitations, they returned the man to teaching.

    “There is no nice way of saying it,” Mrs. Engelman said. “Our community protects molesters. Other than that, we are wonderful.”

    Keeping to Themselves

    The New York City area is home to an estimated 250,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews — the largest such community outside of Israel, and one that is growing rapidly because of its high birthrate. The community is concentrated in Brooklyn, where many of the ultra-Orthodox are Hasidim, followers of a fervent spiritual movement that began in 18th-century Europe and applies Jewish law to every aspect of life.

    Their communities, headed by dynastic leaders called rebbes, strive to preserve their centuries-old customs by resisting the contaminating influences of the outside world. While some ultra-Orthodox rabbis now argue that a child molester should be reported to the police, others strictly adhere to an ancient prohibition against mesirah, the turning in of a Jew to non-Jewish authorities, and consider publicly airing allegations against fellow Jews to be chillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.

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    There are more mundane factors, too. Some ultra-Orthodox Jews want to keep abuse allegations quiet to protect the reputation of the community, and the family of the accused. And rabbinical authorities, eager to maintain control, worry that inviting outside scrutiny could erode their power, said Samuel Heilman, a professor of Jewish studies at Queens College.

    “They are more afraid of the outside world than the deviants within their own community,” Dr. Heilman said. “The deviants threaten individuals here or there, but the outside world threatens everyone and the entire structure of their world.”

    Scholars believe that abuse rates in the ultra-Orthodox world are roughly the same as those in the general population, but for generations, most ultra-Orthodox abuse victims kept silent, fearful of being stigmatized in a culture where the genders are strictly separated and discussion of sex is taboo. When a victim did come forward, it was generally to rabbis and rabbinical courts, which would sometimes investigate the allegations, pledge to monitor the accused, or order payment to a victim, but not refer the matter to the police.

    “You can destroy a person’s life with a false report,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, a powerful ultra-Orthodox organization, which last year said that observant Jews should not report allegations to the police unless permitted to do so by a rabbi.

    Rabbinic authorities “recommend you speak it over with a rabbi before coming to any definitive conclusion in your own mind,” Rabbi Zweibel said.

    When ultra-Orthodox Jews do bring abuse accusations to the police, the same cultural forces that have long kept victims silent often become an obstacle to prosecutions.

    In Brooklyn, of the 51 molesting cases involving the ultra-Orthodox community that the district attorney’s office says it has closed since 2009, nine were dismissed because the victims backed out. Others ended with plea deals because the victims’ families were fearful.

    “People aren’t recanting, but they don’t want to go forward,” said Rhonnie Jaus, a sex crimes prosecutor in Brooklyn. “We’ve heard some of our victims have been thrown out of schools, that the person is shunned from the synagogue. There’s a lot of pressure.”

    The degree of intimidation can vary by neighborhood, by sect and by the prominence of the person accused.

    In August 2009, the rows in a courtroom at State Supreme Court in Brooklyn were packed with rabbis, religious school principals and community leaders. Almost all were there in solidarity with Yona Weinberg, a bar mitzvah tutor and licensed social worker from Flatbush who had been convicted of molesting two boys under age 14.

    Justice Guston L. Reichbach looked out with disapproval. He recalled testimony about how the boys had been kicked out of their schools or summer camps after bringing their cases, suggesting a “communal attitude that seeks to blame, indeed punish, victims.” And he noted that, of the 90 letters he had received praising Mr. Weinberg, not one displayed “any concern or any sympathy or even any acknowledgment for these young victims, which, frankly, I find shameful.”

    “While the crimes the defendant stands convicted of are bad enough,” the judge said before sentencing Mr. Weinberg to 13 months in prison, “what is even more troubling to the court is a communal attitude that seems to impose greater opprobrium on the victims than the perpetrator.”

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    Silenced by Fear

    Intimidation is rarely documented, but just two weeks ago, a Hasidic woman from Kiryas Joel, N.Y., in Orange County, filed a startling statement in a criminal court, detailing the pressure she faced after telling the police that a Hasidic man had molested her son.

    “I feel 100 percent threatened and very scared,” she said in her statement. “I feel intimidated and worried about what the consequences are going to be. But I have to protect my son and do what is right.”

    Last year, her son, then 14, told the police that he had been offered $20 by a stranger to help move some boxes, but instead, the man brought him to a motel in Woodbury, removed the boy’s pants and masturbated him.

    The police, aided by the motel’s security camera, identified the man as Joseph Gelbman, then 52, of Kiamesha Lake, a cook who worked at a boys’ school run by the Vizhnitz Hasidic sect. He was arrested, and the intimidation ensued. Rabbi Israel Hager, a powerful Vizhnitz rabbi in Monsey, N.Y., began calling the mother, asking her to cease her cooperation with the criminal case and, instead, to bring the matter to a rabbinical court under his jurisdiction, according to the mother’s statement to the court. Rabbi Hager did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

    “I said: ‘Why? He might do this again to other children,’ ” the mother said in the statement. The mother, who asked that The New York Times not use her name to avoid identifying her son, told the police that the rabbi asked, “What will you gain from this if he goes to jail?” and said that, in a later call, he offered her $20,000 to pay for therapy for her son if the charges were dropped.

    On April 24, three days before the case was set for trial, the boy was expelled from his school. When the mother protested, she said, the principal threatened to report her for child abuse.

    Prosecutors, against the wishes of the boy’s parents, settled the case on April 27. Mr. Gelbman was given three years’ probation after pleading guilty to endangering the welfare of a child.

    Mr. Jungreis, the Williamsburg father, had a similar experience. He first suspected that his son was being molested after he came home with blood in his underwear at age 12, and later was caught touching another child on the bus. But, Mr. Jungreis said, the school principal warned him to stay silent. Two years later, the boy revealed that he had been molested for years by a man he saw at a mikvah, a ritual bath that observant Jews visit for purification.

    Mr. Jungreis, knowing the prohibition on calling secular authorities, asked several rabbis to help him report the abuse, but, he said, they told him they did not want to get involved. Ultimately, he found a rabbi who told him to take his son to a psychologist, who would be obligated to notify law enforcement. “That way you are not the moser,” he said the rabbi told him, using the Hebrew word for informer. The police arrested Meir Dascalowitz, then 27, who is now awaiting trial.

    Prosecution of intimidation is rare. Victims and their supporters say that is because rabbinical authorities are politically powerful; prosecutors say it is because there is rarely enough evidence to build a criminal case. “The intimidation often works, at least in the short run,” said Laura Pierro, the head of the special victims unit at the Ocean County prosecutor’s office in New Jersey.

    In 2010, Ms. Pierro’s agency indicted Shaul Luban for witness tampering: he had sent a threatening text message to multiple recipients, urging the Orthodox Jewish community of Lakewood, N.J., to pressure the family of an 11-year-old abuse victim not to cooperate with prosecutors. In exchange for having his record cleared, Mr. Luban agreed to spend about a year in a program for first-time offenders.

    Mr. Luban and others “wanted the phone to ring off the hook to withdraw the complaint from our office,” the Ocean County prosecutor, Marlene Lynch Ford, said.

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    Threats to Advocates

    The small cadre of ultra-Orthodox Jews who have tried to call attention to the community’s lack of support for sexual abuse victims have often been targeted with the same forms of intimidation as the victims themselves.

    Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg of Williamsburg, for example, has been shunned by communal authorities because he maintains a telephone number that features his impassioned lectures in Yiddish, Hebrew and English imploring victims to call 911 and accusing rabbis of silencing cases. He also shows up at court hearings and provides victims’ families with advice. His call-in line gets nearly 3,000 listeners a day.

    In 2008, fliers were posted around Williamsburg denouncing him. One depicted a coiled snake, with Mr. Rosenberg’s face superimposed on its head. “Nuchem Snake Rosenberg: Leave Tainted One!” it said in Hebrew. The local Satmar Hasidic authorities banned him from their synagogues, and a wider group of 32 prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis and religious judges signed an order, published in a community newspaper, formally ostracizing him.

    “The public must beware, and stay away from him, and push him out of our camp, not speak to him, and even more, not to honor him or support him, and not allow him to set foot in any synagogue until he returns from his evil ways,” the order said in Hebrew.

    “They had small children coming to my house and spitting on me and on my children and wife,” Rabbi Rosenberg, 61, said in an interview.

    Rabbi Tzvi Gluck, 31, of Queens, the son of a prominent rabbi and an informal liaison to secular law enforcement, began helping victims after he met troubled teenagers at Our Place, a help center in Brooklyn, and realized that sexual abuse was often the root of their problems. It was when he began helping the teenagers report cases to the police that he also received threats.

    In February, for example, he received a call asking him to urge an abuse victim to abandon a case. “A guy called me up and said: ‘Listen, I want you to know that people on the street are talking about what they can do to hurt you financially. And maybe speak to your children’s schools, to get your kids thrown out of school.’ ”

    Rabbi Gluck said he had helped at least a dozen ultra-Orthodox abuse victims bring cases to the Brooklyn district attorney in recent years, and each time, he said, the victim came under heavy pressure to back down. In a case late last year that did not get to the police, a 30-year-old molested a 14-year-old boy in a Jewish ritual bath in Brooklyn, and a rabbi “made the boy apologize to the molester for seducing him,” he said.

    “If a guy in our community gets diagnosed with cancer, the whole community will come running to help them,” he said. “But if someone comes out and says they were a victim of abuse, as a whole, the community looks at them and says, ‘Go jump in a lake.’ ”

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    Traces of Change

    Awareness of child sexual abuse is increasing in the ultra-Orthodox community. Since 2008, hundreds of adult abuse survivors have told their stories, mostly anonymously, on blogs and radio call-in shows, and to victims’ advocates. Rabbi-vetted books like “Let’s Stay Safe,” aimed at teaching children what to do if they are inappropriately touched, are selling well.

    The response by communal authorities, however, has been uneven.

    In March, for example, Satmar Hasidic authorities in Williamsburg took what advocates said was an unprecedented step: They posted a Yiddish sign in synagogues warning adults and children to stay away from a community member who they said was molesting young men. But the sign did not urge victims to call the police: “With great pain we must, according to the request of the brilliant rabbis (may they live long and good lives), inform you that the young man,” who was named, “is, unfortunately, an injurious person and he is a great danger to our community.”

    In Crown Heights, where the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement has its headquarters, there has been more significant change. In July 2011, a religious court declared that the traditional prohibition against mesirah did not apply in cases with evidence of abuse. “One is forbidden to remain silent in such situations,” said the ruling, signed by two of the court’s three judges.

    Since then, five molesting cases have been brought from the neighborhood — “as many sexual abuse-related arrests and reports as there had been in the past 20 years,” said Eliyahu Federman, a lawyer who helps victims in Crown Heights, citing public information.

    Mordechai Feinstein, 19, helped prompt the ruling by telling the Crown Heights religious court that he had been touched inappropriately at age 15 by Rabbi Moshe F. Keller, a Lubavitcher who ran a foundation for at-risk youth and whom Mr. Feinstein had considered his spiritual mentor.

    Last week, Rabbi Keller was sentenced in Criminal Court to three years’ probation for endangering the welfare of a child. And Mr. Feinstein, who is no longer religious, is starting a campaign to encourage more abuse victims to come forward. He is working with two prominent civil rights attorneys, Norman Siegel and Herbert Teitelbaum, who are asking lawyers to provide free assistance to abuse victims frustrated by their dealings with prosecutors.

    “The community is a garden; there are a lot of beautiful things about it,” Mr. Feinstein said. “We just have to help them weed out the garden and take out the things that don’t belong there.”

    Friday: The Brooklyn district attorney is criticized for his handling of ultra-Orthodox Jewish child sex-abuse cases.


  26. Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox Jews rally behind accused in child abuse case

    by Zoë Blackler, The Guardian UK May 16, 2012

    New York - Until last year, Nechemya Weberman was a therapist in Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn. From the apartment building he owns in Williamsburg, he counselled teenage girls from ultra-Orthodox Jewish families. Girls, who through improper dress, flirtations with boys or a curiosity in life beyond the confines of their sects, were risking disrepute. In the antiquated world of the ultra-Orthodox, the stigma of immodesty can wreck a girl's marriage prospects and her future in the community.

    In 2007, two worried parents sent their 12-year-old daughter for counselling with Weberman, at the insistence of her school. For three years, the girl consulted him, seeing him often several times a week. The girl had been questioning her religious teachers, and her parents hoped that Weberman, who had raised his own pious, god-fearing children, would lead her back to the right path.

    Later this summer, a jury in Brooklyn – home to the largest Orthodox population outside Israel – will be asked to decide exactly what took place during those many counselling sessions. Whether Weberman repeatedly sexually abused the young girl as she alleges, or whether, as the defence claims, he is the object of misplaced revenge.

    Whatever facts emerge at trial and whatever the jury decides, most in this insular community have already reached a verdict. The majority are siding with the accused. On Wednesday night, several thousand members of Weberman's Satmar Hasidic sect are expected to attend a rally on his behalf. His supporters, with the full backing of the senior rabbis, are stepping up their efforts to fight the prosecution.

    That the Weberman case is going to trial at all is notable in itself. The Guardian has detailed how most sex abuse claims are handled inside the community, either brushed aside or resolved in the shadow religious courts, or by the silencing of victims through bribing or intimidation. Those cases that do reach the criminal justice system tend to end in plea deals negotiated out of public view, in line with the Brooklyn district attorney's contentious secrecy policy.

    As media attention on the issue intensifies, the Weberman case has acquired a much bigger significance, beyond the question of individual guilt or innocence. It will offer a rare insight into the increasingly bitter divide inside the community – between the majority that wants to continue the cover-up and the growing number speaking up. It will also illustrate the level of anger those who make abuse complaints face from members of their own community.

    Last Friday, the Yiddish paper Der Blatt ran a front page story announcing "Libel 75", Wednesday night's rally in the Continental Hall in Williamsburg. The piece called on the entire community to defend Nechemya Weberman from "a despicable, false libel" and rescue him from 75 years in jail. "The community will come out", it declared, to help raise $500,000 for Weberman's legal costs. Posters about Libel 75 have also been plastered across Williamsburg.

    If Weberman, now 53, is found guilty, he is unlikely to face 75 years in prison time. The charges against him, however, are severe. The indictment, which runs to 23 pages, includes 87 counts of sexual abuse. Of the 16 felony charges, the most serious alone, course of sexual conduct against a child in the first degree, carries a mandatory prison term of five to 25 years. Although not part of the prosecution, Weberman is also tainted by his lack of qualifications as he is not a trained psychotherapist.

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    Weberman's defence attorney George Farkas, who is billed to appear at Wednesday's rally, says Weberman is the real victim. A year before the allegations emerged, the girl - still underage - had an older boyfriend. Her father, concerned that the pair had embarked on a sexual relationship, secretly video taped them alone and the boyfriend was brought before a judge. Farkas says that although his client advised against the scheme, the girl blames him and wants revenge. She is being manipulated, Farkas says, by "nefarious, vicious people" out to bring Weberman down.

    Or as Der Blatt phrased it in more emotive terms: "As parents who have benefited from this devoted askan [community volunteer] and educator, the person we turned to first to rescue ours and others children when they started sliding [becoming non observant], we call on you: do not allow this askan to be, god forbid, sent to prison for life for his holy work rescuing Jewish children."

    But Judy Genut, a friend of the girl's mother, dismisses Weberman's version of events, even though she acknowledges that most in the community support him. "They can't believe that somebody dressed according to the tradition, who acts and talks and walks like a person who has the fear of God in him, would actually do what he accused of. It's mind boggling." The girl's mother had two sisters who "went off the path", Genut says, so when the story first spread, people dismissed it as the niece being "slutty" too. "The family didn't gather sympathy because of what the aunts did."

    'What's on trial is the idea that he can be protected and supported by the rabbis'

    Although the Libel 75 campaign is unprecedented in scale, Weberman is not the first recipient of a rabbinic fundraising effort. In March 2009, Rabbi Israel Weingarten was convicted in Brooklyn's federal court of raping his daughter from age nine to 18. Following a reportedly bizarre and harrowing trial (in which Weingarten attempted to defend himself at one point cross-examining the daughter) the jury found him guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. This past February, the blog Failed Messiah reported that a rabbinic delegation had visited Weingarten in jail. They took with them a proclamation of innocence, signed by a bevy of senior rabbis that blamed his incarceration on a "travesty of justice" and a "sinister plot" and that pledged to raise the money needed to win back his freedom.

    The instinct to rescue a fellow Jew from prison is hard wired in the Orthodox psyche, says community activist Isaac Shonfeld, an observant Jew from Brooklyn. The fundraising tradition has a name, Pidyon Shvuyim, and dates back to life in eastern Europe when Jews were frequently held to ransom on trumped-up charges by their anti-semitic governments. It isn't just that fear of jail trumps considerations of guilt or innocence, Shonfeld says. But also that many in the community, despite the evidence, still believe Weingarten over his daughter. In a strictly hierarchical, patriarchal, deeply religious society, it's unsurprising: Rabbi Weingarten is a male in late middle age, a scholar of the torah; his accuser was a young woman who is no longer Orthodox; and secular courts are regarded as inherently untrustworthy.

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    Nechemya Weberman's supporters have worked tirelessly to orchestrate the Libel 75 campaign and win the backing of two competing sets of rabbis, says Pearl Engelman, a Satmar Hasid from Williamsburg, whose own son Joel is an abuse survivor. "For the two factions in Satmar to unite on something like this is extremely unusual."

    "What's on trial here is not just Weberman," says Engelman, who believes the girls' account. "What's on trial is the idea that a [man like] Weberman can be protected and supported by the rabbis."

    According to several accounts, the girl's family is facing intimidation to prevent them testifying. Her father owns a Jewish phone directory, widely used in the community. He has been told that unless his daughter withdraws from the court case, advertising will cease and his business will collapse.

    The girl's new boyfriend, Hershy Deutsch, has also been threatened. Deutsch, who owns a pizza restaurant on Lee Avenue, says he was offered $500,000 to persuade the girl to recant. When he refused, he was told his kosher licence could be at risk. He says his landlord was pressured to evict him. "Giving blood money to deny a story is not going to stop the molesters molesting children," he says. Deutsch is using Facebook to mobilise a counter demonstration. He says he worries about his girlfriend, who is suffering terribly. She can't sleep, he says, haunted by memories. Deutsch says his girlfriend also turned down a bribe. "Every time she would go to a store, she would have an image of where that money came from."

    Judy Genut says she, her husband and other members of her family have also been harrassed. "A lot of people are angry that this came out because it brings us in a very bad light," she says. "Other people hear about it, and read about it and if we are the chosen ones, the moral compass of the world, then shouldn't we act morally? It's a very hard thing for us to swallow because there's so much good in our community and so many beautiful organisations.

    "So there's a lot of shame. And when people are ashamed they hide. And how do you hide? By not letting other people know that something like this is happening. Because if you don't talk about it, it's not happening, right? It hurts me so much. I mean, do we actually harbour our own perverts?"

    The Weberman case is a wake-up call for the community, she says, that nothing stays hidden anymore. "Children will learn there are people sticking up for them."

    George Farkas is adamant a jury will exonerate his client: "Weberman has a lot of support in the community because word has got out that this is a phony claim. People realise, there but for the grace of God go I. All of the evidence pointed to the fact he didn't do it. But [the DA's office] went ahead anyway. It's reprehensible. It's un-American. It's wrong."

    When Weberman was first arraigned, he pleaded not guilty, insisting his innocence. At that time, the girl and her family hoped he would take a plea deal. They would have welcomed a swift resolution. Now, the girl is determined to take the stand.

    "So there's going to be a trial," says Genut. "Things are going to come out into the open and it won't be a pretty story."


  29. Sex abuse accusations by teen stir uproar in Brooklyn Hasidic sect

    Monday, October 29, 2012,

    THE MOST high-profile sex abuse trial in years to hit Brooklyn’s insular ultra-Orthodox community is scheduled to begin this week. But hundreds of Satmar Hasids are backing the suspect, not the victim.

    Nechemya Weberman, 53, is charged with 88 counts of sexual misconduct for allegedly forcing a teenage girl to repeatedly perform sex acts on him when she was between 12 and 15.

    Weberman is a prominent Hasidic counselor, whose ancestor is credited with founding the first yeshiva in Brooklyn.

    “It’s going to be a very interesting trial,” said one of the seven attorneys who will argue Weberman’s high-stakes case. All are bound by a judge’s gag order, and declined to discuss details.

    Since coming forward last year, the woman, now 18, and her husband have allegedly been the target of a massive intimidation effort, which advocates have argued has long been an obstacle to reporting such cases in the community. More than 1,000 men showed up at a Williamsburg hall this spring to raise $500,000 for Weberman’s legal defense.

    But the couple has not wavered in their resolve, even after one man allegedly offered them $500,000 in exchange for their silence, and suggested they flee to Israel. Three other men ripped the husband’s kosher certificate from his restaurant, causing him to shutter the business.

    The incidents led to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’ filing the most serious witness intimidation indictments ever within the community, against the four men in July.

    Their trials are not expected until next year.

    The issue of witness intimidation — common in Orthodox enclaves — was highlighted earlier this year in a series of articles that led to criticism of how Hynes handles molestation cases within the community.

    Before 2009, only a handful of sex abuse cases came out of the Orthodox community, which prefers to handle matters internally through its civilian police and rabbinical courts.

    Then Hynes established a program called Kol Tzedek specifically targeting the sex abuse problem in the Hasidic community, which has resulted in over 100 cases so far, the top prosecutor has said.

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    In the Weberman case, as the lead member of the ardent Satmar sect’s “modesty committee,” the unlicensed counselor was allegedly helping the sixth-grade girl because she was believed to be unchaste.

    Prosecutors say there were six other women who were counseled by him as part of this “modesty committee” who complained about unwanted sexual advances. But the women would not proceed with pressing criminal charges.

    Weberman and the teenager’s father secretly videotaped her in bed with an previous boyfriend while she was still underage, which they took to the DA to file statutory rape charges against the man, both the defense and prosecution agree. The teenager threatened suicide, and the statutory rape charges were dropped.

    Weberman’s defense argues that the new claims against him are in retaliation for the videotaping and statutory rape charges.

    But Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice John Ingram found that argument “speculative and not supported by any facts.” He forbade any mention of the tape at trial.

    The Weberman case has stirred up strong emotions in the Hasidic community, which numbers some 250,000 people in Brooklyn. It’s the largest such group outside Israel.

    “The community felt we’re under attack because he’s supposedly a problem solver,” while the young woman had left the strictly religious lifestyle, said an acquaintance of the accuser.

    Hynes, who had previously came under fire for not releasing names of Orthodox men accused of abuse, has said intimidation of victims and their kin is rampant in that community.

    Weberman hails from a prominent lineage. One of his ancestors, Ben Zion Weberman, is credited with helping to establish the very first yeshiva in Brooklyn in 1917. “He is very well respected,” A.J. Weberman, a secular distant cousin who compiled the family history, said of the man facing trial.

    The publicity this case and similar ones have garnered is beginning to shift attitudes in the Hasidic community, insiders say.

    Awareness is on the rise, said Mark Appel, founder of the advocacy group Voice of Justice. “There is a major change happening,” he added.


  31. Photos of Accuser on Stand Disrupt Sexual Abuse Trial

    By SHARON OTTERMAN New York Times November 29, 2012

    The trial of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish counselor accused of repeatedly molesting a girl was disrupted on Thursday afternoon when four spectators in a Brooklyn courtroom were accused of taking pictures with their cellphones of the accuser on the witness stand.

    The four men, identified by prosecutors as Joseph Fried, Yona Weisman, Abraham Zupnick and Lemon Juice, were arrested and charged with criminal contempt in the second degree, a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to one year in jail.

    The accuser, who is now 17, has testified that she and her family had faced a pattern of intimidation from the Satmar Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, since she alleged last year that Nechemya Weberman, the unlicensed therapist her parents had sent her to for counseling, repeatedly forced her to have oral sex during their sessions together from the time she was 12 until she turned 15.

    In June, prosecutors charged four Williamsburg men with attempting to silence her by offering her a $500,000 bribe through her boyfriend to drop her participation in the case. Intimidation of sexual abuse victims in the ultra-Orthodox community is common, prosecutors say, because going to secular authorities with charges against another Jew is considered treasonous. But arrests for intimidation are rare.

    Mr. Weberman’s accuser had already been provided with increased security after onlookers said they spotted Mr. Weberman staring at her threateningly through the window of a conference room as she rested during a break in the court session on Wednesday, said Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office. The defense denies that Mr. Weberman did this.

    Then at about 2 p.m. Thursday, court officers spotted a man taking a picture of the teenager as she testified, Mr. Schmetterer said. The judge, Justice John G. Ingram, ordered the jury cleared from the 20th-floor courtroom in State Supreme Court, and the cellphones of all onlookers in the courtroom were confiscated.

    The phones of the four men arrested had photos of the teenager that had been taken in the courtroom, and one photo appeared to have already been posted to Twitter, Mr. Schmetterer said. David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the court, said that Judge Ingram also admonished the men before allowing the trial to continue.

    While the district attorney’s office did not comment on motive, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, an advocate for abuse victims who was in the courtroom, said that the men arrested were Satmar Hasidim, some of whom supported Mr. Weberman. “This is intimidation,” he said. “The government should not let this slide away, because this is not an accident. It is done deliberately in an effort to keep the law system from functioning.”

    A version of this article appeared in print on November 30, 2012, on page A29 of the New York edition with the headline: Photos of Accuser on Stand Disrupt Sexual Abuse Trial.


  32. Principal of Private Jewish School Convicted for Sexual Abuse

    by BrooklyNews.com December 3, 2012

    Brooklyn DA Attorney Charles J. Hynes today announced the conviction of Emanuel Yegutkin, 33, for sexually abusing three young boys over the course of 10 years. Yegutkin was convicted before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Dineen Riviezzo on 75 counts of charges including three counts of Course of Sexual Conduct Against a Child in the First Degree, two counts of Course of Sexual Conduct Against a Child in the Second Degree, and multiple counts of Criminal Sexual Act in the Second Degree, Sexual Abuse in the Second Degree, Sexual Abuse in the Third Degree, and Endangering the Welfare of a Child. The top charge, Course of Sexual Conduct Against a Child in the First Degree carries a maximum sentence of 25 years. Yegutkin will be back in court on December 17 to announce a sentencing date.

    District Attorney Hynes said, “This violent sexual predator faces the remainder of his life behind bars. This should serve as a clear message that those who would sexually abuse children in this county will be punished severely.”

    Yegutkin was a principal of a private Jewish high school in Brooklyn. He became a close friend of the victims’ family after attending the school where the victims’ father worked, and visited their home frequently. The victims did not attend Yegutkin’s school. From 1996 to 2005, Yegutkin sexually abused two of the boys when they were ages seven to 15-years-old, and in 2008, exposed the third boy to pornography. He forced them to perform sex acts including fondling and oral sex. Yegutkin was arrested in January 2009.

    At trial, the three victims testified against Yegutkin. The trial began on October 18th. The jury, consisting of seven men and five women, were in deliberations since November 29. They came back with a guilty verdict today, finding Yegutkin guilty on all 75 counts.

    The case was prosecuted by Rachel Schmidt, First Deputy Bureau Chief of the Sex Crimes Bureau and Lauren Traum, Senior Trial Attorney of the Sex Crimes Bureau. Rhonnie Jaus is Chief of the Sex Crimes Bureau.


  33. Hasidic mum says she trusted alleged child abuser

    By Sebastian Smith (AFP) – December 3, 2012

    NEW YORK — The mother of a girl who says she was abused by a powerful and respected spiritual counselor in a New York community of ultra-Orthodox Jews testified Monday that she never suspected the accused man, given their sect's radical restrictions on sexual behavior.

    In a dramatic moment, Rachel Krausz took the stand in the trial that has upended the normally closed Satmar branch of Hasidic Jews and pointed across the Brooklyn courtroom at Nechemya Weberman.
    Weberman, a heavyset 54-year-old with a traditional Hasidic beard and dark clothing, is alleged to have repeatedly abused Krausz's daughter for three years starting in 2007, when she was 12.

    Krausz said she could never have known what would happen when she sent her daughter to Weberman for counseling sessions, given his standing and the community's strict separation of the sexes.
    "Did you expect they would be behind closed doors alone?" the prosecutor asked in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

    "No," the mother replied.

    "Did you expect there would be locks on the doors?"


    Krausz explained that among Satmars, sex outside of marriage is a taboo subject. Asked if sex education was discussed at school or at home, she said: "Never."

    The alleged victim was sent to Weberman at the orders of her school, which said she had behavioral problems.

    According to Krausz, those were just the results of girlish frustration with heavy modesty rules.

    "It was hard on her. They were busy with pointless things like very thick tights. They had to go touch the tights to see what quality it was," she said.

    The girl got in trouble for having an open top button on her shirt.

    "The principal called her an epikorus," Krausz said, using a word meaning heretic.

    According to the allegations, Weberman used these counseling sessions to sexually molest the youngster, who for a long time was too scared to tell anyone.

    The defense says the girl made up the accusations to take revenge against Weberman for informing her parents that she'd revealed to him she was romantically involved with a boy -- something banned in their community.

    There has been a steady drip of child abuse allegations from the closed Orthodox communities in Brooklyn. But few end up at trial, in part, officials say, because anyone trying to go public with a complaint faces serious intimidation.

    Last week, four apparent Weberman supporters were questioned after being caught taking pictures inside the courtroom, including one of the young woman.

    Judge John Ingram issued a rare order barring anyone at the trial from having a cellphone, a measure more likely at a mob proceeding than anything involving religious figures.

    "I would remind everyone that it is against the law in the state of New York to take photos in court," Ingram said Monday. "Truly this is a very serious violation."

    Krausz told the court that her family had come under pressure because they were seen as having broken Satmar rules on keeping problems within the community. "In the Satmar, it's a bad thing. They don't allow it," she said.

    "When my husband went to the synagogue to pray, they would scream at him," she said. Even her granddaughter, aged five, has not been allowed back to school and her husband's business is suffering.
    In the public seating of the courtroom, every spot was filled with bearded men in traditional clothes or Hasidic women, several of them wearing wigs.

    Even under the careful eye of the court officers, tensions spilled over. "Go away! You don't belong here. Nobody wants you here!" one woman said to another trying to join her bench.

    Another woman approached and whispered: "It's very important we remain united."


  34. Despite Intimidation, Alleged Victim Testifies Against Accused Rapist

    by Allison Yarrow The Daily Beast December 3, 2012

    A young woman from Brooklyn’s tightly knit Satmar community breaks with it to stand by her allegation that a community elder raped her. Allison Yarrow reports.

    “He watched me when I was young. He always waited for me and said he knew I was going to come to him and he couldn’t wait for the day,” the pretty blonde 17-year-old testifies.

    She remembers playing with neighborhood kids outside Nechemya Weberman’s house from the time she was a little girl. It was when she was in sixth grade, in 2007, that she says she began to struggle with the strict rules of the ultra-religious Satmar community of Hasidic Jews she was raised in. She says teachers chastised her for questioning God’s existence and for inquiring about the world beyond the enclave’s Williamsburg, Brooklyn, streets—seemingly centuries apart from the hipsters just blocks away.

    Weberman, now 54 and a pillar of the community and onetime business partner of her father’s, seemed a natural choice to advise the floundering girl. Counseling of teens deemed troubled is common in the predominantly Yiddish-speaking neighborhood that is lined with Yeshiva schools, synagogues, and kosher shops.

    Now the unlicensed therapist is charged with 88 counts of sexual assault of a minor, the girl who turns 18 this week, and whom he counseled for about three years beginning when she was 12. “He was a God” within the community, the teen said of Weberman while testifying against him last week, while she was “a piece of dirt.” The abuse, she alleges, began in 2007, when she was in the sixth grade, and lasted through 2010.

    Weberman has pleaded not guilty and emphatically denied the charges. His defense council maintains that the allegations have hindered his ability to earn a living, and that he deserves the full benefit of the judicial process.

    "This is a case that is going to be tried in that courtroom. There will be no holds barred. Everything is going to come out,” his defense attorney George Farkas told CBS News.

    Perhaps what stands out most about this trial at the downtown Brooklyn courthouses is that most of the Jews attending are there to support the accuser, not the accused—a surprising shift in what’s been a community suspicious of outside authority. Still, another Orthodox sex-abuse trial—the prosecution of principal Emanuel Yegutkin, accused of violating boys—three floors below had only a handful of spectators during summation, and little news coverage—suggesting that the Weberman case may be more exception than rule.

    The teen—as an alleged victim of sexual assault, she has not been publicly identified—accuses Weberman of sexually abusing her in a spare room with a triple-locked door, one lock only accessible from the inside. He kissed and groped her body, she says on the stand, forced her to perform oral sex on him, showed her pornographic films, and made her copy the acts. Sometimes, she says, his children played on the other side of the door, or Weberman’s wife might call before entering to use the very computer on which she said the community pillar forced her to watch and mimic sex. She recounts skipping sessions after Passover in 2009, but said Weberman visited her family home and entered her room while she was in bed and abused her there.

    Friends at the trial to support her describe the alleged victim as “strong” and “sweet” and a thin “slip of a girl.” While she had excelled academically in her middle-school years at the rigid United Talmudical Academy, tensions grew at school as well as at home, as teachers called her the Yiddish word for “heretic” by teachers for wearing too-short skirts, too-sheer tights, and sweaters not buttoned all the way to her throat. “I always tried to please them, but it was never enough,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t belong there.”

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  35. In the spring of 2009, the teen met Jeremy Solomon, a young man a few years older than her who worked behind a counter at a neighborhood shop where she stopped to buy her lunch. Dating is forbidden in Satmar culture, and women aren’t supposed to learn about sex until just before their wedding day, when a community-sanctioned authority schools them. Still, the two forged a romantic bond. She says she even confided in Weberman her feelings for Solomon during their sessions. “It wasn’t just touching,” she says of the sessions with Weberman. “We did discuss other things.”

    In April 2010 Solomon was arrested. The teen says she learned this when she sent him a Facebook message, and his attorney replied. She testifies that she blames her father for hiding a camera in her bedroom, taping her and the young man having sex, and then reporting her boyfriend to the authorities—leading to his arrest for statutory rape.

    Prosecutors have said that they have seen the tape, and while the charges against the boyfriend filed after her father, accompanied by Weberman, visited the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, were eventually dropped, the young couple was forcibly separated for months. It wasn’t until later—after Weberman drove her to the attorney’s office to see Solomon—that she says she came to believe that her family friend and counselor had been involved in the making of the film and Solomon’s arrest.

    At some point after the arrest, the couple split up—she was vague about the details on the stand—and she began seeing Hershey, the man she married this October.

    In February, 2011 the teen entered Bnot Chaya Academy, an alternative school for girls, and it was there where in March she told a teacher that she had suffered prolonged abuse at Weberman’s hand (ending about a year earlier), filed a police report, and stopped seeing him for good.

    “All the girls at BCA have a history of something,” said faculty member Chani Segall, who said Weberman brought the teen there himself. “He realized he was losing her. She was out of every school. He had to prove to the world he could take care of a girl. For that we’re thankful to him, if I can drum up one thing for which we’re thankful.”

    “People in the community think this is revenge” by the accuser on Weberman for his alleged role in the tape and her boyfriend’s arrest, said Judy Genut, who runs a support organization for troubled girls. “She decided to get her own boyfriend, and he couldn’t stand the competition,” according to the community theory, which Genut—who grew up playing with Weberman and whose family went to the same synagogue as Weberman—dismisses as malarkey.

    It’s a theory that father and son defense attorneys George and Michael Farkas have tried to advance in the courtroom, working to paint a picture of a recalcitrant, unhappy girl with a fallible character and a taste for revenge.

    In his opening statement, George Farkas painted the teen as a “free spirit” who read forbidden magazines, like Cosmo, and after finding a confidante in Weberman felt betrayed by his role in having her boyfriend arrested. She wanted “to bring down the entire community,” he said, with “great vengeance and furious anger ... [for] vengeance and revenge against Nechemya Weberman, and through this, to bring down the entire community that either supported him, or of which he was a part.”

    The defense brought up the tape and its role in the teen’s then-boyfriend’s arrest repeatedly during its opening statement and again during her cross-examination—though they were not allowed to describe its contents at all to the jury—and Michael Farkas repeatedly asked the teen if she faulted Weberman for Solomon’s arrest. “I blame my father,” was her refrain.

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  36. “You’re not going to settle for your voice not being heard,” he tells her in a brutal cross-examination that spanned four days. She admits to being “bad with dates,” and Farkas grilled her on them, pushing to encourage doubt in the members of the jury, none of whom appear to be religious Jews.

    Though there is little evidence that sex abuse is more frequent in the Orthodox world than in the secular one, many prominent ultra-Orthodox leaders—like Rabbi Israel Hager of Monsey, N.Y., and Rabbi David Niederman of Williamsburg—have demanded that rabbinic authorities, rather than secular police and courts, address such crimes. Young women are required to dress and act modestly to maintain their marriageability. This combined with the grave prohibition of lashon hora, or speaking ill of others, can make sex crimes—which, because of victims’ reluctance to testify, are already difficult to prosecute—even more challenging, according to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

    D.A. Charles Hynes’s office has been thrashed by the media for an apparent reluctance to pursue cases and for concealing alleged perpetrators’ identities, some even after they were convicted—which was perceived as preferential treatment for an often closed community that’s become a formidable voting bloc, one that’s supported Hynes.

    Advocates say sex-abuse awareness and efforts to report such crimes to secular authorities through hotlines and cold calls have increased within the Orthodox community, but that pedophiles can still hide easily hide in the community—where a person who reports crimes to secular authorities is often frowned upon as a moser, or snitch. Before the case opened, Hynes compared prosecutions in the community with organized-crime cases, but said they were sometimes even more difficult, since witness protection isn’t an option for victims who remain within the community.

    Among Satmars, public expression has been predominantly behind Weberman. After the teen reported the counselor to the police, many supporters rallied around him and pilloried the girl in advertisements for a May fundraiser to subsidize Weberman’s legal fees that drew nearly 1,000 people. (A smaller counterprotest outside the fundraiser was led by the teen’s then-boyfriend and now husband, Hershey.)

    A month later, four Satmar men were arrested and charged with witness intimidation, after reportedly trying to bribe the teen and her husband with $500,000 to throw out the case against Weberman and leave the country. Hershey claimed he was threatened with physical violence, and that the kosher certification was ripped from his store as a sign that the men meant business. All the while, the teen has been ostracized and badmouthed by Satmars, according to her supporters in the courtroom. The teen and her new husband now live in a different neighborhood in Brooklyn.

    Weberman backers “did this to break her so she wouldn’t get to the stand. They dragged her through the mud, hoping she wouldn’t have the courage to testify,” said Yeshiva dean and founder of a program for at-risk Orthodox teens, Yakov Horowitz.

    “Their thinking is, this guy is innocent. Why? Because we know him,” said Horowitz.

    Genut echoed that sentiment, and said Weberman is owed the support he is receiving. “The defendant happens to be a person who did a lot of favors for a lot of people” in the Satmar community, she said.

    Last Tuesday, the teen began what became 15 hours of emotional testimony over four days. She walked slowly to the witness stand, hands balled in long sleeves, skirt grazing her knees and wearing Ugg boots, de rigueur of the young and fashionable. Newly married, she now covers her hair in a long wig in the prescribed fashion for married Orthodox women. “I wanted to die rather than live with myself,” she said on the stand. “I didn’t know how to fight. I was numb.”

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  37. At first, though she spoke softly, the girl seemed collected and strong, but as the examination wore on, her friends say she grew exhausted. Her answers became less firm and more clipped. At one point, faced with recounting specific details about the graphic sex abuse she alleged, she broke down into tears, causing the judge to order a break.

    So far, four different men have been arrested at the trial for snapping photos of court proceedings, including one of the teen that was tweeted and emailed. This was especially threatening because alleged victim’s identity has been protected because she is a minor, said Judge John Ingram. Police officers now confiscate the cellphones of spectators—a tactic a law-enforcement source told the New York Post was “just like in a gang trial”—the packed rows of mostly Orthodox men and women in fashionable wigs and expensive jewelry supporting the girl, often out loud. “This is not a gymnasium or spectator sport,” Ingram warned. “No waving and expressing support for the witness or the defendant.”

    Court security for the girl increased after Weberman stared at her through a strip of glass as she waited during recess, her husband reported to court police. A day later, that strip was covered with paper.

    “The strategy is to shred her credibility,” said Mark Appel, an advocate for abuse victims in the Jewish community. “The irony is children victims act out, they act antisocial, and predators turn around and say, ‘You see, they’re messed up.’”

    He shows a camera phone photo of the couple dancing at their wedding a few months ago. “Look how happy.”

    The girl’s boosters are mostly observant Jews from outside communities, not Satmars, and they are often hushed by court officers during the proceedings for whispering opinions and even cheering the teen’s answers: “You’re a hero,” “The truth is coming out,” and even “I’m going to throw up on him.”

    The men and women largely self-segregate into gendered rows as is common in synagogue. Many are taken with the rotating cast of journalists, and share tidbits they hope to see in reports of the case. On the last day of the teen’s testimony, civil-liberties lawyer and commentator Alan Dershowitz dropped by.

    Weberman has had comparatively few backers in court, which D.A. spokesman Jerry Schmetterer said is “a little unusual.”

    “For these cases in this community, that’s not usually the case,” he said, for the accuser’s supporters to outnumber those there to stand behind the accused. Among Weberman’s supporters have been his wife, daughter, and sister, who have attended nearly every day of the trial.

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  38. Mother of two Srivki Weisberg said it was fear that brought her to watch the trial. “It’s a young parent’s No. 1 one fear,” she said, mentioning the mikvah, or ritual bath that has been a place of abuse in previous cases much discussed within the community. Joe Diangello, a former member of the Satmar community who said he was raped in a mikvah by a stranger when he was 7 years old and left the world of organized Jewry at 17, has been attending the trial.

    At 32, Diangello wears black eyeliner, plays metal music, and is estranged from his family who he said fled to New York’s Monsey Orthodox enclave from “one of the most beautiful houses in Williamsburg” to escape the shame he caused his family. At the trial, he debates with an Orthodox woman about whether Orthodox parents still send children to unlicensed counselors for reform—like the teen and Weberman. “They can’t get away with the shit they used to get away with,” he said, but “it still happens. Parents still send their kids to counselors.”

    Unlicensed counseling from trusted community members should not come under attack, say representatives of the ultra-Orthodox world, including Agudath Israel of America spokesman Avi Shafran—who stressed the need to take safeguards when children are vouchsafed with any adult. “Most rabbis routinely counsel members of their congregations, schools, yeshivas, and seminaries,” he said. “In the case where the counseling involves a man and a woman, halacha [Jewish law] insists that any door be unlocked and accessible to a passer-by and also forbids any physical contact. Experience, sadly, has shown that such precautions are a good idea in all cases.”

    Asked if there are ever circumstances when a religious Jew should not report sexual abuse to secular authorities, Shafran said, “If the concerns are based on credible evidence or testimony, no, there are no such instances.”

    After the trial, expected to conclude this week after the teen’s parents and Weberman take the stand, the teen plans to start a college seminary program at BCA, the school’s faculty members say. College and marriage are two success markers for young modern Orthodox girls, and the teen’s friends attest to how proud of her they are that she has come forward and that she is on track to have a normal life. But as the trial persists, she remains for her supporters a touchstone for an issue they say has been a scourge in their community.

    “This could be the most important case of our lifetime,” says Horowitz.

    On the stand, the girl said she had pursued the charges despite “intimidation,” “intimidation of my parents,” “loss of business,” and “having my nieces kicked out of school.” She testified that even her parents had sent her just six months ago to a rabbi who counseled her to drop the case.

    Asked why she was pressing on, she replied: “Peace.”


  39. Defendant Takes Stand

    By PERVAIZ SHALLWANI Wall Street Journal December 5, 2012

    Testifying on his own behalf, a respected Brooklyn Jewish counselor told a jury he "never ever" sexually abused a now-18-year-old girl who was under his care for three years.

    Nechemya Weberman, 54, acknowledged that he used his position as an unlicensed religious counselor for his own personal gain in the Satmar Hasidic community, an ultra-Orthodox sect of Judaism.

    He admitted he took a salary from the not-for-profit he created in 2000, Lev V'nefesh, and used credit cards in its name to pay for his children's private-school tuition, testifying: "If I did, I needed to."

    Mr. Weberman was the final witness to testify in a trial that has put a spotlight on a community that prosecutors say has historically avoided prosecution by keeping members quiet and handling criminal matters internally.

    Closing arguments are expected Thursday, with the jury to begin its deliberations afterward.

    Mr. Weberman is accused of sexually abusing the young woman dozens of times in his Williamsburg home and office over a three-year span beginning when she was 12 years old. Defense attorneys cast the case in a different light, saying the alleged victim singled out their client and the Satmar sect because of its ultra-Orthodox policies.

    Defense attorneys asked Mr. Weberman if he had ever "inappropriately touched" his victim. He responded: "Never ever."

    Mr. Weberman acknowledged that he has no counseling or training to be a counselor. He said his career began after being approached by a family member for help with marital problems.

    He said that by 2000 he was counseling full-time and had started a nonprofit that solicited money from the community to help those who could not afford his services. Mr. Weberman gained stature in the community by serving as the driver of Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum, a former world leader of the Satmar.

    Mr. Weberman testified that he was respected in Satmar communities in both Williamsburg and upstate, even though the two communities despise each other after a dispute between two brothers who helm the two sects.

    He said rabbis would recommend him to the parents of troubled children and he would charge the parents.

    Mr. Weberman testified that he came to be known by many in the community as "rebbe" or rabbi and acknowledged and his letterhead says "Rabbinical Counseling" though he is not ordained as a rabbi or licensed as a counselor. Asked by prosecutors whether he used a not-for-profit for his own gain, Mr. Weberman responded: "Yes, I did."

    Prosecutors claim that rabbis wanted him to oversee the counseling because as an unlicensed counselor his is not a "mandated reporter" who must report child abuse to authorities.

    A version of this article appeared December 6, 2012, on page A21 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Defendant Takes Stand.


  40. Jury finds Nechemya Weberman, Satmar Hasidic leader, guilty of molesting teenage girl he was paid to counsel

    Weberman, guilty on 59 counts, is facing a maximum of 25 years in prison on the top count alone, prolonged sexual conduct against a child. The high-profile case cast light on the Satmar Hasidic community – and has also put pressure on Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes over the way he has managed such cases in the Orthodox Jewish community.


    Guilty 59 times over.

    A Brooklyn jury found Nechemya Weberman - a prominent figure in the Satmar Hasidic community - guilty Monday of sexually abusing a rebellious young girl he was paid to counsel.

    The verdict came after an explosive two-week trial, where customs of the strict Williamsburg-based sect were aired in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

    Weberman, who was led away in handcuffs, is facing a maximum of 25 years on prison of the top count alone, prolonged sexual conduct against a child.

    The main evidence against the 54-year-old counselor was testimony from the victim, who turned 18 last week. During four brutal days of testimony and cross-examination, the striking young woman recounted how she was forced to perform oral sex and reenact porn scenes during closed-door counseling sessions that started in 2007, when she was 12.
    Her yeshiva referred her to Weberman because she flouted her sect's strict modesty rules and asked probing questions about the existence of God.

    But instead of guidance, she was molested at every opportunity.

    "I wanted to die," she testified of her torment.

    Prosecutors offered no physical evidence of the sexual activity that took place inside Weberman's home office, which the trial revealed had been a flop house for other wayward teenage girls.

    The counselor took the stand in his own defense, insisting he "never ever" inappropriately touched the teen. But he was forced to acknowledge that funds from his charity were used to pay for his kids' tuition and buy lingerie.

    The defense team claimed the victim's accusations were fueled by revenge, after Weberman teamed up with her father to film her in bed with a former boyfriend - then used the footage to get the boyfriend arrested for statutory rape.

    That case was dropped shortly before she made her complaint against Weberman.

    The high-profile case was rocked by allegations that Weberman tried to intimidate the accuser. Then during the trial, three men illegally snapped her photo while she was on the witness stand, and it ended up being posted online.

    The sordid, soap opera-like revelations in court rocked the insular Satmar Sect, which derives its practices from a strict interpretation of Judaism. The trial was also a major challenge to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who came under criticism for his handling of sex abuse cases in the Orthodox Jewish community.


  41. Chemical Thrown at Rabbi Who Aided Victims of Abuse

    By SHARON OTTERMAN New York Times December 11, 2012

    An outspoken advocate for child sexual abuse victims in the Satmar Hasidic community was injured by a chemical he believed to be bleach that was thrown in his face as he walked down the street in his Williamsburg, Brooklyn, neighborhood on Tuesday.

    The advocate, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, who runs a Web site and telephone call-in line that publicizes claims of sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community, said in an interview at the hospital where he was treated that he was walking on Roebling Street about noon when a man came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.

    “He has a cup of bleach,” Rabbi Rosenberg said, adding that he recognized the man. “And then he says ‘whoops’ and throws it in my face and walks off.”

    A Police Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday evening that there had been an “ongoing dispute” between Rabbi Rosenberg and the man who threw the unidentified substance, but that no arrest had yet been made. Rabbi Rosenberg was taken to Woodhull Medical Center with burns to his face. According to a relative who was at the hospital, he had a corneal abrasion to his left eye and chemical burns around his eye. He was released after treatment and is expected to fully recover, his relative said.

    Tensions are high in the tightly knit Satmar Hasidic community in Williamsburg after the conviction on Monday of Nechemya Weberman, a prominent community member who was found guilty of repeatedly sexually abusing a girl who came to him for counseling. Since his arrest on those charges last year, Mr. Weberman has had the backing of the community’s rabbinical leaders, and many in the neighborhood continue to believe he is innocent.

    Rabbi Rosenberg said he believed the attack against him was related to Mr. Weberman’s conviction, as well as to a claim that he made on his telephone call-in line last week claiming that another ultra-Orthodox man was also a molester. “Everyone is so crazy right now,” Rabbi Rosenberg said.

    A Police Department spokesman said there appeared to be no connection to the verdict.

    A law enforcement official said that the police were still determining what substance had been thrown at Rabbi Rosenberg, but confirmed that he had been burned. Detectives interviewed Rabbi Rosenberg at the hospital and said they would take his clothing for chemical analysis.

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  42. Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, has vowed in recent months to crack down against intimidation of sexual abuse victims and their supporters in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where he has said people trying to cover up cases use tactics similar to those employed by organized crime. On Monday, the district attorney warned that people acting like “thugs” in the community would be punished.

    Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for Mr. Hynes, said on Tuesday that his office was investigating the attack on Rabbi Rosenberg.

    Primo Santiago, the manager of Roebling Liquors, at 311 Roebling Street, said that he saw the attack take place. He said he was unlocking his store when he saw a man rushing across the street with a cup of liquid.

    “I saw the one guy throw something at the other guy’s face,” he said. Rabbi Rosenberg, 62, has been confronted before. In 2008, after he began talking publicly about ultra-Orthodox Jews who he believed were molesters, he was formally ostracized by a group of rabbis and religious judges, and barred from local synagogues.

    “The public must beware, and stay away from him, and push him out of our camp,” that ban, printed in local newspapers, said in Hebrew. Rabbi Rosenberg also said he was grazed in the forehead by a bullet from a pellet gun shortly afterward.

    Through it all, Rabbi Rosenberg has refused to tone down his advocacy. He has accused some top rabbis within the Satmar community of covering up abuse or being molesters themselves.

    On Monday, he attended the Weberman trial and gave interviews to the news media praising the guilty verdict.

    “Eventually, we are going to be a normal community, that everyone who is molested can come forward,” he said.

    Joseph Goldstein contributed reporting.


  43. Satmar sect's sick revenge as pervert's posse bullies family of teen sex-abuse victim

    By Simone Weichselbaum and Oren Yaniv New York Daily News, December 13, 2012

    Backers of convicted child molester Nechemya Weberman have wreaked vengeance upon the teenage victim’s family and her sympathizers, sources told the Daily News.

    Since Weberman was convicted on 59 counts of sexual abuse Monday, his supporters in the insular Satmar Hasidic sect have told customers to boycott the victim’s parents’ businesses, pulled advertising dollars from an Orthodox radio show and spat at an anti-molestation activist.

    “It’s getting serious,” a law enforcement source told The News.

    Meanwhile, the pervert’s posse took out a two-page spread in the Williamsburg-based Satmar community’s largest newspaper in an effort to raise $1 million for an appeal.

    “The entire community is sitting on that defendant’s bench God forbid,” reads the two-page spread in the Der Yid newspaper. “In the coming weeks we must come up with a million dollars to be able to continue pursue the case to rescue the ‘scapegoat’ Nechemya.”

    Sources close to the case say the unnamed group hopes to hire famed criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, who helped get O.J. Simpson acquitted of murder.

    Weberman faces a maximum of 117 years in the slammer for subjecting a young girl he was paid to counsel to three years of closed-door molestation sessions, starting in 2007 when she was 12.

    The victim testified during the trial that after she filed a February 2011 criminal complaint against the prominent counselor, her father’s business listing operation started bleeding clients, her nieces were kicked out of their yeshiva, and three men stormed her husband’s restaurant to rip off its kosher certificate. The restaurant is now shuttered.

    Women also began to shun her mother’s side business selling Mary Kay cosmetics.

    “Some have gone. And some have come,” the mother shrugged.

    After the guilty verdict, a text message began circulating in the community. Translated from Yiddish by The News, it reads:

    “Please send around to at least 10 people. If you’re going to (name redacted) to make your face . . . you are a part of killing the Jewish Nation and five kids are home without a father,” referring to Weberman’s children.

    “The pressure — it’s unbelievable,” the victim’s mother told The News on Thursday. “I can’t take it anymore.”

    But the victim’s family members aren’t the only people bearing the brunt of the verdict.

    Zev Brenner, a radio personality who hosts a popular show called “Talkline” that caters to Orthodox Jews, said he already lost one sponsor, and is fighting to keep others.

    His crime? He interviewed Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes about the case.

    “We had the DA on and we had the victim’s husband [after the verdict],” Brenner said. “One person is not happy about it and won’t advertise.”

    Brenner said his program, which has been on the air for 31 years, tries to be impartial, but reporting on the high-profile trial has been tough, he said.

    “He has a vocal group of supporters,” Brenner said on the convicted perv. “People are upset.”

    On Tuesday, longtime anti-sex abuse blogger Nathan (Nuchem) Rosenberg filed a complaint against Meilech Schnitzler — who ultimately surrendered — for splashing bleach in his eye. The blogger accused Schnitzler’s father of being a pedophile.

    Rosenberg told The News he had been spat at by several people earlier that day.


  44. Sex Abuse Scandals Rock Orthodox Jewry in New York and London


    Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and London are reeling from a series of sex scandals that have exposed a close-knit world which has sought to silence the victims.

    In New York, Brooklyn Jewish leader Nechemya Weberman is due to be sent to prison after being found guilty on 60 charges of child sex abuse, for molesting a girl he was counselling over a three-year span beginning when the girl was 12.

    Weberman is a member of the fiercely private Satmar Hasidic sect, one of the largest and most powerful within the Charedi (ultra Orthodox) world. In the run up to his trial in December 2012, four Satmar members were arrested for allegedly trying to bribe the victim.

    Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes praised the unidentified victim for going against her own family and her own Hasidic values - and betraying her community by some people's accounts - in reporting the rabbi to police.

    "I can't understate just how we've come to regard her as a woman of courage to come forward at a very, very difficult time," Hynes said.

    Hynes said the case could be a watershed moment for the Satmar community, giving victims of all kinds of crimes the power to break tradition and go straight to the NYPD for help.

    "It will give people more courage to come forward," Hynes said.

    However, there have been several violent attempts to intimidate victims and witnesses. As Weberman was being convicted, long-time Hasidic activist Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg had bleach thrown in his face by a relative of convicted sex offender Baruch Lebovits, whose conviction was overturned back in April.

    Several high-ranking Hasidic leaders are blaming Rabbi Rosenberg for numerous arrests and convictions of sexual predators living within the Satmar community.

    This was not the first time that Rabbi Rosenberg was assaulted. Back in 2008 he was stopped on the street several times at knife point while being warned to shut down a hotline in which he provides information in Yiddish regarding how to protect children from sexual predators. It was around this same time he was shot in the head after not obeying the warnings.

    Meanwhile, the more mainstream Yeshiva University and Yeshiva High School for Boys in Manhattan has been accused by former students of decades of abuse.

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  45. Last month, the Jewish Daily Forward revealed how Yeshiva University for years ignored students who claimed that they were sexually abused by two former staff members at the feeder school. Two dozen former students made allegations relating to incidents that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.
    The allegations centred on Rabbi George Finkelstein, a long-time teacher who rose to become principal, before leaving Y.U. in 1995 and becoming dean of a Jewish day school in Florida. He was accused by numerous students of inappropriate wrestling, kissing and simulated sex. He was hired by the Jerusalem Great Synagogue in 2001 after being assured by Y.U. officials that the rumours of sexual abuse were false. Finkelstein resigned his synagogue post after the initial Forward article.

    Another former student of the same school has made allegations again Finkelstein's fellow religious teacher, Rabbi Macy Gordon, who left the school in 1985. The alleged victim claims he lodged an official complaint to the school in 1980, after Gordon sodomized him, but nothing was done.

    In light of the fresh allegations, Gordon has been placed on indefinite leave from his teaching position in Israel.

    London Jews at war over sex abuse claims

    Allegations of inappropriate behaviour with women by a senior strictly Orthodox rabbi have led to a schism within London's Charedi community.

    The community has been convulsed for months following complaints made by women about marriage counselling sessions run by Rabbi Chaim Halpern of the Divrei Chaim Synagogue in Golders Green.

    One group believes that Rabbi Halpern has been maligned, while another is angry at what it argues is a failure by an umbrella body, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations - whose president is Rabbi Halpern's father - to investigate his behaviour.

    Feelings are so highly charged that police are investigating complaints of harassment lodged by one of the rabbis who has opposed Rabbi Halpern.

    A police spokesman told the Jewish Chronicle that they were investigating allegations that "a man in his mid-60s" had received more than 50 phone calls which included "profanities in Hebrew".
    A split has emerged between the more professional and prosperous followers living in Golders Green, in northwest London, who believe a cover-up is afoot, and a less affluent but more traditional faction from Stamford Hill, in the borough of Hackney.


  46. Last month, the Jewish Daily Forward revealed how Yeshiva University for years ignored students who claimed that they were sexually abused by two former staff members at the feeder school. Two dozen former students made allegations relating to incidents that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.
    The allegations centred on Rabbi George Finkelstein, a long-time teacher who rose to become principal, before leaving Y.U. in 1995 and becoming dean of a Jewish day school in Florida. He was accused by numerous students of inappropriate wrestling, kissing and simulated sex. He was hired by the Jerusalem Great Synagogue in 2001 after being assured by Y.U. officials that the rumours of sexual abuse were false. Finkelstein resigned his synagogue post after the initial Forward article.

    Another former student of the same school has made allegations again Finkelstein's fellow religious teacher, Rabbi Macy Gordon, who left the school in 1985. The alleged victim claims he lodged an official complaint to the school in 1980, after Gordon sodomized him, but nothing was done.

    In light of the fresh allegations, Gordon has been placed on indefinite leave from his teaching position in Israel.

    London Jews at war over sex abuse claims

    Allegations of inappropriate behaviour with women by a senior strictly Orthodox rabbi have led to a schism within London's Charedi community.

    The community has been convulsed for months following complaints made by women about marriage counselling sessions run by Rabbi Chaim Halpern of the Divrei Chaim Synagogue in Golders Green.

    One group believes that Rabbi Halpern has been maligned, while another is angry at what it argues is a failure by an umbrella body, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations - whose president is Rabbi Halpern's father - to investigate his behaviour.

    Feelings are so highly charged that police are investigating complaints of harassment lodged by one of the rabbis who has opposed Rabbi Halpern.

    A police spokesman told the Jewish Chronicle that they were investigating allegations that "a man in his mid-60s" had received more than 50 phone calls which included "profanities in Hebrew".
    A split has emerged between the more professional and prosperous followers living in Golders Green, in northwest London, who believe a cover-up is afoot, and a less affluent but more traditional faction from Stamford Hill, in the borough of Hackney.


  47. Senior British rabbi filmed telling alleged child abuse victim not to go to the police

    by TOM PECK UK Independent JANUARY 30, 2013

    A senior British rabbi has been filmed telling an alleged victim of child sexual abuse not to go to the police.

    Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, who is leader of the UK’s Strictly Orthodox Jewish community, told the alleged victim that it was “mesira”, or forbidden, to report a suspected Jewish sex offender to a non-Jewish authority.

    His advice, which was secretly recorded as part of a Channel 4’s Dispatches investigation to be shown tonight, will reignite the controversy about the cover-up of child sex abuse by religious groups following global scandals surrounding the Roman Catholic church

    Strictly Orthodox Jewish people, known as Charedi, number 40,000 people, around a sixth of the Jewish population in Britain.

    Rabbi Padwa, who is head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations in Stamford Hill, north London, was recorded by a former member of the tight-knit community using a hidden camera.

    The footage shows the alleged victim telling Rabbi Padwa about someone “who sexually abused me when I was younger, when I was a child and I’m looking for your advice, to be honest, what to do…Would do you think maybe, is it a good idea to speak to the police about it?”.

    “Oh no,” Padwa answers, explaining that doing so would breach Rabbinic Law. The alleged victim says that child sex abuse is a “very serious issue”, but is told not tell the police. Rabbi Padwa adds: “Men Tur Nisht,” which is Yiddish for “people must not tell tales.” He continues: “The police is not the solution.”

    Another Charedi Rabbi claims later in the program that Rabbi Ephraim Padwa recently forbade a father who had told the police that his son had been sexually abused from pursuing the case.

    The man taped speaking to Rabbi Padwa agreed to help investigate possible sex abuse cover-ups after claiming he was abused as a child by a fellow Charedi, Channel 4 claims.

    Rabbi Padwa’s organisation, the UOHC, sent Channel 4 a letter responding to the allegations stating: “The Jewish Community considers the safety and protection of our children as paramount.”

    Last night it released another statement outlining its procedures for dealing with child sex abuse complaints. It said: “The Orthodox Hebrew Congregations have a special Committee to deal with incidences of attacks of this kind on the children of our congregations. The members of the Committee consist of rabbis, educators and members of the community, among whom there are those who have been trained in the right way to tackle this.

    It added: “The Committee which will deal with it [sex abuse complaints] according to the advice of the Rabbinical Court and according to the law of the land.”

    Britain’s Hidden Child Abuse - Channel 4 Dispatches Special - Wednesday 30th January at 10.30pm


  48. Getting a Grip on Religious Sex Abuse

    by Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet Rabbi, Mill Hill Synagogue Huffington Post January 31, 2012

    Last night, British Channel 4's Dispatches programme did an exposé on attitudes within some of the Orthodox Jewish community in London toward sex abuse crimes. One particular victim went undercover to expose the way his community has for decades been dealing with paedophilia. It's been a year long investigation and it has sent shockwaves through much of the Anglo-Jewish community. Unfortunately this is one of many stories emerging of late. There was the high profile trial and conviction of an Orthodox Jewish "therapist" in Williamsburg, N.Y., and a lot of media attention focussed on a spiritual leader in Golders Green, London.

    Often the community rallies around alleged offenders and ostracise the would-be victim. Edward Thorndike, president of the American Psychological Association in the early 20th century, coined a term called "the halo effect." The theory goes that we tend to give someone the benefit of the doubt based on personal image and stature. When we hear about a common man having committed an offence we immediately presume him to be guilty while feeling sorry for the victim. But when it's someone of stature in the community, we immediately presume that person's innocence while vilifying those who bring the accusations. As Thorndike put it, we make "a generalisation from the perception of one outstanding personality trait to an overly favourable evaluation of the whole personality."

    Isn't that why Jimmy Saville got away with what he did for so long? I've spoken to several people involved in the music industry during the Saville era that now claim with hindsight that "Jimmy Saville was obviously up to no good." Only at the time they didn't see it. Like them, the hundreds who have clamoured to the support of a rabbi in London, the thousands who have done the same for one of their own in New York and the many more who immediately ostracise those bringing claims of sexual abuse, all suffer from the halo effect. After all who are you more likely to believe: a "skimpy clad, rebellious" teenage girl or a long frock coated, black-bearded therapist; a leading rabbi or a "desperate" divorcee; a "troubled" student or a popular star-studded teacher?

    Many communities insist that their own hierarchical bodies should deal with accusations internally rather than them being reported to the police. Indeed in response to the Dispatches programme, the Ultra-Orthodox community in London scrambled to release a statement condemning all forms of sex abuse, but at the same time insisting that all matters should be reported to a specially convened committee in the first instance. This is wrong on so many levels.

    Firstly, would they also insist that a murder should be reported to them for consideration? To treat sexual abuse any different is to undermine the enormity of the crime and the gravity of the damage caused to victims.

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  49. Therein lays one of the fundamental problems. Too many people misunderstand or undermine the enormity of the psychological impact of sex abuse. One young man from Manchester recalled how he was repeatedly molested as a child, only his parents decided not to report it because they knew the guilty party and it would have ruined his family. In other words they were more concerned about the effect an arrest and conviction would have on the family of the abuser than they were with the welfare of their own son. I wonder if they were even aware of the well documented effects on victims of child sex abuse: guilt, inferiority complexes, depression and a high rate of attempted suicide. Perhaps, they thought, their son wasn't "damaged" after all he was portraying a happy-go-lucky demeanour throughout adolescence. So did Motty Borger, but it all came back to haunt him two days into his honeymoon when he confided about his abuse to his new bride then later jumped from the seventh-floor balcony of their hotel room.

    Another reason why dealing with matters internally is utterly flawed is because of the all too often overlooked fact that most paedophiles are repeat offenders. What these people fail to grasp is that sexual abuse stems from mental instability. Preying on the young or the vulnerable who can't or don't know how to defend themselves, suggests a toxic mix of narcissism, addiction and passive aggression. There's a reason why those convicted have to register on a sex-offenders list. It's because they always run the risk of repeating the offence. Internal committees can at best reprimand the perpetrator such that he might feel truly chastised and guilty, but he'll also most likely go on to repeat the offence.

    I think one of the main reasons there is reluctance to report such hideous crimes is because of a certain psychology embedded in the Jewish mindset associated with reporting to authorities. The oft touted biblical prohibition of mesirah (lit. handing over to authorities) was based on the premise that government authorities would typically deal harshly with Jews, persecuting them, incarcerating them or worse and often without trial. The well documented stories of the Poretz in the Soviet shtetl or the Kapos in Nazi Germany are ingrained in the psyche of the Jew. However, a modern day police system in a democratic society operates entirely different.

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  50. Well, not entirely. The end result still appears to be much the same. While one might face a fair trial, it's difficult to suggest that one gets a fair punishment. Judaism frowns on the general notion of a prison system. The idea of remaining locked up like an animal in a cage for so many years is deemed inhumane and self-defeating. And while it can be rightly argued that one has to adhere to the law of the land and thus to know in advance that doing the crime means you'll be doing the time -- nonetheless, the prison system is hardly serving the purpose it was surely intended for.

    Prisons are punishment for crimes committed. They also help keep society protected from repeat offenders -- the one aspect of incarceration which Judaism does sanction, thus could arguably be applied to many sex offenders. But prisons should also be expected to help rehabilitate, though they usually have the very opposite effect. Prisons are mostly violent places. The National Geographic channel made a television series entitled "Hard Time." On their website they advertise the show with the caption, "in prison, every day is a fight for survival." As one inmate put it, "There are only two types of people in here, predators and prey." Sex offenders are known to be the most vulnerable prey.

    Perhaps the fear of reporting is directly correlated to the perceived end result. You might get a fairer trial but you'll end up in the same place as the Jew who endured untold suffering in some Soviet or German hellhole. Until such point as "don't drop the soap in the shower" is no longer a joke and proper rehabilitation becomes part of the process, nothing will change in the way of thinking of those who refuse to report, and mesirah will continue to get bantered about.
    To be sure, this is analysing, not justifying. It is reassuring that in the main the Jewish world is waking up to the reality of child sex abuse and that rabbinic bodies are issuing a "must report" edict. But for those lagging behind, something must be done to redress the balance such that potential sex abusers will think twice before acting, and in the event that they do, others will feel right about reporting them.

    When the Church abuse scandals were first exposed at the early part of this century it emerged that such abuse was endemic even as the Holy See might have been painfully slow to deal with what was going on right under their altars. It is becoming increasingly apparent that certain rabbinic figureheads or bodies have also become adept at turning a blind eye to abuse or simply undermining it. A message must go out to all segments of society including every religious community that sex abuse is a severe crime. The consequences to victims are real. The response must be robust. Not to deal with it forthright is to share in the guilt. Only then can we start to heal.


  51. Satmar Community Divided Over Sex Arrests

    By MAYA RAJAMANI New York Times (blog) February 13, 2013

    An anonymous call to a sexual abuse hotline led to the arrest of Yoel Malik, a 33-year-old member of the Jewish Satmar community in Brooklyn on Wednesday, Jan. 30 on charges of sexually assaulting at least three teenaged boys over 10 months ending in January.

    It was a call that some members of the ultra-Orthodox sect, rocked in recent months by a series of sex-abuse prosecutions, say should never have been made.

    Only if a Jewish judge deemed that the case couldn’t be handled by the Jewish courts would it be acceptable to turn it over to a non-Jewish judge, said Yoel Ase, a member of the Satmar sect in Brooklyn.

    “The ones who reported Malik, they didn’t go to a Jewish court first,” Mr. Ase said. “They should have gone there first.”

    Mr. Malik allegedly took two boys to a motel room, where he provided them with cigarettes and engaged in sexual acts, police said. Incidents involving a third boy allegedly took place in Mr. Malik’s car, cops said. Police reports say the boys were between the ages of 14 and 16, though both the police and the Kings County District Attorney’s office wouldn’t disclose their exact ages.

    Mr. Malik was charged with 12 counts of sexual abuse, four counts of criminal sexual acts, 11 counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and one count of forcible touching for assaults that began last March and continued into January, according to the DA.

    His arrest is the latest in a series of sexual abuse scandals that have brought unwanted media attention to the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn.

    Mr. Malik was part of the shul, or synagogue, at the corner of Myrtle and Bedford led by Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum. It is the same synagogue that Nechemya Weberman attended before he was sentenced to 103 years in prison last month for the repeated sexual abuse of a Satmar girl. The abuse began when the girl was 12; she was 18 on the day of the verdict, which was the most severe punishment a member of the community has received for sexual abuse crimes, according to The New York Times.

    In December, Emanuel Yegutkin, a former Brooklyn yeshiva principal and Orthodox Jew — though not a Satmar — received a maximum of 25 years in prison for sexually abusing three boys. In the past Charles J. Hynes, the Kings County District Attorney who prosecuted Mr. Weberman, has been accused of being ineffective in prosecuting sexual abuse claims against Orthodox Jews.

    Most people in the neighborhood avoid discussing the cases, Mr. Ase said, even within the community.

    “We try not to go into it,” Mr. Ase said. “We’re trying the best we can.” He said members of the community generally avoid the topic, as it is unclear who sides with whom.

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  52. Mr. Ase, who works at Coffee Break Pizza and Bakery, across from the synagogue down the street from Mr. Malik’s home on Bedford Avenue, said he remembered Mr. Malik attending services at the synagogue and frequently coming to the shop with the children he taught, Mr. Ase said.

    “He was a very friendly man,” Mr. Ase said. He refused to speculate on Mr. Malik’s guilt or innocence.

    Mr. Weberman was another matter.

    “Weberman didn’t do anything,” Mr. Ase said, echoing the sentiments of several other Satmar members. Abe Weiss, another member of the Satmar synagogue on Bedford Avenue, said that the community was outraged by the verdict in Mr. Weberman’s case.

    Mr. Weberman was “a very, very good man,” Mr. Weiss said. “Everyone knows him here.” Mr. Weberman’s Satmar supporters hope to get the ruling in his case overturned.

    Mr. Weiss cited a community-created website, “A Community Called Weberman,” whose stated aim is to “shed light on the plight of Nechemya Weberman, a kind hearted soul who has been unjustly accused, and sentenced to 103 years of imprisonment for a crime not even remotely within the capabilities of his caring character.”

    Mr. Weiss believes public officials punished Mr. Weberman to set an an example within the Hasidic community. He pointed out that Jerry Sandusky, the convicted child molester in the Penn State case last spring, was sentenced to only 30 to 60 years in prison.

    “Everyone in our community is now thinking twice before going to the police, because if the person is a Hasidic Jew, he has no chance to win in court,” Mr. Weiss said. “No one has trust in the system.”

    Mr. Weiss said the Satmar community is also reluctant to talk to the media in part because members believe reporters distorted and exaggerated much of what the community chose to share with the outside world. He said that in Mr. Malik’s case, many news outlets, including the New York Times and the Daily News, referred to Mr. Malik as a rabbi. Mr. Weiss and several other members of the Satmar community said Mr. Malik is not a rabbi.

    “Not everyone is a rabbi, not everyone is a leader, not everyone is a counselor,” Mr. Weiss said.

    Meanwhile, one Satmar member who did not want his name used said he didn’t doubt the allegations against Mr. Malik, and had little sympathy for Mr. Weberman. Though he said he didn’t know all the details of Mr. Weberman’s case, he felt that if Mr. Weberman was guilty of such crimes, his punishment was fitting.

    “If he is guilty, he should get 103 years,” he said.

    Mr. Malik is set to appear in Kings County Supreme Court on Feb. 19. His lawyer did not respond to request for comment.




    By Christopher Ketcham VICE November 11, 2013

    Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg—who is 63 with a long, graying beard—recently sat down with me to explain what he described as a “child-rape assembly line” among sects of fundamentalist Jews. He cleared his throat. “I’m going to be graphic,” he said.

    A member of Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidim fundamentalist branch of Orthodox Judaism, Nuchem designs and repairs mikvahs in compliance with Torah Law. The mikvah is a ritual Jewish bathhouse used for purification. Devout Jews are required to cleanse themselves in the mikvah on a variety of occasions: women must visit following menstruation, and men have to make an appearance before the High Holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many of the devout also purify themselves before and after the act of sex, and before the Sabbath.

    On a visit to Jerusalem in 2005, Rabbi Rosenberg entered into a mikvah in one of the holiest neighborhoods in the city, Mea She’arim. “I opened a door that entered into a schvitz,” he told me. “Vapors everywhere, I can barely see. My eyes adjust, and I see an old man, my age, long white beard, a holy-looking man, sitting in the vapors. On his lap, facing away from him, is a boy, maybe seven years old. And the old man is having anal sex with this boy.”

    Rabbi Rosenberg paused, gathered himself, and went on: “This boy was speared on the man like an animal, like a pig, and the boy was saying nothing. But on his face—fear. The old man [looked at me] without any fear, as if this was common practice. He didn’t stop. I was so angry, I confronted him. He removed the boy from his penis, and I took the boy aside. I told this man, ‘It’s a sin before God, a mishkovzucher. What are you doing to this boy’s soul? You’re destroying this boy!’ He had a sponge on a stick to clean his back, and he hit me across the face with it. ‘How dare you interrupt me!’ he said. I had heard of these things for a long time, but now I had seen.”

    The child sex abuse crisis in ultra-Orthodox Judaism, like that in the Catholic Church, has produced its share of shocking headlines in recent years. In New York, and in the prominent Orthodox communities of Israel and London, allegations of child molestation and rape have been rampant. The alleged abusers are schoolteachers, rabbis, fathers, uncles—figures of male authority. The victims, like those of Catholic priests, are mostly boys. Rabbi Rosenberg believes around half of young males in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community—the largest in the United States and one of the largest in the world—have been victims of sexual assault perpetrated by their elders. Ben Hirsch, director of Survivors for Justice, a Brooklyn organization that advocates for Orthodox sex abuse victims, thinks the real number is higher. “From anecdotal evidence, we’re looking at over 50 percent. It has almost become a rite of passage.”

    Ultra-Orthodox Jews who speak out about these abuses are ruined and condemned to exile by their own community. Dr. Amy Neustein, a nonfundamentalist Orthodox Jewish sociologist and editor of Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals, told me the story of a series of Hasidic mothers in Brooklyn she got to know who complained that their children were being preyed on by their husbands.

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  54. In these cases, the accused men “very quickly and effectively engage the rabbis, the Orthodox politicians, and powerful Orthodox rabbis who donate handsomely to political clubs.” The goal, she told me, is “to excise the mother from the child’s life.” Rabbinical courts cast the mothers aside, and the effects are permanent. The mother is “amputated.” One woman befriended by Dr. Neustein, a music student at a college outside New York, lost contact with all six of her children, including an infant she was breastfeeding at the time of their separation.

    Seven years ago, Rabbi Rosenberg started blogging about sex abuse in his community and opened a New York City hotline to field sex abuse complaints. He has posted appeals on YouTube, appeared on CNN, and given speeches across the US, Canada, Israel, and Australia. Today, he is the lone whistleblower among the Satmar. For this he is reviled, slandered, hated, feared. He receives death threats on a regular basis. In Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers, advertisements taken out by the self-described “great rabbis and rabbinical judges of the city of New York” have denounced him as “a stumbling block for the House of Israel,” “a public rebuker and preacher of ethics” who “persists in his rebelliousness” and whose “voice has been heard among many Jewish families, especially young people in their innocence… drawn to listen to his poisonous and revolting speeches.” Leaflets distributed in Williamsburg and Borough Park, the centers of ultra-Orthodoxy in Brooklyn, display his bearded face over the body of a writhing snake. "Corrupt Informer," reads one of the leaflets, followed by the declaration that Rabbi Rosenberg’s “name should rot in hell forever. They should cut him off from all four corners of the earth.”

    When Rabbi Rosenberg wants to bathe at a mikvah in Brooklyn to purify himself, none will have him. When he wants to go to synagogue, none will have him. “He is finished in the community, butchered,” said a fellow rabbi who would only talk anonymously. “No one will look at him, and those who will talk to him, they can’t let it be known. The pressure in our community, it’s incredible.”

    The powerful men—and it is worth noting that this community is regulated by men only—who govern the world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism would rather their adherents be blind in their faith, their eyes closed to the horrors Rabbi Rosenberg is exposing. Like the Catholic establishment, the rabbinate seeks to cover up the crimes, quiet the victims, protect the abusers, and deflect potential criticism of their institutional practices. Those who speak out are vilified, and the faithful learn to shut their mouths. When the father of the seven-year-old boy whom Rabbi Rosenberg rescued from the Jerusalem bathhouse showed up to collect his son, he couldn’t believe his son had been raped. Trembling, terrified, he whisked his son away to get medical help, but was still too scared to raise a formal complaint. According to Ben and Survivors for Justice, “The greatest sin is not the abuse, but talking about the abuse. Kids and parents who step forward to complain are crushed.”

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  55. As for Rabbi Rosenberg, when he voiced his concerns to the rabbinate in Israel, he was brought up on charges by the mishmeres hatznuis, the archconservative Orthodox “modesty squad,” which regulates, often through threats of violence, proper moral conduct and dress in the relations between men and women. The modesty squad is a sort of Jewish Taliban. According to Rabbi Rosenberg, the rapist he caught in the act was a member of the modesty squad, which charged him with the unconscionable offense of having previously been seen walking down a street in Jerusalem with a married woman. “But it’s OK to molest children,” he adds.

    The abuse and its cover-up are symptoms of wider political dysfunction—or, more precisely, symptoms of socially disastrous political control by religious elites.

    “This isn’t a problem about a few aberrant cases or an old-fashioned community reluctant to talk to police about sexual matters,” said Michael Lesher, a practicing Jew who has investigated Orthodox sex abuse and represented abuse victims. “This is about a political economy that links Orthodox Judaism with other fundamentalist creeds and with aspects of right-wing ideologies generally. It’s an economy in which genuine religious values will never really rise to the top, so long as they’re tied to the poisonous priorities that elevate status and power over the basic human needs of the most vulnerable among us.”

    Michael, who is completing a book on the topic, noted that the infamous Rabbi Elior Chen, convicted in 2010 in what was arguably Israel’s worst case of serial child abuse, is still defended in public statements by leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis. Among other legal and moral crimes, the rabbi forced his victims to eat feces, claiming that this cruelty was necessary to “purify” the children he abused.

    According to Ben, the ultra-Orthodox community has never been as repressive as it is today. The repression, as he describes it, stems from the burden of having too many children. Huge families are encouraged: every child born to a Hasid is seen as “a finger in the eye of Hitler.” Ben also told me that the average family size among Williamsburg Hasidim is nine, and that some families include more than 15 children.

    Families saddled with an increasing number of children soon enter into a cycle of poverty. There is simultaneously an extreme separation of the sexes, which is unprecedented in the history of the Hasidim. There is limited general education, to the point that most men in the community are educated only to the third grade, and receive absolutely no sexual education. No secular newspapers are allowed, and internet access is forbidden. “The men in the community are undereducated by design,” Ben said. “You have a community that has been infantilized. They have been trained not to think. It’s a sort of totalitarian control.”

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  56. The rabbis, dominating an ignorant and largely poverty-stricken flock, determine the fate of every individual in the community. Nothing is done without the consent of the rabbinical establishment. A man wants to buy a new car—he goes to the rabbi for counsel. A man wants to marry—the rabbi tells him whether or not he should marry a particular bride. As for the women, they don’t get to ask the rabbi anything. Their place is beneath contempt.

    Michael told me that current Orthodox leadership, accruing wealth from the tithes of subservient followers, is “drifting to the right, politically as well as religiously.” Many rabbis in New York City have taken up the banner of neoliberalism. “Every English-language Orthodox publication I know embraced Romney during the 2012 elections, decried national health insurance, blamed liberals for bribing the lower classes,” he said. “In Orthodox society, just as in America at large, the financial mismatch between the elite and the rest of us is ominously large.”

    Michael also notes that the problem is not confined to the extremists. “The same patterns of victim-blaming, covering up, idealizing the rabbis so that cover-ups aren’t even acknowledged, are found all across the spectrum of Orthodoxy,” he told me. “The Orthodox left was shamefully slow to react to Rabbi Baruch Lanner’s abuse or to the similar case of Rabbi Mordechai Elon.” Rabbi Lanner, a former New Jersey yeshiva high school principal, was found guilty in 2000 of sexually abusing dozens of teenage students over the decades of his tenure. Rabbi Elon, who had publicly denounced homosexuality, was convicted last August on two counts of forcible sexual assault on a male minor, following several years of reports of his abuse of young boys.

    “I have children come to me with their parents, and the blood is coming out of the anus,” Rabbi Rosenberg told me when we met. “These are zombies for life. What are we to do?”

    This of course is the key question, and no answers are forthcoming. Michael holds out little hope that the situation will change. “If Orthodox institutions continue on their current trajectory,” he said, “I’d say things could get worse before they get better.”

    A few weeks after our interview, Rabbi Rosenberg was walking through the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn when an unidentified man rushed up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder, and threw a cup of bleach in his face. He went to the hospital with facial burns and was temporarily blinded. Such is the measure of justice among the Satmar that a once-respected rabbi, now amputated from the community, should find himself chemically burned on a street in a neighborhood considered holy.

    Later Rabbi Rosenberg told me a story of being surrounded by young boys in Williamsburg. The boys cursed him, laughed at him, threatened him, and spat at him. He wondered how many of them would end up molested.


  57. NOTE: This article is a follow up to previous articles in the comments above. See the first comment.

    Suspected Jewish child abuse cult flees Quebec homes

    Fearing the imminent removal of its children, the hassidic Lev Tahor cult is reportedly heading to the Deep South, and ultimately, Iran

    BY HANNAH KATSMAN The Times of Israel November 20, 2013

    Long dogged by accusations of severe child abuse and neglect, the 40 families of insular hassidic group Lev Tahor fled their homes Tuesday in Ste. Agathe, Quebec, fearing imminent removal of the children by Canadian welfare authorities.

    According to Oded Twik, an Israeli whose sister and eight children have lived with Lev Tahor for the last eight years, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and police worked through the night Tuesday to get information about the safety of the children.

    About 200 people traveled in three hired buses to Ontario, where they rented a small number of hotel rooms. “The Canadian police have confirmed that the group planned to go to Iran,” said Twik.

    Lev Tahor is led by charismatic convicted kidnapper Shlomo Helbrans. The group, mainly native Israelis and their Canadian-born children, lived in the resort town of Ste. Agathe-du-Mont, Quebec. Only five members have legal status in Canada and the children do not hold passports.

    Born to a secular family as Erez Albaranes, the Lev Tahor leader currently calls himself Shlomo Helbrans, the Admor (hasidic

    He studied in Jerusalem yeshivas in his youth. In the mid-1980s, despite lacking rabbinic ordination, he opened the Lev Tahor yeshiva in Jerusalem at age 23.

    In 1990, after an Israeli investigation for ties with what was then the Islamic Movement in Israel, Helbrans fled to the United States with about 20 followers.

    In 1994 Helbrans was imprisoned for two years in the US for kidnapping Shai Fima, whose secular parents had sent him to Helbrans for bar mitzvah lessons.

    Post-release, Helbrans and his followers moved to Ste. Agathe, about 100 kilometers north of Montreal. There, Helbrans successfully petitioned the Canadian government for refugee status, claiming persecution in Israel for his anti-Zionist opinions.

    Oded Twik has urged the Canadian authorities to remove all 137 children from the community. Dozens of family members and supporters attended a demonstration outside the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv on October 14. Many family members have not communicated with their relatives for eight years.

    In a similar case, earlier this year, Canadian Child and Family Services removed all 40 children of a Mennonite community in Manitoba from their homes in response to allegations of corporal punishment, withholding food, and moving children between families. The parents are cooperating with authorities and a few children have since been returned to their homes.

    Reports of the neglect and abuse of the Lev Tahor children have circulated for years. The Israeli Center for Victims of Cults regularly sends testimony to the Canadian authorities.

    Members who have left the group described a diet of dough, goose eggs and goat’s milk, but no fruits and vegetable. There are regular beatings, long prayers, and for the girls, dark clothing covering all but the face, and household servitude. Children, including babies and toddlers, are removed from their parents to live with other families, often repeatedly. Girls are routinely married off at 14, in some cases to men more than twice their age.

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  58. In October, 2011, two girls aged 13 and 15 from Beit Shemesh attempted to travel to join the Lev Tahor community via Jordan. The girls’ aunt, Orit Cohen, filed a petition via the family court, and the girls were intercepted at the Montreal airport and returned to Israel.

    According to Twik, children in Lev Tahor get moved from family to family as punishment for their parents’ violation of Helbrans’s rules.

    Tahor’s written regulations describe women as disgusting and deserving of isolation and a subsistence diet. A husband may hit his wife for disobeying the “rebbe’s” teachings.

    According to Cohen, “Women who have grown up in Lev Tahor believe that constant humiliation and punishment is necessary for their own education. Even those who have left see themselves, their thoughts, and opinions as worthless.”

    The girls get the barest minimum of education.

    Helbrans’s son Nathan recently fled Lev Tahor after a dispute with his father, leaving his wife and children behind.

    According to Twik and others familiar with the case, Nathan’s split with the group began as a small child when he witnessed his father’s disciples beating up Nathan’s mother, Malka, in her bedroom.

    In January, 2012, Nathan bought a tape of Hasidic music for one of his sons who had trouble falling asleep. As punishment, Helbrans ordered that Nathan’s four children be housed with other families. The children would live with twenty different families over the course of two years.

    When Nathan refused to accept this decision, Helbrans ordered him beaten up by two disciples who threw him into the snow and twisted his legs until they broke. Nathan lay in bed for four months, remaining loyal to Lev Tahor. He lied to the hospital about the cause of his injuries and refused an operation, for fear it would lead to an investigation.

    But in April 2012, Nathan left the community and returned to Israel in June after death threats by Helbrans and his followers. He returned to Montreal and reported the abuse of his children to Canadian authorities with the support of Ometz (“Bravery” in Hebrew), a Montreal Jewish social services agency.

    In early October, the Canadian authorities, accompanied by the police, removed the five children including an infant born while Nathan was in Israel. The children were placed in the Montreal home of an Orthodox social worker and his wife.

    The Canadian Director of Youth Protection has since ruled that the children would not be returned to Lev Tahor. Lev Tahor appealed, claiming the evidence heard by the court is not reliable.

    The situation of the children remaining in the group is complex.

    “Before intervening, the authorities need proof that the children are at risk,” says Michael Kropveld, executive director of Info-Secte, a Canadian organization that works with victims of fringe groups. Then they have to ensure that a plan is in place that will benefit the children, with the added difficulty of finding the families to house them.

    “Ideally, says Kropveld, “the authorities will work with the parents to improve the conditions so that the children can stay in the home.”

    According to Kropveld, the worst-case scenario is a poorly planned removal. Not only could people get hurt, a failed attempt could ultimately make the leader stronger.

    “People who have doubts will see a failed attempt as further proof of the leader’s powers,” he says.


  59. Judaisms fundamentalism problem

    by Jonathan Kay, National Post November 21, 2013

    When I speak to Jewish audiences, I often am asked about the “double-standard” that exists in the media. Israel, they complain, is held to a higher human-rights standard than any other country in the world. And they’re right.

    But in another respect, Jewish communities — both in Israel and the Diaspora — sometimes are held to a lower standard. Despite emerging evidence of widespread, appalling sex abuse within fundamentalist orthodox Jewish communities, this problem gets only sporadic attention, especially compared to the massive media onslaught that accompanied the Catholic sex-abuse cases that have emerged since 2002. In part, this is because Jewish whistleblowers are shamed, harassed and effectively excommunicated. In the New York City area, where North America’s fundamentalist Jewish sects are concentrated, local politicians and prosecutors have been pressured to ignore the pleas of abuse victims, lest they bring dishonor to their communities.

    The Catholic Church hierarchy once approached the problem of abusive priests in the same unconscionably negligent way. But the scandals of the last decade have forced it to change. Reporting protocols have been put in place, and pedophile priests are no longer simply shuttled around from posting to posting. With few exceptions, no such reforms have been put in place in fundamentalist Jewish communities: Too many local rabbis still try to hush up pedophilic sex crimes and discourage investigation by outside authorities. (This summer, a Montreal’s Orthodox Jewish religious court informed parents that they should tell a parent or rabbi of they have been sexually molested, which counts as progress. But the court pointedly neglected to instruct parents of their obligation to report serious incidents to the police or youth-protection officials.)

    Brooklyn’s Hasidic community has served up a number of troubling case studies in recent years. These include Baruch Lebovits, a Hasidic cantor whose 2010 conviction on eight counts of molestation recently was overturned on technical grounds (he likely will be retried in 2014). Lebovits’ sexual habits reportedly were widely known in his community for years. But the state prosecuted him only after a Hasiddic whistleblower, Sam Kellner, went public with claims that Lebovits had groped his son. For his troubles,The New York Times reports, “Kellner found himself denounced on the street and barred from shul [synagogue]. His business suffered; [and] he pawned his silverware last year.” (Kellner also has been embroiled in his own protracted legal saga, whose details are too complex to summarize in this space.)

    Another whistleblower is Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, who once was a leading member of Brooklyn’s Satmar community (a particularly backward-looking, anti-Israeli, patriarchal strain of Hasidim), but has since been exiled because of his activism against what he describes as rampant pedophilia within the Satmar community. (In 2012, he was attacked outside of a fish store by a fellow Hasidic community member, with a glassful of what he believes was bleach.)

    The New York Times, to its credit, has published some useful reports on Kellner, Rosenberg, and the few other whisteblowers within the Hassidic ranks. But in general, the media coverage is a pale shadow of the front-page bombshell treatment that every new Catholic sex-abuse revelation got. Many Jewish journalists feel a misguided Fiddler-on-the-Roof sentimentality toward fundamentalist Jewish communities, and non-Jewish journalists often are scared off by the task of investigating groups that seem hostile and cultish to outsiders.

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  60. But not all journalists have been scared off. This month, Vice.com ran a lengthy interview with Rosenberg, in which he described an appalling scene from a ritual Jewish bathhouse in Israel, where child-rape is, by his report, a tacitly accepted practice among some of the older men.

    “Rabbi Rosenberg believes around half of young males in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community … have been victims of sexual assault perpetrated by their elders,” Vice.com reports. “Ben Hirsch, director of Survivors for Justice, a Brooklyn organization that advocates for Orthodox sex abuse victims, thinks the real number is higher. ‘From anecdotal evidence, we’re looking at over 50 percent. It has almost become a rite of passage.’ ”

    “Ultra-Orthodox Jews who speak out about these abuses are ruined and condemned to exile by their own community,” Vice.com’s Christopher Ketcham adds. “Dr. Amy Neustein, a non-fundamentalist Orthodox Jewish sociologist and editor of Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals, told me the story of a series of Hasidic mothers in Brooklyn she got to know who complained that their children were being preyed on by their husbands. In these cases, the accused men ‘very quickly and effectively engage the rabbis, the Orthodox politicians, and powerful Orthodox rabbis who donate handsomely to political clubs.’ The goal, she told me, is ‘to excise the mother from the child’s life.’ Rabbinical courts cast the mothers aside, and the effects are permanent. The mother is ‘amputated.’ One woman befriended by Dr. Neustein, a music student at a college outside New York, lost contact with all six of her children, including an infant she was breastfeeding at the time of their separation.”

    Western Muslims, in particular, might be especially curious why there is not more attention paid to these Jewish fundamentalist practices. Whenever some controversy emerges over the cloaking of women or the disparagement of “infidels” by fundamentalist Muslims, I often receive emails from right-wing bloggers claiming that this is but one step on the Islamist path to the complete Sharia-fication of North American society. And it is true that an obsessive patriarchal domination of women, especially in the public sphere, is a hallmark of retrograde interpretations of Islam. But the same goes for fundamentalist Judaism: Any religious sect that imposes crippling taboos on healthy sexual interaction between adults will inevitably breed a culture of sexual abuse and perversion.

    Which brings us to the profoundly creepy tradition by which women in extreme Hasidic communities are expected to shave their heads, and live out their married lives as bald women, in deference to an absurd interpretation of Jewish scripture. Earlier this month, a brave female exile from the Hasidic community in New York, Frimet Goldberger, went public with her disgust at this practice. The most memorable part of her account comes when she describes her meeting with the Va’ad Hatznius — a sort of Taliban-like Committee of Vice and Virtue that purports to judge God’s will in regard to female modesty — after word had spread within the community that she secretly carried an unshaven head of hair under her turban. During the entire proceeding, the chief of the group kept his right hand in front of his eyes, to shield himself from Ms. Goldberger, lest he contaminate himself visually with her wanton harlotry, and directed his comments only to her husband. In a move straight out of Saudi Arabia, the Va’ad Hatznius indicated that it would soon be spending a female inspector to Goldberger’s house, to examine what lay under her turban.

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  61. What’s worse, her son was being expelled from the local Jewish education system: A letter arrived indicating that he was being thrown out “because of my failure to dress in accordance with the stringent [modesty] rules of the holy shtetl.”

    That was five years ago. “Many lifestyle changes and adjustments later, I no longer cover my hair as many of my Orthodox peers do, and I am no longer capable of accepting, let alone understanding, the practice of forced head shaving, much less the threats and intimidation used to maintain it within the community,” she now reports. “But I am grateful for the fact that this very last, most personal violation of mine led my husband and me to gather the strength to take control of our lives and to make decisions for ourselves, our children and for me — my own body.”

    Both Montreal and Toronto have Hassidic communities doctrinally connected to their counterparts in New York and Israel. The rules of public life among these groups often is dominated by Rabbis held who become de facto cult leaders, prompting vicious propaganda struggles and excommunication campaigns. In the Quebec community of St. Agathe, Lev Tahor, a small cult-like group of fundamentalist Jews led by an eccentric rabbi (and convicted child kidnapper) named Shlomo Helbrans, has been dogged by abuse claims for years. (In fact, according to The Times of Israel, members of the group left their compound this month out of fear that their children would finally be removed from their households.)

    “Members who have left the group described a diet of dough, goose eggs and goat’s milk, but no fruits and vegetable,” the newspaper reports. “There are regular beatings, long prayers, and for the girls, dark clothing covering all but the face, and household servitude. Children, including babies and toddlers, are removed from their parents to live with other families, often repeatedly. Girls are routinely married off at 14, in some cases to men more than twice their age … Tahor’s written regulations describe women as disgusting and deserving of isolation and a subsistence diet. A husband may hit his wife for disobeying the ‘rebbe’s’ teachings.”

    Since the dawn of modern feminism, social liberals have sought to liberate women from the clutches of conservative Christian doctrines that keep them under their husbands’ thumbs. Since 9/11, a similar project has been underway in regard to Muslims. It is time to take a broader view toward this project. All patriarchal religious traditions that make a fetish of separating the sexes, that entertain phobic and repressed attitudes to human sexuality, that privilege group solidarity over the well-being of children, and that treat women as debased creatures who cannot be trusted to walk among us, except under wig or veil, must be subject to the same scrutiny.

    — Jonathan Kay is Managing Editor for Comment at the National Post, and a Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.


  62. Jewish sect says exodus from Quebec tied to clash with education authorities

    Sect of orthodox Jews made an exodus from their Quebec home to Chatham-Kent to flee child youth services authorities.

    By: Allan Woods, Quebec Bureau, Toronto Star November 23, 2013

    MONTREAL—It was a radical move by a sect of orthodox Jews that has been branded the Jewish Taliban for its strict interpretation of the faith.

    Under the Monday morning moonlight, at about 1 a.m., 40 families numbering nearly 200 people boarded a convoy of buses to flee their homes and what they considered the imminent threat of Quebec’s child protection authorities.

    The exodus of the Lev Tahor (“Pure Heart”) community led them west along Highway 401 to salvation in Chatham-Kent. It may not be the promised land — most families are lodged in two dozen rooms at the local Super 8 motel — but the southwestern Ontario town of 108,000 is now home.

    Nacham Helbrans, the son of Shlomo Helbrans, the group’s leader and a self-proclaimed rabbi, told the Star they were forced out of Quebec over a clash with education authorities regarding the secular curriculum they were being ordered to teach their home-schooled children.

    Failure to comply could have led to children being placed in foster care — an unthinkable outcome for the isolationist group, Nacham Helbrans said.

    With that threat over their heads for the last six months, they evaluated moves to various provinces across Canada but opted finally for Ontario, whose relative liberty for faith-based schooling has been a lure for other religious communities in Quebec, including Mennonites.

    In Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, the Laurentian town north of Montreal, the group has left behind their houses, their furniture, their spiritual leader and the other childless adults. In short, everything not at risk of being lost owing to a thick file compiled by a team of child protection workers that has turned up alleged incidents of neglect, psychological abuse, poor nutrition and health problems among the 130 children over the past three months, according to Denis Baraby, the director of youth protection for the region at the Centre Jeunesse Laurentides.

    Those accusations include unkempt houses where children slept on beds with urine-soaked sheets, surrounded by garbage; cases of children being forcibly removed from their homes and made to live with other families; poor dental hygiene and substandard health care; and a home-schooling regime that failed to meet provincial standards, said Baraby.

    “The schooling was one of the problems, but that was more to do with the development of the children,” he said. “All the other problems for me were more important than the schooling problem.”

    Nacham Helbrans, however, said there are no issues with the children’s treatment and that this was a conflict over the curriculum.

    The group also denies allegations that it is a mind-controlling cult, where all bow before Shlomo Helbrans.

    “Just to say that my father has some power in his mouth and that whenever he speaks, people accept all that he says . . . is simply not true,” Nacham Helbrans said.

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  63. Concerns about the Lev Tahor sect began in Israel, where Shlomo Helbrans founded his anti-Zionist movement in the 1980s and reportedly drew the attention of the national security authorities for his collaboration with hardline Israeli Arabs.

    After the first Gulf War, Helbrans moved his community to New York, where he was convicted of second-degree kidnapping after a young follower fled from his parents.

    Upon his release from prison, he eventually re-established his community in Canada.

    The members have spent the last 13 years in a hermetic existence, sealed off from the chalet owners and tourists who flock to the slopes of nearby Mont-Tremblant.

    The men and boys are indistinguishable from other orthodox Jews, but the odd and exceedingly rare sight are the women and girls who, from the age of 3, are shrouded head to toe in black robes, showing only their faces.

    The resemblance to the group’s conservative Muslim counterparts is what inspired the “Jewish Taliban” tag, but it is not one that the adherents of Lev Tahor shy away from.

    “We are not ashamed of this name,” said Nacham Helbrans, 31. “Just as orthodox is a name for non-Jews beating up on the Jewish path of religion, they do the same thing today with the Taliban.”

    The only problem, he conceded, is that the Taliban brand is shifted from fundamentalist faith to the terrorist fight in Afghanistan.

    “This is the only reason we are not happy with this name,” said the father of eight children, who range in age from 3 months to 12 years.

    For a group that shuns outsiders, however, the current limelight can hardly be a comfort.

    The problems began when another of Shlomo Helbrans’ five children, Nathan, reportedly fled the community after a dispute in which he was forcibly separated from his children and the brood was farmed out to live with other families, according to the Times of Israel.

    Nathan complained to Quebec’s child protection services.

    “To go to the Director of Youth Protection against your own wife, against your own children, just to show that you are the stronger one is not welcomed in our community,” Nacham Helbrans said.

    Baraby said his investigators were “never really able to gather any information about corporal punishment” of children in the community.

    Chatham-Kent Children’s Services confirmed they have visited members of the community already, but wouldn’t comment on what future actions it might take.

    Baraby said his office has forwarded all the evidence that has been collected to their Ontario counterparts.

    “There are some very young children in there, some that were in need of some medical services,” he said. “So, yes, I am worried about the children.”


  64. Radical Jewish group settles in Chatham, Windsor

    by Rebecca Wright, Windsor Star November 24, 2013

    Most of the 200 members of a fundamentalist Jewish group – described by critics as cult-like and sometimes referred to as the “Jewish Taliban” – are living in Windsor and Chatham after leaving Quebec amid a high-profile child protection investigation.

    The group, called Lev Tahor, left their homes in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que. last week on three rented buses in the middle of the night.

    A youth protection official for the Laurentians region said Friday workers have been actively involved with the group since August – trying to help children suffering from poor hygiene, inadequate housing and unsatisfactory schooling.

    But in a crowded motel room near Windsor Airport Sunday, where more than a dozen group members gathered, Nachman Helbrans explained they did not run away, but rather felt it was the best move for the community because staying in Quebec would mean compromising their religious beliefs.

    “The education system in Quebec does not comply with our views because in Quebec it says each child should receive equivalent education, otherwise, they will call youth protection services,” said Helbrans. “We cannot just accept the curriculum, including evolution and many other issues we cannot teach our children.”

    Helbrans said youth protection services began an in-depth investigation of the community several months ago, which he said the community co-operated with fully.

    “We just asked them not to mix up the issue of education because it is our religion, and we cannot, and should not, change our religion,” said Helbrans. “The Charter of Rights promises freedom of religion and freedom of education.”

    Helbrans said the group’s homes were thoroughly investigated and every child was spoken to at least once in private.

    “We were working with them, but then it became disturbing because they would come twice a week to the same family, even after explicitly saying that everything is good,” said Helbrans. “And they would call on the same children five times a week, even after saying everything was good. It was all a bit disturbing.”

    The Quebec youth protection investigation revealed that children were suffering from poor dental health and skin problems, they were not bathing on a regular basis, they were not being schooled according to any Canadian curriculum and only spoke Yiddish and Hebrew. And concerns about forced marriages and teen pregnancies were passed along to provincial police, according a youth protection official who worked their case.

    But Helbrans said youth protection services in Quebec repeatedly reported no neglect or abuse was found, and that the only issue was the the group’s challenging of the education system.

    The group had been looking into moving to Ontario for months, said Helbrans, and their departure Sunday was not sneaky. He said they left in the middle of the night so that the children could sleep through the long journey.

    Helbrans said they chose to move to Ontario because the province is more lenient with their education regulations, which will allow their community to have an easier time home schooling.

    Helbrans is the oldest son of Lev Tahor leader Shlomo Helbrans, who was convicted in 1994 of kidnapping a teenaged boy who had been brought to his Brooklyn yeshiva for bar mitzvah instruction. After serving his prison sentence in 2000, Shlomo was deported to Israel. A year later he arrived in Sainte-Agathe on a temporary visa and soon his followers joined him.

    In 2004, Shlomo Helbrans was granted refugee status in Canada on the grounds that he would face persecution in Israel for his anti-Zionist views.

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  65. Nachman Helbrans said critics in Israel, who he says are enemies to the group, spread lies and rumours about the Lev Tahor community because they have opposing views about the state of Israel. Helbrans said their community believes Jewish people should be in exile and not have power or control in Israel.

    Some critics refer to Lev Tahor as the Jewish Taliban because the women wear burqa-like robes like Taliban women in Afghanistan, said Nachman Helbrans, and some critics say the women are confined to household tasks.

    Nachman Helbrans said two families are currently staying at the Ramada Limited Windsor, while dozens of other families are staying at motels in Chatham. Several families are already renting apartments or leasing houses in Chatham, which is where the community plans to permanently settle, he said.

    The two families staying in Windsor are not with the rest of the group in Chatham because they needed to be close to the airport for when they travelled back to Montreal this week for court hearings, said Nachman Helbrans. He said the hearings were not to remove the children from custody, but rather to ensure continued child-protection access.

    “We didn’t leave because of the youth protection investigation,” said Mayer Rosner, one of Lev Tahor’s directors Sunday. “We are smart enough to know that the files will be transferred, so that’s not a reason to leave. The only reason is the regulation of education, which changes from province to province.”

    Chatham-Kent Children’s Services have received files that have been transferred from Quebec on the group, and Nachman Helbrans said they have already met with representatives from the Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society.

    “We are more than happy for the investigation because we know our own innocence,” said Nachman Helbrans.

    Nachman Helbrans said last month five children were removed from the community amid a custody dispute between their mother and father. The father had abandoned the sect and moved to Israel, and had reported his children were suffering neglect.

    Nachman Helbrans said many lies are spread about his community, such as neglect and abuse and forced teen marriage.

    “Some speak about us beating with an iron stick and about corporal punishment, but our community is not built on punishment, it’s built on explanation and to educate your children to love,” said Nachman Helbrans. “You can’t make love by punishment.”

    As for forced teen marriage, Rosner said the females of the group marry by choice, but it is an “organized” marriage.

    “You have to understand all the Jewish Hasidic communities have organized marriages, which means the girl is meeting with the boy and for sure it is with her own will and there is no such thing as forced marriages,” said Rosner. “And we do the marriages when the girl is over 16 years of age.”

    Rosner said the organized marriage is always between two members within the community.

    The group is also not a cult, like it is sometimes referred to, said Rosner.

    “People in our group are people who love our style and tradition. Our community is a group that if anyone wants to go, they can go,” said Rosner. “One of the things of a cult is you cannot get out, but our group is a group that only has people who are happy to stay here, not people who are forced to stay. The people are happy and excited to live here together.”

    Both Rosner and Helbrans said they have their eye on buying a group of houses on St. Clair Road in Chatham where the community can live together. Rosner said the community already feels more welcome here than they ever did in Quebec.

    “We are very happy with how they’ve received us here because in Quebec, all the time when we would walk in the streets, people were always cursing us,” said Rosner. “Over here, we feel so welcome, and we appreciate that.”


  66. Judge orders Jewish sect members to return to Quebec

    One week after fleeing to Ontario to avoid a secular curriculum, members of the Lev Tahor sect have been ordered back for a child protection hearing.

    By: Marco Chown Oved, Toronto Star Staff Reporter, Allan Woods Quebec Bureau, November 25 2013

    A Quebec judge has ordered members of the fundamentalist Jewish community that sought refuge in Ontario to come back to a Ste. Agathe courthouse where the local child protection service is seeking to gain access to the group’s children.

    Last week, amid allegations of child neglect, psychological abuse and poor hygiene, 200 members of the Lev Tahor sect boarded buses north of Montreal and drove across the border to avoid having to adopt a secular Quebec curriculum.

    Now two families among them will have to return for a hearing with child protection officials Wednesday, according to a note from the families’ lawyer provided to the Star.

    Nachman Helbrans, son of the community’s leader and rabbi, Schlomo Helbrans, confirmed that the families would attend the hearing.

    “Legally, they don’t have to go back to court, but they decided to go back just to honour the court,” he told the Star by telephone.

    If the order is granted, it remains unclear how the local child protection authorities in Quebec would be able to access the children now that they live in Ontario, or if it would grant the Chatham-Kent chapter to act in its place.

    Half a world away, the Israeli parliament will convene an urgent hearing Tuesday into allegations of child abuse inside the closed-off community being labelled a “cult.”

    Yariv Levin, a member of Israel’s governing coalition, brought forward a motion last week to hear testimony from government officials, child welfare organizations as well as representatives of Interpol, the global crime-fighting network, about “claims of child abuse,” according to a news release from the Israeli Knesset, or parliament.

    The various allegations include punishments of forcibly separating children from their parents, extreme dietary restrictions and harsh corporal punishment, though Quebec child welfare authorities said they had not documented any incidents of direct physical abuse during their investigation.

    The communiqué from the Israeli parliamentary committee claims that most members of the group are Israeli citizens, including Lev Tahor’s leader, Shlomo Helbrans, who left Israel in the early 1990s for the United States. It cites Helbrans’ arrest and imprisonment in New York after he was found guilty of second-degree kidnapping in a case involving a young devotee whose parents reported him missing.

    Meanwhile, operating out of a room in a local motel, Nachman Helbrans is helping members of his community get established in Chatham-Kent, where they believe they will have more freedom to educate their children in accordance with their strict interpretation of the Jewish faith.

    Many of the families have already leased houses in the community, where they plan to stay for one year while they look to purchase a more permanent community somewhere in the province. They’ve rented a building on the edge of town which will serve as a temporary place of worship and school.

    Helbrans says the allegations of abuse have nothing to do with why every family with children under 18 fled Quebec last week, and that the community is happy to co-operate with child protection services to rectify any problems they might have found.

    It’s Quebec’s insistence that they teach the province’s secular curriculum — including Darwin’s theory of evolution — that forced them to leave, he said.

    “If the laws of Quebec, unfortunately, are against our religion, then we go to another place where it is not against our religion,” he said. “In Ontario, they will not manage our studies, like they do in Quebec.”


  67. Quebec urging action from Ontario on Lev Tahor group that fled province


    MONTREAL - Child-welfare authorities and local police in Ontario say they found nothing unusual when they checked in on an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect that fled to that province last week amid allegations of child neglect.

    Members of the Lev Tahor community of about 200 people — about half of them children— were under investigation by social services in Quebec for a host of issues including hygiene, children's health and allegations that the children weren't learning according the Quebec curriculum.

    The community denies any mistreatment of the children, but left Quebec a little more than a week ago and ended up settling in southwestern Ontario.

    Quebec child-welfare officials said on Monday they briefed their counterparts in Ontario on the case and would wait to see how authorities in Chatham-Kent and Windsor, Ont., decide to proceed.

    Authorities in Ontario have only said they are aware of the group's presence in the region. The local police said on Tuesday that it checked in on the community and are monitoring the situation.

    "An initial assessment of the children's well-being has been conducted with the assistance of the Chatham-Kent Integrated Children's Services and at this time there are no concerns," Const. Renee Cowell of the Chatham-Kent police said in a statement.

    The investigation began last winter and Quebec welfare authorities have described the situation for some children as "serious."

    The head of youth protection for Quebec's Laurentians region said there were concerns about the health and level of education of the children.

    There were claims the homes where the children lived were dirty and littered with garbage and that the children, who are home-schooled, were not capable of doing basic math. Many also spoke neither French nor English.

    Quebec officials alleged the situation "establishes a presumption of neglect against children." The Quebec authorities had been working with the group until Nov. 18, when some 40 families left their homes in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts in the middle of the night.

    "With the Lev Tahor community moving to Ontario, exchanges have continuously been made by the Quebec welfare office and aid workers in Ontario as well as police in that province," the Quebec organization said in a statement.

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  68. The Lev Tahor has denied through spokespeople that the children being neglected.

    Nachman Helbrans, a spokesman for the sect, has said they want to educate their children according to their own religious beliefs and fled to Ontario to avoid Quebec's education system, which "doesn't give freedom of religion as most people understand it."

    Helbrans said the move had been in the works for some time.

    In a radio interview with Radio-Canada on Tuesday, Quebec Education Minister Marie Malavoy called the situation "sensitive" and one that must be taken seriously.

    The Education Department had negotiated with the community over the children's schooling, which is largely religious teaching in an environment without proper permits.

    Malavoy said the government offered compromises over the months but the families chose to leave.

    "Our biggest preoccupation is the plight of these children, the well-being of these kids who are caught up in a situation for which they are not responsible."

    One expert on sects called the situation complex.

    ''Part of it is a need to understand how to deal with these kinds of closed groups," said Mike Kropveld, executive director of Montreal-based Info-Cult.

    "Dealing with them and then deciding what to do is far more complex than people want to believe or understand."

    Kropveld says it is important to act without exacerbating the situation. For example, he said if the leader is perceived as the sole representative of God, that person's power can be enhanced if the intervention of authorities is unsuccessful.

    "You can make the group more closed and more extreme," Kropveld warned.

    The Lev Tahor, which means "pure heart," came to Canada in 2005 after their spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Elbarnes, was granted refugee status here.

    Members of the anti-Zionist group, which opposes Israel and advocates Arab domination in the region, settled in a popular tourist destination in the Laurentian mountains north of Montreal.

    Elbarnes, who also goes by the last name Helbrans and is Nachman Helbrans' father, made headlines in the United States in 1994 when he was convicted of kidnapping a teenaged boy. The boy was studying under him in Brooklyn.

    After serving his sentence, Elbarnes was deported to Israel. He then entered Canada on a temporary visa.

    A Federal Court ruling in 2005 upholding Elbarnes' refugee status in Canada found he could not be considered safe in Israel, in part because his "religious belief and opinion are against the mere existence of Israel as an independent country."

    One Jewish rights organization called the group extreme andsaid that no one in the Jewish community — be they traditional or ultra-orthodox — would view the organization in a positive light.

    "This group exhibits cult-like behaviour and is nothing more than a perversion of Judaism," Frank Dimant of B'nai Brith Canada said in a statement.

    "We are very much worried about the well-being of the children and have advised the social service and police authorities to ensure that they are properly cared for."


  69. Is Israel doing everything it can to help children of Jewish cult in Canada?

    Prosecution blasted for dragging its feet on case against ultra-Orthodox sect accused by family and lawmakers of abusing Israeli kids.

    By Yair Ettinger | Haaretz November 27, 2013

    Accusations were hurled in the Knesset on Tuesday at the State Prosecutor’s Office for purportedly failing to protect more than 100 Israeli children who, according to testimony, are being severely abused in an extreme ultra-Orthodox cult that fled Israel for Canada.

    Police and prosecutors say that since early last year they have been examining complaints and testimonies about the Lev Tahor (Pure Heart) community, made up mostly of Israelis, but that there are legal obstacles to any action being taken in Canada.

    The evidence about the cult headed by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, a newly religious Israeli who left Israel with a group of followers in 1990, began to accumulate over the past 18 months, following a feature in Haaretz’s weekend supplement. During this time, families of community members complained to police of abuse, physical punishment, and the use of psychiatric drugs to control members of the cult, as well as the kidnapping of children from their families in Israel and forced marriages of 14-year-old girls with adult men. The community lived in the town of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts in Quebec for the past 13 years, before moving to Ontario several days ago after Canadian police began to investigate them.

    On Tuesday the Knesset’s Committee on the Rights of the Child held a hearing on Lev Tahor, and families of the cult members as well as MKs slammed the State Prosecutor’s Office for dragging its feet on the case.

    “Help these Jewish children! What was the State of Israel established for?” demanded the grandfather of children in the cult. Another grandfather of children at Lev Tahor referred to them as “holocaust children.”

    MK Yariv Levin (Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu), who called for the hearing, berated the State Prosecutor’s Office for proceeding slowly with the investigation. “Every day that goes by is a horrendous crime,” he said. Haredi MK’s expressing their disgust at the cult, with MK Yaakov Margi (Shas) recommending that police special units raid the sect “and load them all on trucks.”

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  70. Deputy state prosecutor Galit Greenberg said, “The State of Israel was acting according to all the means legally available” to protect the children, but added that “there is an obvious difficulty in obtaining evidence when it comes to sects,” on top of the difficulty of dealing with alleged crimes committed abroad. Greenberg did not say whether Israel had asked Canada to investigate the matter.

    MK Orly Levi-Abekasis (Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu) criticized the prosecutor’s office, saying, “Anyone aware of the testimonies cannot remain indifferent,” she said. “We have a role, a duty and responsibility towards Israeli children, and for the past two years the prosecutor’s office is dragging its feet when it comes to saving them, failing to coordinate activity with social, foreign and educational officials. Bottom line – the prosecutor’s office has failed.”

    The Lev Tahor community denied the allegations in writing, quoting excerpts said to come from the Canadian press that gave the community a clean bill of health. The community demanded that the Knesset “cancel this cruel and evil debate that might have severe consequences for Jews throughout the world, encouraging anti-Semitism everywhere and hatred of Israel. There shall be no forgiveness for this.”

    Mutually opposing testimony was given by a brother and sister of cult members. Orit Cohen was one of the women who complained to police, while her brother, Shaul Bayer, was the cult’s lone defender at the hearing. Last May, Bayer, who lives in Beit Shemesh, tried to cross the Jordanian border with his children in an effort to defy a court injunction barring his departure from Israel. He was caught and brought back to the country. At the hearing he denied all the accusations against cult leaders, saying that the children in the community were “calm and happy.” He claimed that Helbrans was being “persecuted” due to his anti-Zionist opinions.

    The committee requested that the prosecutor’s office, police and the education, social affairs and foreign ministries hold a meeting on the issue within days. Levin said that he recently discussed the matter with Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who, Levin said, “wasn’t familiar with the issue.”

    to read the links embedded in this article go to:


  71. Judge orders foster care for 14 Lev Tahor children


    ST-JÉRÔME — A Quebec Court judge has ordered the removal of 14 children aged 2 months to 16 years from the ultra-Orthodox sect Lev Tahor, to be placed in foster homes.

    Judge Pierre Hamel issued the ruling Wednesday night, ordering the children be removed from the community and placed in foster homes immediately, for at least 30 days. He ordered members of the Lev Tahor community to refrain from contacting the children in any way, except for their parents, whose contact will be supervised by youth protection officials. Among the children ordered removed are a 16-year-old girl and her 2-month-old baby.

    Each child will be given a full examination by a doctor, and their psychological needs will be assessed. Youth protection officials have alleged extreme neglect and malnutrition, as well as isolation, and a refusal by sect members to adhere to the Quebec curriculum. They claim the children, who are home schooled, are unable to do basic math, and don't understand English or French.

    There is a publication ban on evidence presented Wednesday in court.

    On Tuesday, a committee in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, heard gruesome details about the conditions in the sect from several former members. The website Behadrey Haredim reported that the hearing was told that children were hit with iron bars, denied food and forced to take psychiatric pills. The committee also heard that the sect achieved compliance by inflicting constant pain, by forcing members to wear shoes smaller than their shoe size. Members also spoke of forced divorce and marriage from the age of 14, involving age gaps, including a 15-year-old boy marrying a 40-year-old woman, and vice versa. The minimum legal age of marriage in Canada is 16.

    Wednesday's ruling followed a petition from Quebec's youth protection officials for an emergency ruling by the court after about 200 of the 240 members of the sect moved from Ste-Agathe-des-Monts to Chatham, Ont., in the early hours of Nov. 18, just before a youth court hearing. The three families of the children involved were ordered to appear in court on Wednesday morning, but they defied that order.

    Speaking from Chatham, Uriel Goldman, a director of Lev Tahor, said members would defy the order because the Quebec Court has no jurisdiction in this matter, since the order to appear was issued after the group members moved to Ontario.

    "It's a legal argument and they don't have to go there," Goldman said. "When the court papers were filed, it was when these families were already residents of Ontario."

    Another member of the sect told The Gazette Tuesday from Ste-Agathe the community members left Quebec because the province's home-schooling regulations are too strict. He denied that there was any neglect suffered by the children. He said the whole ordeal has been orchestrated by authorities in Israel who persecute the group, because it denounces the formation of the state of Israel.

    "(The youth protection director) was under tremendous pressure to find something in our houses because he got hundreds of phone calls and faxes from those people who persecute us for nothing," he said.

    Denis Baraby, the director of youth protection services for the Laurentians, said extricating the children from Ontario may be tricky, but it's something the agency deals with often.

    "Ontario authorities can take this decision now and get an order from a court," Baraby said. "We think there is a high possibility they will return them here."

    Baraby said several families from the Jewish community have come forward to offer their homes for the children. The children have specific needs, since most only speak Yiddish and Hebrew.



  72. Quebec, Ontario officials discuss fate of Lev Tahor children

    14 have been ordered removed from the community, but enforcing ruling could be a challenge


    MONTREAL — Youth protection officials were in a daylong conference call Thursday about the fate of 14 children ordered to be removed from the radical ultraorthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor.

    Formerly based in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, most of the community’s members fled in the middle of the night last week to Chatham, Ont., in advance of a youth court hearing.

    On Wednesday, the families of the 14 children were once again absent for a court appearance. In their absence, Quebec Court Judge Pierre Hamel ordered the children, who range in age from 2 months to 16 years, to be removed from the community and placed with foster families for a period of at least 30 days. The judge ordered the community not to contact the children, and contact with the children’s parents must be supervised by youth protection officials. The children have been ordered to be examined by physicians and psychologists. Among the children slated to be removed are a 16-year-old mother and her infant.

    However, because the children are in Ontario, the jurisdiction in the case now belongs to that province’s authorities. Shelley Thibert, a spokesperson for Chatham Kent Children’s Services, said Thursday the agency is working closely with its Quebec counterparts. She could not elaborate any further. Quebec’s youth protection authorities said they didn’t expect any developments in the case on Thursday.

    If the children are extricated, they will likely be brought back to Montreal or Ste-Agathe, where they would be placed in foster families that can meet their unique needs.

    David Ouellette, the public affairs director at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Montreal, said members of the Jewish ultraorthodox community have come forward to welcome the children.

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  73. However, living with even the most orthodox of families will be a big adjustment. Lev Tahor members are more extreme than any ultraorthodox Jewish sects. They follow more strict dietary restrictions, they only speak Yiddish and Hebrew, and have only rudimentary education, with the focus of their studies being the teachings of the leader Shlomo Helbrans.

    “Of course, no family is going to resemble the kind of environment where they have been,” Ouellette said. “But we can reduce the shock factor by having them incorporated into orthodox families, and people who speak Yiddish fluently.”

    Howard Nadler, the manager of liaisons with network partners for Batshaw Youth and Family Centres explained the community’s resources will be taxed in the coming weeks welcoming these 14 children.

    “What’s challenging in this situation is that there’s so many kids at the same time,” Nadler said. “We have to find homes, and all kinds of resources have to be involved: the educational system, maybe tutoring. The rabbis in the community and the social workers will also have to be involved, as well as physicians.”

    He added the children will be enrolled into Jewish schools, with teachers who are able to speak Yiddish.

    But despite all the measures to make the children feel comfortable, integrating them back into society will be no simple task, explained Mike Kropveld, the executive director of Info-cult, a non-profit charitable organization that offers help on cults.

    He explained that the children of Lev Tahor have likely been living in an isolated community for their entire lives, with little contact with the outside world.

    “When people hear of these sorts of situations, the reaction is to sweep in and remove all the kids,” he said. “But the reality isn’t so simple.”

    He said even if the children are taken from the community, its teachings are all they know, and everything they believe.

    “You want to be sure that whatever you do isn’t going to cause more stress and anxiety,” he said. “And then with the supervised visits, you have to deal with the parents, but then the parents may also have been born and raised in the cult.”


  74. Jewish sect in Chatham-Kent says it is being demonized by lies

    By Allan Woods, Hamilton Spectator November 29, 2013

    MONTREAL—As pressure mounts on the radical Jewish sect Lev Tahor to comply with a court order to put 14 of its child members in foster care, the group issued a plea saying it has fallen victim to a campaign of lies.

    The rambling and often difficult-to-understand statement that was posted on the Lev Tahor website Friday (most members speak only Yiddish or Hebrew) says the sect has been demonized by mistruths.

    "We beg that instead of talking about what is said about us, or even thinking about what is said about us, which brings unending and incredible brainwashing on our image, you will see us and talk with us with an open heart," says the communiqué.

    "The first person finds the bad, the second person adds to the ideas of the first person, the third person sharpens the idea."

    The statement comes as child protection officials in Quebec, where the group was being investigated for neglect, abuse and not following the provincial education curriculum, are in talks with their counterparts from Chatham-Kent. Some 200 Lev Tahor members fled there on Nov. 18.

    The moonlight bus ride from Quebec had the effect of speeding up that child protection process and the Director of Youth Protection successfully obtained a court ruling Wednesday ordering 14 children from two families into foster care.

    The children range in age from 2 months to 16 years.

    Quebec Judge Pierre Hamel said in his ruling that he believed the children were at "serious risk of harm" after hearing testimony from three child-protection workers as well as a former member of the sect, who related what he endured while living in the community and how he ultimately fled the group.

    Chatham-Kent Children's Services investigators did meet with Lev Tahor members on Thursday, but there has been no decision made about how or whether to comply with the Quebec court order.

    An Ontario lawyer who has been retained to represent the affected families said Friday he has not been approached by child protection officials and has not been notified of any looming court hearing on the matter.

    Stephen Doig, director of Chatham-Kent Children's Services, told the Star they are in communication and co-operating with their Quebec counterparts.

    Ontario child protection officials won't comment further at this time.

    On Friday, the Blackburn News, a local media outlet in southwestern Ontario, reported that someone had posted "Wanted" posters of Lev Tahor's spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans.

    The posters identify Helbrans as the leaders of an "Israeli cult."

    "They believe that Ontario law is permissive enough to allow them to isolate and indoctrinate their children without interference from the authorities," the poster says.

    On Friday, vans continued to shuttle Lev Tahor members from the Super 8 Motel where some had stayed to a complex of two-unit bungalows just past the edge of town, where some 40 families are staying in about a dozen units. Each unit has two bedrooms.

    The small cluster of houses was a hive of activity Friday afternoon as members of the sect prepared for the Sabbath.

    Men moved bins and plastic-wrapped mattresses among the buildings, while occasionally girls, clad in long, black robes, darted between homes with tinfoil trays of food.

    Curious children peeked out the covered windows at a few journalists who passed throughout the day.

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  75. Only boys came and went from the school in a brick building along the paved road, lined by close-cropped cornfields, that leads to town.

    A school for girls hasn't been set up yet, said Nacham Helbrans, the son of Shlomo Helbrans, the group's leader and self-proclaimed rabbi.

    Helbrans said they've taken a one-year lease on the units.

    "The way the Chatham people are behaving to us is absolutely nice. Some people come to say hello and welcome, many, many people," said Mayer Rosner, director of the sect.

    The posters, they say, weren't the work of locals, but rather from out-of-towners who have a grudge against Lev Tahor.

    "These flyers are not printed in Chatham, This is someone coming at least from Toronto, maybe Montreal. No one from Chatham did this," said Helbrans.

    "We have no intention of leaving Chatham," said Helbrans, who said similar incidents happened in Montreal and New York. "For us as a community, we're used to it."

    The owners of the complex they've settled in — a clutch of houses surrounded by a cornfield — are happy to have them.

    Deborah Bokh says the group came about a month previously to scope out the property. The next they heard from them was Friday Nov. 15, when they phoned and asked for the 12 two-bedroom units. The group arrived the following Monday.

    If Ontario decides to comply with the order, the most likely scenario would see them first ask an Ontario judge to certify the Quebec ruling, giving Chatham-Kent officials the backing of the law.

    But there is little precedent guiding officials on how one province can legally enforce the order of another province's court.

    The community insists their decision to move to Ontario had to do with the strict guidelines of Quebec's education laws, which would compel them to teach their children subjects including evolution and human sexuality that their interpretation of the Jewish faith forbids.

    "We knew the investigation would be intensified because we were moving from place to place," said Helbrans, insisting the group was not fleeing investigations or allegations but rather Quebec's education rules.

    The group's communiqué appears to lash out at the findings of Charles Darwin and "social Darwinism," saying that a rejection of the concept that God created the universe and everything within it could ultimately lead to a rejection of the existence of God.

    But the Quebec investigation, which has been going on since August, showed most children could speak neither French nor English and showed few signs they were receiving any traditional schooling.

    The probe also allegedly turned up evidence of neglect, health problems, poor hygiene and possible sexual abuse due to underage marriages. Officials have said they were unable to find any evidence of direct child physical abuse.

    Chatham-Kent Mayor Randy Hope said he's been in touch with police and child services, who've told him the group has been cooperative.

    He urged people to let provincial authorities investigate before casting judgment. Until then, everyone is welcome in Chatham, he said.

    If children are being mistreated, "I'd be the first to be up in the bleachers yelling," said Hope. "But there's a process that will establish (that)."

    With files from Tim Alamenciak and Jessica McDiarmid Torstar News Service


  76. Lev Tahor group amassed $6 million in assets when it operated as charity

    The radical Jewish group Lev Tahor has operated for more than a decade as a religious charity with millions of dollars flowing through its accounts, the Star has learned.

    By: Allan Woods, Toronto Star, Quebec Bureau December 07, 2013

    MONTREAL—Lev Tahor, the radical Jewish group accused of raising their children in squalid conditions, has operated for more than a decade as a religious charity with millions of dollars flowing through its accounts, the Star has learned.

    The group that is alleged to exert strict control over its members’ liberty, health and finances amassed nearly $6 million in assets at its peak and regularly pulled in annual revenues of hundreds of thousands of dollars for the operation of its reclusive community in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, north of Montreal.

    Financial filings show Lev Tahor’s two charitable guises — Congregation Riminov and the Society for Spiritual Development — are run by the group’s spiritual leader Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans and an eight-person inner circle.

    Congregation Riminov was registered as a tax-exempt religious charity in 2001, shortly after Helbrans moved from Israel to Canada, where he would later be granted political asylum (the rabbi was deported to Israel after serving prison time in New York for the second-degree kidnapping of a young religious recruit).

    The charity had a rapid rise in its financial performance under its stated goal: “the operation of a synagogue and provision of assistance to those in need.”

    From a draw of $114,865 in its first year, Congregation Riminov brought in more than $1.9-million in 2005 and claimed land and property assets of $5.6 million in 2006. It is unclear what became of those assets and those donations when Congregation Riminov lost its charitable status in 2007 for not filing mandatory information with the Canada Revenue Agency.

    It took some time before Lev Tahor’s other charitable organization, the Society for Spiritual Development, picked up the slack. It was registered as a charity in 2004, aiming “to create a centre for meditation and prayer, (to) establish schools, to develop spiritual and religious ideals (and) provide assistance to needy people,” according to its annual filings with the federal tax agency.

    “We do a lot of stuff. We do our schooling, synagogue, our kosher (food) stuff. There’s also the books we are printing,” said Mayer Rosner, a Lev Tahor leader in Chatham-Kent, Ont., who served as vice-president of Congregation Riminov from 2003 to 2007.

    The Society for Spiritual Development’s financial success had been more modest until recently. Annual revenues between 2004 and 2010 ranged from $20,000 to $36,000 while the organization spent between $15,000 to $89,500 carrying out its operations.

    But in 2011, the community received a donation from another, unnamed, registered charity to the tune of $4.3 million, CRA filings show. That was the same year that Lev Tahor came onto the radar as a potentially dangerous group.

    Media in Canada and in Israel took notice when an Israeli judge ordered two teenaged girls returned to their homes after they were sent to Quebec to live with the group. According to news reports at the time, family members feared the girls would have their property taken and would be forced into marrying members of the sect.

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  77. In 2012, the Society for Spiritual Development transferred $3.3 million to another Jewish charity in Quebec, the Canadian Friends of Holy Land Institutions.
    Israel Lowen, president of the Canadian Friends group, said Lev Tahor’s charity had received a sum of money with the expectation it would develop a project for the community’s use. When those plans fell through, the money was passed on to his group.

    Lev Tahor’s Rosner refused to say who provided the $4.3 million but confirmed it was for an unspecified development that “didn’t work out.”

    Rosner did say that the Lev Tahor charities receive donations from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, as well as backers in Israel.

    An Israeli source with knowledge of the Lev Tahor group said community members survive mainly on government welfare payments that are given to the group’s leadership. The money is allegedly then rationed out to the 40-odd families, which has been described as a method of exerting control over members.

    “Already the payments to families in Quebec are generous. It’s what, $1,700, $2,000 for a family that has five or six children?” said the source in Israel who has assisted former Lev Tahor members.

    “But the money doesn’t go to the families. The money goes to the sect’s leadership.”

    “That’s full of baloney and you don’t find that anywhere in any records because it’s not true,” Rosner said when asked about the claim. “There’s no proof of that and you won’t find any proof because it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t exist. That’s all I can tell you.”

    Fourteen children from two Lev Tahor families who fled last month to Chatham-Kent were ordered into foster care on Nov. 27 after Quebec child-welfare workers found evidence of neglect , poor hygiene and psychological abuse during visits to their homes in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts.

    Investigators documented unkempt houses where children slept on beds with urine-soaked sheets, surrounded by garbage; cases of children being forcibly removed from their homes and made to live with other families, as well as poor health- and dental-care and a home-schooling regime that failed to meet provincial standards.

    Children’s Aid officials in Ontario have not commented on the case and have so far failed to act on the Quebec judge’s order .

    Other details about the investigation, as well as testimony from a former Lev Tahor member who escaped the group’s clutches, are protected by a publication ban issued by Judge Pierre Hamel, who cited a “serious risk of harm” to the 14 children ordered to foster care as well as the larger community.

    Arnold Markowitz, a social worker and psychotherapist with New York’s Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services who has experience working with cult members and their families, said Lev Tahor has historically drawn its members from within the orthodox Jewish community, where it is difficult to identify how the group differs from other Hassidic sects.

    His first case involved three teenaged boys who went to Brooklyn for a summer of religious study with Helbrans. The summer ended and they never came home, he said.

    The most recent case involved an orthodox boy from New Jersey who was convinced by an older relative to come visit him in Quebec.

    “In the context of the Jewish community, and of orthodoxy, it’s not unusual for children . . . to go and live at a yeshiva (Jewish religious school) and to be away from home,” Markowitz said. “It is unusual that they wouldn’t be in contact.”


  78. Reclusive Jewish sect Lev Tahor responds to fundraising reports

    Members of group facing child welfare probe 'constantly travel the world' collecting money, former adherent says, in wake of Star report on millions of dollars in donations.

    By: Allan Woods Quebec Bureau, Toronto Star December 08, 2013

    MONTREAL—The ultra-orthodox Jewish group Lev Tahor, now being targeted by a child welfare probe, says a report detailing its charitable activities in Canada will make it more difficult to find new donors or sources of income.

    The report in Saturday’s Toronto Star showed that while authorities in Quebec found squalid living conditions and cases of neglect, psychological abuse and health problems in the community, Lev Tahor operated two separate tax-exempt religious charities — Congregation Riminov and the Society of Spiritual Development — that have benefited from generous donations worth millions of dollars going back to 2001.

    A former member of Lev Tahor has since come forward to tell the Star that some senior officials in the group “constantly travel the world to collect money.”

    “Each have one or more facade congregations which they … collect for, thus avoiding negative association with Lev Tahor,” the former member explained, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    Other members of the community are required to collect amounts of up to $2,000 annually for the benefit of Lev Tahor. “They are instructed to hide where they come from, and to claim the money goes to poor families,” the former member said.

    The Star has been able to locate two separate $1,000 donations, for the years 2011 and 2012, made out to Congregation Riminov from a New York-based Jewish group, the Davidowitz Family Foundation.

    Lev Tahor responded Sunday on its website that it has already been targeted by “blood libels” and that further reports by media in Israel and Canada “can lead to (the) demonization of our community, and by that ... add more difficulty to our efforts to receive (a) job or charity after our move to our new place in Ontario.”

    The group fled from the town of Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., and resettled in Chatham-Kent, Ont., on Nov. 18 amid concerns that child protection workers would place 14 children from two Lev Tahor families in foster care. On Nov. 27, a Quebec youth court judge gave the order to seize the children, who range in age from 2 months to 16 years. The judge ruled there was a “serious risk of harm” to the children.

    To date, the order has not been carried out by the Chatham-Kent Children’s Aid Society.

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  79. Mayer Rosner, a Lev Tahor director, refused to discuss the details of the two charitable organizations when contacted on Friday ahead of the Star’s report. The donations allowed Congregation Riminov, at its peak, to bring in revenues of more than $1.9 million in 2005 and amass land and property assets of $5.6 million in 2006.

    The Society of Spiritual Development, which was registered in 2004 and took over as the group’s main fundraising vehicle when Congregation Riminov’s status was revoked in 2007, received a $4.3-million transfer from another charity in 2011 that was meant to fund a community project for the sect.

    The Jewish group posted a note on its website Sunday to respond to some of the unanswered questions about the two charities raised in the Star article.
    On Friday, Rosner refused to reveal the source of the $4.3-million donation, telling the Star: “Whatever you have in public is in public, but whatever is not in public, sorry.”

    On Sunday, Lev Tahor revealed more details. The bulk of the millions, it said in its note, resulted from a series of financial transfers that originated with one $1.9-million donation in 2005.

    The individual donation was made on the condition that the money would be used to build a “Haredi borough,” or an enclave for the ultra-Orthodox group, made up of about 40 families. The second condition was that if this could not be done in five years, the money would be passed on to another Jewish charity.

    Lev Tahor did purchase a parcel of land, but the project could not proceed for two reasons. The biggest roadblock occurred when the municipality in which the land was located changed its zoning regulations to favour the construction of “luxury apartments” and retail outlets. Another section of the property turned out to be protected wetlands.

    Court documents from 2008 confirm some of those details. They show that an individual named Chaim Landau for Congregation Riminov initially agreed in late 2005 to pay $1.95 million for 1.62 million square feet of vacant land in the Quebec municipality of Blainville. The deal went to court after the discovery that 20 per cent of the property was wetland. The court ruling indicated that the Jewish group still hoped to purchase the land, but at a lower price of $1.4 million.

    The sale apparently went ahead. Lev Tahor said the value of the land eventually increased to $4.6 million. That, the group says, is the source of the $4.3-million donation to the Society of Spiritual Development.


  80. University Expert Opinion: Fearing Children Might Be Taken Away, Anti-Zionist Hasidim Flee Quebec

    Newswise (press release) 12/10/2013 Source Newsroom: Universite de Montreal

    Media Resource: Fearing children might be taken away, Anti-Zionist Hasidim flee Quebec

    MONTREAL, December 10 2013 – For ten years, University of Montreal Professor Yakov Rabkin has been studying the Hasidic anti-Zionist group Lev Tahor. The group fled Quebec on November 19 in order to avoid a youth court hearing to have children removed from their families.

    The Toronto Star reported on Dec 8 2013: “On November 27, a Quebec youth court judge gave the order to seize the children, who range in age from 2 months to 16 years. The judge ruled there was a ‘serious risk of harm’ to the children. To date, the order has not been carried out by the Chatham-Kent Children’s Aid Society.”

    The following Q&A is free of copyright and has been prepared to assist the media. Journalists are welcome to use the provided questions and answers in part or in whole. For interviews and further information (including the original French text of this document,) please contact media relations at the University of Montreal (w.raillant-clark@umontreal.ca). The University of Montreal is officially known as Université de Montréal (www.umontreal.ca).

    Further information about Professor Yakov Rabkin and his expertise is available at www.yakovrabkin.ca

    Question: How are Lev Tahor members different from other Hasidic Jews?

    Y.R.: The main difference is that they almost all grew up in an irreligious environment. It was not until adulthood that they drew closer to Judaism and began practicing religion. While most of Lev Tahor children were born in Quebec, the majority of adult members, about 50 persons, came from Israel where they had been raised with the ideology of Zionism. Some are former officers of the Israeli army who embraced Hasidic Judaism, left the army, and then the State of Israel. Lev Tahor stands out by its unusually strict practice of Judaic law regarding food, clothing, and prayer.

    Question: Are the children in danger?

    Y.R.: I don't know whether or not there has been abuse, but the times I went to visit the community, sometimes without notice, I didn't see any violence. The boys appeared similar to other Hasidic boys. However, in recent years, the girls and women started to wear veils and came to look different from women in other Hasidic communities

    A few years ago in the framework of a film project, I videotaped interviews with several members of the community, both men and women –unveiled- about their background and their motivations to join Lev Tahor, but I didn’t talk with the children.

    To avoid controls stipulated in the Quebec Public Education Act, they began planning a move to Ontario several months ago. They spoke to me about this when I visited them last summer with a PhD student in anthropology from Brazil.

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  81. Question: Some argue that members of Lev Tahor are backward. Are they?

    Y.R.: Their opposition to Zionism led them to learn Yiddish, spoken by Hasidic Jews, so they would no longer use modern Hebrew, even though it is the mother tongue for most of them. They deliberately reversed the Zionist project, the efforts Zionist pioneers made more than a century ago when they abandoned Russia, their homeland, and settled in Palestine. They also rejected Yiddish, their mother tongue, and desacralized Hebrew, the language of prayer and Torah study, turning it into a vernacular.

    While some consider Hasidic Jews ignorant of the modern world, members of Lev Tahor used to be immersed in secular Israeli society. This is why their rejection of Zionism is more of a provocation than that of other Hasidic Jews, who have inherited anti-Zionism, along with other values, from their ancestors.

    Not surprisingly, Zionists in Israel and elsewhere are very upset with Lev Tahor. In a television report, an Israeli parliamentarian accused them of wanting to kill all nonbelievers in Israel. A reporter from Haaretz, a daily often considered to be anti-religious, spent a few days among the Lev Tahor. His informative articles are available online [www.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/lev-tahor-pure-as-the-driven-snow-or-hearts-of-darkness-1.417553].

    Question: How do you explain the attention given to Lev Tahor?

    Y.R.: I understand the antagonism Lev Tahor generates in Israel. The relatives of those who joined Lev Tahor are almost all secular Zionists. They are horrified by the new lifestyle of their children and by the education given to their grandchildren. Based on the testimonies of those who rebelled against Lev Tahor, including a son of the group's leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, these relatives alleged child abuse. They protested outside the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv and mobilized Israeli authorities, which put pressure on child protection agencies in Canada.

    Hence the recent attention of the Quebec Directorate of Youth Protection to the Hasidim of Sainte-Agathe. For several months children were checked for signs of beatings, and homes, including refrigerators, were inspected almost daily. Last week, Lev Tahor was discussed by an Israeli parliamentary commission for the protection of children. So far the testimony before the commission came from critics of this Hasidic group. I suppose Lev Tahor members will be heard in the future even though the commission must have many other priorities: in Israel, one in four children lives below the poverty line.


  82. Lev Tahor left unpaid bills in Quebec

    Despite receiving millions of dollars in charity over more than a decade, the ultra-orthodox Jewish group Lev Tahor left behind a legacy of bounced cheques, abandoned bills and unpaid taxes when it fled Quebec for refuge in Ontario last month.

    By: Allan Woods, Toronto Star Quebec Bureau, December 12, 2013

    SAINT-JÉRÔME,QUE.—Despite receiving millions of dollars in charity over more than a decade, the ultra-orthodox Jewish group targeted by a child-welfare probe left behind a legacy of bounced cheques, abandoned bills and unpaid taxes when it fled Quebec for refuge in Ontario last month.

    A Toronto Star investigation of Lev Tahor has turned up seven lawsuits filed in Saint-Jérôme, Que., in which the reclusive group is accused of leaving thousands of dollars worth of bills unpaid for such things as legal fees, work performed at its former compound in nearby Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, and school board taxes.

    The group’s most frequent opponents in court have been the local school boards, which in Quebec are responsible for collecting their own taxes from property owners. In three of those cases, a judge has ordered the group to pay. A fourth is still before the courts.hurt' by proposed Quebec ban on religious symbols

    Operating under the corporate and charitable guises of Congregation Riminov and the Society of Spiritual Development, Lev Tahor runs its own religious education system and has stated that its objections to the teaching of evolution and sex ed in the provincial curriculum are the main reasons for their move to Ontario.

    The most recent case involving a school board, which was completed in mid-August, involved nearly $2,000 in unpaid school taxes going back to 2010. Another case, resolved in September 2012, ordered the Society of Spiritual Development, to pay more than $2,400 for two years of unpaid school taxes.

    In all cases, Lev Tahor’s leaders did not present a statement of defence indicating why they refused to pay the school taxes. Neither did representatives of the group or its lawyers appear in court when the judgments were handed down.

    Another lawsuit against the group originated when a senior Lev Tahor member, Mayer Rosner, contracted a company in 2009 to install an air-exchange system in a building, according to the statement of claim in that case. The final bill was $5,089.53 and Rosner provided three post-dated cheques, the court files show.

    Two of the cheques bounced when they were deposited at the bank, as did one of the replacement cheques. Months later, Lev Tahor handed over $4,100 toward the bill, but skipped out on the remaining $1,000, which a judge ordered Rosner to pay.

    “Many times Mr. Rosner has told us that we would be able to obtain final payment in order to push back the due date again and again,” the company said in its statement of claim.

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  83. In an interview with the Star, Nachman Helbrans, the son of Lev Tahor’s spiritual leader Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, refuted the image that Lev Tahor was a community of religious laggards, saying that they are simply struggling to survive financially after a series of bad breaks and still-born business ventures that have made it difficult to support their large families.

    Whatever money the 40 Lev Tahor families are able to accumulate often goes to helping out other members who have unsettled immigration cases in Canada, including refugee claims, Nachman Helbrans said. Until those cases are settled, Helbrans added, some families cannot legally work or obtain health insurance.

    “I know that sometimes we are having a big financial burden,” Nachman Helbrans said. He added that he once paid $3,000 in hospital bills for his undocumented sister-in-law.

    Financial filings show Lev Tahor has registered two charities during their time in Canada — with millions of dollars flowing through their accounts.

    Congregation Riminov, which was registered as a tax-exempt religious charity in 2001, showed great success raising money, according to government filings. Up until 2007, when its status was revoked for not filing mandatory papers with the federal government, it was bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, claimed assets of more than $5.6 million in 2006 and received a $1.9-million donation in 2005 intended to fund construction of a “Haredi borough,” or ultra-orthodox Jewish enclave.

    The Society of Spiritual Development, which was registered as a charity in 2004, has had more modest success. It claimed revenues of $4.4 million in 2011, but has said this was due to a boost in the value of a parcel of land that was expropriated in 2010 to build luxury apartments in the Quebec municipality of Blainville.

    In 2012, Lev Tahor was forced to transfer $3.3 million to another Jewish charity after it was unable to build its own residential community — a condition of the donation it received in 2005.

    The community has since used some of its money to build an industrial kitchen and launch a kosher food business under the name of Maitiv Corp. in the hopes of raising money. But the business, which is registered in both Quebec and New York State, has not worked out well either. Efforts to produce and sell a kosher confit and compote (fruit dish) failed, as did a recipe for natural cream, said Nachman Helbrans.

    The Jewish sect is accused of child neglect, psychological abuse, and living in squalid conditions. A three-month child-welfare investigation in Quebec prompted the group to flee to Chatham-Kent, Ont., last month, just ahead of a Nov. 27 court order that 14 children, aged two months to 16 years, be taken into foster care.

    The group had hoped that resettling in Ontario would bring them a measure of peace they were not able to achieve in Quebec. That impression was shattered when two families with the group, representing the 14 children, were summoned to court as Children’s Aid officials in Chatham-Kent attempt to carry out the Quebec judge’s order.


  84. Ontario child services seeking permission to seize 14 children living with controversial Jewish sect that fled Quebec

    Adrian Humphreys, National Post December 11, 2013

    If there was any intent to swiftly remove children deemed by a Quebec judge to need protection there is no speedy resolution; the case involving a controversial Jewish sect that moved during the night from Quebec to Southern Ontario will not even be argued until a month after a removal order was issued but not fulfilled.

    On Wednesday, child services in Chatham sought an Ontario judge’s permission to enforce the Quebec court order to seize 14 children from two families living in the Lev Tahor sect — including a 17-year-old who is the mother of an infant child, making her both a child and the mother of a child included in the protection proceedings.

    The hearing has been postponed until Dec. 23. And even then, arguments could be lengthy.

    Nachman Helbrans, son of the group’s founder, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, said legal arguments will take “some days, maybe weeks.”

    “There [are] no new issues or negative issues [brought] up by the child services in Ontario. On the contrary, they are very positive regarding the current situation of the families, but they have pure legal issues regarding jurisdiction,” he said.

    “Our legal ‘battle’ is concentrated only to fight the illegitimate Quebec court procedures against residents of Ontario.”

    Calls to Chatham-Kent Children’s Services were not returned.

    Documents provided to the families Tuesday show that on Dec. 4 a justice of the peace was asked to issue a warrant of apprehension against the families — without notifying them — which was declined on Dec. 7, says Armenia Teixeira, lawyer for the families.

    That led to Wednesday’s court hearing of a formal motion by children’s services to have the children returned to Quebec to fulfil the Quebec court order.

    Quebec officials are waiting to learn if their order will be enforced in Ontario and remain concerned over the children’s health, said Isabelle Dugré with child-protection services in the Laurentians.

    “Child services here has no power in Ontario,” said Ms. Dugré. “We are still waiting to see if the Quebec judgment will be enforced by Ontario. We are still waiting for the ‘if’ and the ‘when.’”

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  85. Meanwhile, Jewish families in Quebec are ready to receive any children who may be removed from the Lev Tahor, said David Ouellette, spokesman for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Quebec. Jewish social services in the province were asked several weeks ago to be prepared in case a court ordered removals.

    “We are ready. We will have to see what happens in court,” said Mr. Ouellette.

    “They are a Jewish sect and although they are certainly outside the norms of Judaism they live within a Judaic tradition. There is a desire to mitigate what is a traumatic experience,” Mr. Ouellette. “There will be at least some familiarity for the children so they won’t be completely disoriented.”

    Although Mr. Helbrans said his community is co-operating with child services officials in Ontario, the community had also said it was working well with Quebec’s child services just before moving in the night, en masse, to Ontario rather than appear in court.

    The community was settled in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, 100 kilometres northwest of Montreal, when two families were ordered to appear in court with their children on Nov. 14. Instead, most members of the community, about 200 people, climbed into rental buses and travelled overnight to Chatham, 80 kilometres east of Windsor.

    On Nov. 27, the Quebec hearing proceeded without them. After hearing testimony, which is now under a publication ban, the judge ordered the children to return to Quebec and into foster care as a protection measure. That ruling is under appeal.

    “We argued the Quebec court had no jurisdiction because the families no longer live on Quebec territory,” said Ms. Teixeira. “There are a lot of issues to be dealt with. There is freedom of religion, there is freedom of mobility within Canada, Charter issues.”

    She dismissed allegations of abuse. “I have been involved with the community for about a year and a half and I haven’t seen anything and I haven’t heard anything of concern to me. I’m an educated woman and a non-Jew and if some of the stuff they are saying about them were true, I wouldn’t have the relationship I do with them. Do I agree with them? That’s not for me to judge.”


  86. Lawyer baffled Ontario is not honouring Quebec decision in Lev Tahor case


    MONTREAL — A local family lawyer is baffled by an Ontario Court’s decision not to honour a Quebec judgment ordering 14 children of the Lev Tahor sect into foster care.

    An Ontario justice of the peace last week denied a request by Chatham-Kent Children’s Aid Society to execute a Nov. 27 order to remove the children. The society appealed the decision on Tuesday, but the case was adjourned until Dec. 23.

    Howard Barza, a family lawyer who often works with Quebec’s Missing Children’s Network, said honouring the judgment in Ontario should be a routine procedure.

    “Normally, it’s an easy process to ratify a judgment between two provinces,” Barza said. “Especially here, because children’s welfare is in jeopardy.”

    The children were to have been placed in foster homes, with families from the Jewish community in and around Montreal. However, most members of the community fled in advance of the youth court date last month.

    Barza said that in order to ratify a Quebec judgment in Ontario, the court must be satisfied that the families were aware of the proceeding, and that the province had jurisdiction to render the judgment.

    He said in this case, the families were aware of a court hearing, but appear to have gone to Ontario to avoid this province’s justice system.

    “Lawyers call that forum shopping,” he said. “They’re looking for a legal forum that will be more advantageous to them. Judges don’t like that at all.”

    Armenia Teixeira, the lawyer for Lev Tahor, has said she will file an appeal shortly on a Nov. 22 judgment in St-Jérôme’s youth court determining that Quebec has jurisdiction over the children. The Gazette has appealed the publication ban issued over testimony heard in the Nov. 27 hearing. A date to hear that appeal has been set for Jan. 16.


  87. Whatever it takes, I will remove my precious sister, relative of Lev Tahor member says


    MONTREAL — When K visited his sister in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts two and a half years ago, he thought the ultraorthodox Jewish community where she lived merely had a strict interpretation of Jewish law.

    Now, he realizes the Lev Tahor community was masking its true living conditions for the benefit of an outsider.

    Because the case is subject to Quebec’s youth protection laws, the children can’t be identified, nor can any family members who can be directly traced back to them. Neither K’s name, nor that of his sister, P, can be used.

    “When I got back, people told me, ‘You have to get your family out of there,’ ” K said in a telephone interview from Israel, through a Hebrew interpreter.

    K is the uncle of eight children who are among 14 minors ordered by a Quebec judge last month to be placed in foster care for a period of at least 30 days. However, a week before the hearing, the families involved were among a group of about 200 community members who had fled by bus to Chatham, Ont.

    An Ontario justice of the peace last week denied a warrant to Chatham-Kent Children’s Aid Society to send the children to foster homes in Quebec. The case has been appealed, and will be heard on Dec. 23.

    K said he’s disappointed the process continues to drag on.

    A father of two, he said he wants to bring his nieces and nephews, and his sister, home to Israel.

    “I have two sisters who are ultra orthodox, and my parents are also back in Israel, and we have the means to provide for them and help them recover,” he said. “Whatever it takes, I will remove my precious sister.”

    Although Lev Tahor’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, has denied ever approving the marriage of children under the Canadian legal age of 16, K has heard that his two eldest nieces had grooms lined up to marry them when they were 12 and 13 years old. K doesn’t know if either of them have yet been married. The oldest child in the family is now 14.

    P was raised in a traditional Jewish home in Israel. After she completed her mandatory two-year army service (compulsory for all women from age 18 to 20 in Israel), she moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., where she began living a more religious lifestyle. She was hired as an au pair for an ultraorthodox family in Brooklyn. She was encouraged by that family to marry a man who was part of the Lev Tahor sect. K found out recently the marriage had been arranged by a matchmaker hired by the sect because of a shortage of women. The family that encouraged P to marry was given $5,000 by the matchmaker to help assure the match. The matchmaker was also paid.

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  88. The wedding took place in 1999 in Brooklyn, and while K didn’t attend, two aunts, his parents, a brother and a sister made the trip from Israel.

    “They thought they had strange customs, but because they have never attended an ultraorthodox wedding, they had nothing to compare it to,” he said.

    Among the more extreme pre-wedding requirements, his sister had all her body hair, including the hair on her head, shaved.

    K said after his visit two years ago, he endeavoured to find out as much as he could about the sect. He interviewed several former members, and contacted many families. He learned that children are routinely removed from their parents for weeks at a time as a form of punishment or coercion. He was told that when he was visiting his sister, her children had only temporarily been returned to her for the duration of his visit, and they were once again removed after he left.

    A parliamentary committee in Israel’s Knesset has also heard in testimony that children are routinely taken away from their families and forced to live with other sect members.

    K said others have told him that the sect’s leadership regularly instruct members to go without food or water for a 25-hour period as a form of punishment. This punishment can be meted out two or three times a week for certain members, he said. There is also widespread use of psychological drugs, and children are routinely hit. When he visited, he saw that his nieces and nephews were wearing shoes that were too small. The Knesset committee also heard that is a form or punishment in the community.

    K said many families have contacted him with their concerns, but they are reluctant to step forward and publicly denounce the sect because they fear the community will cut off contact.

    “I am the face of dozens of family members who are crying all the time,” K said. “The families are so worried for all these children.”

    K is concerned the sect will make it impossible for authorities to track down his sister and her family, by moving them to another part of the country, or even to the United States.

    “I’m afraid that because Canadian authorities consider them to be responsible adults, the (Lev Tahor leadership) will hide them away and then say that they left of their own free will,” he said. “But the reality is that they can’t make decisions for themselves. The community’s leader, (Helbrans) makes all the decisions for everyone.”

    Lev Tahor, which means pure heart in Hebrew, was created by Helbrans in Israel in the 1980s. Helbrans moved to Brooklyn in the 1990s, and was deported back to Israel after he was convicted of conspiracy to kidnap a 13-year-old boy. He was granted refugee status after settling in Canada in 2004, on the grounds that because his group opposes the creation of the state of Israel, he would be persecuted if he returned.


  89. Lev Tahor: Two children seized by Children’s Aid from orthodox Jewish sect

    Ontario child-protection authorities have taken two children into protective custody from the reclusive Jewish group Lev Tahor, the Toronto Star has learned.

    By Allan Woods, Toronto Star Quebec Bureau, December 16, 2013

    MONTREAL—Ontario child-protection authorities have taken two children into protective custody from the reclusive Jewish group Lev Tahor, the Toronto Star has learned.

    A lawyer for the group has confirmed that officials with the Chatham-Kent Children's Services seized two children from one family last Thursday evening.11-year-old boy

    The circumstances around the seizure are not known, but the Star has been told by a source that the children taken into custody are not connected to a Quebec court ruling last month that 14 children be taken into foster care. A second source said that the children are a brother and sister, around three or four years of age.

    The original case in Quebec targeted children from two Lev Tahor families ranging in age from two months to 16 years. About 40 families from the ultra-orthodox Jewish group fled to Ontario on Nov. 18, a few days before that ruling was handed down. After two weeks of silence, it emerged that Chatham-Kent child-welfare authorities had sought a warrant on Dec. 4 to seize all the children. An Ontario Justice of the Peace denied that request. An appeal of that refusal is to be heard on Dec. 23.

    Quebec authorities have documented what they say is evidence of neglect, psychological abuse, poor dental and physical health and an education regime run by the community that falls below provincial standards.

    Critics of the group say that Lev Tahor's spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, exerts strict control and discipline over his followers. An Israeli parliamentary hearing last month documented cases of physical abuse and said the heretical sect is a dangerous cult.


  90. Two children from Jewish sect Lev Tahor reunited with parents

    Two children in the controversial Jewish sect Lev Tahor were reunited with their parents Tuesday.

    By: Tim Alamenciak News reporter, Toronto Star December 17, 2013

    CHATHAM-KENT, ONT.—Two children in the controversial Jewish sect Lev Tahor were reunited with their parents Tuesday after an Ontario court justice approved their return with a list of several conditions.

    Ontario child welfare authorities seized the children last week following a visit in which one of the workers noticed a bruise on a small child, according to Chris Knowles, a Windsor-based lawyer representing the families of Lev Tahor.

    “The kids are being sent back to their parents. Both the parents and (Chatham-Kent Children’s Services) have agreed that should apply until they’re back in court . . . for the next date,” said Knowles, calling the justice’s move the “right decision.”

    The parents of the two children have agreed to scheduled and random visits from children’s aid workers, and said they would not leave the Chatham-Kent area or use “physical discipline,” among other conditions. The agreement also specifies that one of the parents get help for mental health issues. The children, a boy and a girl, are both under five years of age.

    The Child and Family Services Act prevents the Star from identifying either the parents or the children.

    The Lev Tahor community arrived in Chatham in November after fleeing Quebec. A case in a Quebec courtroom called for the apprehension of 14 children from two Lev Tahor families. The families concerned in the Quebec case are different from those in Tuesday’s hearing. After weeks of silence, it emerged that Chatham-Kent Children’s Services had sought and was denied a warrant to seize the 14 children. An appeal of the denial is to be heard Dec. 23.

    Quebec authorities have documented what they say is evidence of neglect, psychological abuse, poor dental and physical health and a sub-standard education regime. Critics say Lev Tahor’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, exerts strict control over his followers.

    Leaders of Lev Tahor have called the allegations a smear campaign being waged against the anti-Zionist sect by its enemies.

    “We will still co-operate with child protection, like we said beforehand the first day when we came to Ontario,” said Uriel Goldman, a spokesman for the sect.

    Workers have been visiting the sect since they arrived in Chatham. During a routine visit last Thursday, a worker noticed a bruise on the female child’s face. A police officer accompanied child welfare officials to apprehend the child.

    “When we have these kinds of injuries, it calls for some explanation by the parents,” said Justice Stephen Fuerth. He said the mother denied it was a bruise and said the child had been playing with markers. Two doctors independently evaluated the child and told the court it was a bruise. Fuerth described the injury as “relatively minor.”

    “I have a picture of some cause for concern and, at the same time, some signs that the children were well cared-for,” he said.
    Under the law, the child welfare authorities must appear before a judge within five days of the apprehension to make arrangements for the child until such time that a trial can take place. The issue is set to be heard in court again Jan. 31.

    “I hope it is a continuation of good results and hopefully we can finish with all this persecution,” said Goldman.

    With files from Allan Woods in Montreal


  91. Newly released documents detail Lev Tahor abuse allegations

    Social workers allege the sect gave melatonin, a natural sleep aid, to calm children, and women suffered from fungus due to a prohibition on baring feet.

    By Tim Alamenciak Toronto Star News reporter, December 23, 2013

    Child protection officials in Quebec were concerned about a mass suicide pact in the Lev Tahor community, according to evidence filed in a Chatham court Tuesday.

    Testimony from a Quebec court trial involving members of the controversial Jewish sect sheds light on what life is like inside it for kids, particularly girls, and how more than 150 people fled the province for Ontario last month.

    Social workers familiar with the community discuss administration of melatonin to calm the children, fungus resulting from women being forced to wear socks or stockings at all times, and a hectic bus trip from Quebec to Ontario where kids were made to urinate in plastic bags rather than stopping.

    Uriel Goldman, spokesman for the Lev Tahor community, calls the allegations false. The group has maintained that it is the victim of a smear campaign by enemies of the anti-Zionist sect.

    “Every one or two hours there was a stop for about an hour — so the bus was stopping almost 10 times,” said Goldman.

    One social worker, who can’t be identified because of a publication ban that prohibits identifying witnesses, said there was concern about the possibility of a collective suicide by the group.

    “They know that we are asking for these 14 children to be placed in protection today, so they feel the trap closing,” said the witness. “The exit door, it is a possibility that could be considered.”

    The statements were originally made in a Quebec court on Nov. 27, but were entered as an exhibit Monday.

    A publication ban is also in place on any information that would identify the children or family members that are the subject of the case. Iain MacKinnon, a lawyer representing the Toronto Star and other media organizations, successfully argued for the media’s inclusion in the hearing and a less restrictive publication ban.

    A social worker testified at the Quebec trial that the feet of one of the children were blue from the fungus.

    “There was not a toe that was not infected,” she said. “It was based in the toenails, which meant that her nails were very, very thick and her feet very swollen, all blue, and all her toes were infected.”

    “We heard about concerns about fungus,” said Goldman. “It’s a very, very minor thing, but because there were some concerns we tried to do more than we needed. We brought a special dermatologist.”

    The worker testified that the infection was widespread among women in the community, as they were made to leave their socks on. The worker said a meeting with the community leaders led to a loosening of this restriction.

    The documents were entered as evidence in an Ontario hearing that will decide whether and how the province upholds a Quebec court ruling to remove 14 children from three families in the right-wing Orthodox Jewish community.

    The group fled Quebec before the ruling. Goldman said the group moved to Ontario because the province’s education laws would allow them to homeschool their children.

    Children raised in the sect primarily speak Yiddish and boys receive religious education. Chris Knowles, lawyer for the family, is attempting to get the case dismissed and says it infringes on the members’ Charter rights.

    “If you’re going to take these kids away from this community, how are you respecting their religious rights?” said Knowles. “They have rights that are enumerated under that act. The cultural, spiritual rights, and we have to respect those rights.”

    The hearing was adjourned until Jan. 10 because one of the children targeted by the court order is also a parent herself and thus will request separate representation from the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.


  92. Lev Tahor children speak out for the first time

    Letters from three girls reflect bewilderment about a Quebec court’s order that 14 children be removed from their families, including a 17-year-old with an infant of her own.

    By: Tim Alamenciak, Toronto Star News reporter, January 16 2014

    Three of the children at the heart of a case involving the removal of 14 kids from the controversial Lev Tahor sect have spoken out for the first time, in two handwritten letters sent to the Toronto Star.

    The letters mark the first time children or parents who are the subject of the action have spoken publicly. A 17-year-old, who has an infant daughter herself, sent scans of letters handwritten by herself and two other children, expressing their fear and confusion about the ongoing litigation surrounding their families.

    “When children are removed from their parents, it is because they are in danger. But my daughter and siblings are in no danger at all! How will the damage ever be able to be corrected should this ever happen? My heart’s cry must be heard,” the 17-year-old mother wrote in the five-page note.

    The identities of all of the children are shielded by a publication ban laid by an Ontario judge, who is currently deliberating about whether or not to uphold a Quebec court order for their removal.

    Quebec authorities have documented what they say is evidence of neglect, psychological abuse, poor dental and physical health and sub-standard education. A transcript of testimony from three social workers who spoke at the Quebec trial said that many of the women in the community suffered from a foot fungus because they were not permitted to remove their socks, even at night.

    The social workers, whose identities are also covered by a publication ban, said sect leaders exert extreme control over all members. One said that children were given melatonin, a natural sleep aid, to keep them calm. The Quebec Children’s Aid Society was concerned about the potential for a group suicide.

    About 40 families — more than 150 individuals — in the Lev Tahor community fled Quebec for Chatham-Kent in advance of the court order, moving into a cluster of houses on the outskirts of the southern Ontario town.

    The emailed notes also contained an offer to interview the 17-year-old, however her lawyer — Gerri Wong, of the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, part of the attorney general’s ministry — instructed her not to speak with the media after becoming aware of the letter, according to community spokesman Mayer Rosner.

    “On one side she wants to cry out to the public, but from the other side she doesn’t want to go against her lawyer,” Rosner said in a telephone interview Wednesday. Rosner noted that they have been visited regularly by officials from Chatham-Kent Children’s Services during their two-month stay.

    “If these children were in danger they would apprehend them,” Rosner said.

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  93. The email also includes a letter from a Montreal dermatologist, Dr. Rachel Rubinstein, who wrote that she examined 61 people in the sect and found the fungus.

    “These are typical clinical problems I routinely encounter in my dermatologic practice,” she wrote. “It is important that I emphasize, unequivocally, that these problems do not reflect parental neglect or abuse.”

    The package also includes a letter written by two other girls subject to the action, a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old.

    “For the past two months, our house has become like a battlefield. Our parents spend so many hours with lawyers, we are surrounded with media so many times,” they wrote. “We feel that the world has become upside down. Why should happy children, born to beloved good parents, be taken to foster care?”

    The matter was heard in court Jan. 10, where Ontario Court of Justice judge Stephen Fuerth listened to arguments from Loree Hodgson-Harris, lawyer for Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, as well as two lawyers representing the Lev Tahor families — Wong, and Windsor lawyer Chris Knowles.

    Knowles, who represents the family of the 15- and 16-year-olds, said he had no prior knowledge that the letters were going to be sent.
    “I have asked the clients to retract the letters that they sent,” said Knowles. “Because Justice Fuerth has reserved his decision, I don’t think it’s appropriate to be making these comments right now at this point.”

    The 17-year-old is receiving separate representation because she has a child herself. Since she is over the age of 16, the Ontario authorities are not including her in their application; however, a foster family has been found in Quebec that will take both the infant and her mother.

    “On me they give up, because I am already 17 years old. But they want to take away my baby, from her beloved mother arms! Why? I really don’t know,” she wrote in the letter.

    The 17-year-old mother wonders, in the letter, what will become of her marriage, to a man who is substantially older than she and is also a member of the Lev Tahor community.

    “Our darling baby has a warm home — a mother and a father living in beautiful harmony. And what? The CAS wants to destroy it for her? What rudeness is this, child protection or child abuse???” she wrote in the letter.

    The judge is scheduled to rule Feb. 3 as to whether the children will be returned to Quebec.


  94. Lev Tahor: Former member’s testimony into sect is released

    'I looked up the definition of cult ... we are a cult' member said he told leaders.

    By: Allan Woods Quebec Bureau, Toronto Star January 16, 2014

    ST-JEROME, QUE.―From apocalyptic visions of an armed invasion, to a bogus diagnosis of psychological problems to corporal punishment, there were many signs to a former member of the radical Jewish group Lev Tahor that something was not right.

    But it was not until he was called upon to fight allegations that the reclusive community was a cult led by Shlomo Helbrans, a self-proclaimed rabbi, that he was convinced to make a dramatic midnight escape from the group, the ex-member told a Quebec court.

    The testimony, heard on Nov. 27, was protected by a publication ban based on fears that the 40 Lev Tahor families and their many children would carry out a collective suicide pact because of perceived persecution based on their religious beliefs. That publication ban was lifted Thursday after an appeal by various media organizations.

    The former member cannot be named, but the tale of his experiences living with Lev Tahor between 2009 and 2011 can be now be made public. They helped convince the Quebec family court judge to rule that 14 children from the community should be taken into foster care.

    A week prior to the hearing, though, about 200 members of the group fled Quebec for a new life in Chatham-Kent, Ont., where child protection workers are now fighting in court to enforce the Quebec judge’s order.

    The ex-member was asked in the spring of 2011 to defend Lev Tahor’s reputation after two teenage girls from Israel were seized at the Montreal airport and prevented from joining the group because of perceived dangers to their welfare.

    Nachman Helbrans, the son of Lev Tahor’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, sought out the ex-member because of his mastery of the English language and asked him to prepare a defence to claims Lev Tahor was a cult. He obliged, mainly because he had fallen out of favour for having tried to leave the community with his pregnant teenage wife. As punishment, the couple had been forcibly separated for two weeks, his wife had been pressured to divorce him and Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans had diagnosed him with borderline personality disorder.

    “I looked up the definition of a cult,” the ex-member told the court. “Based on various checklists I told Nachman Helbrans that we are a cult.”

    The testimony is one of just a few instances in which a renegade former member of the Lev Tahor sect has come forward to denounce their activities over the years. The former member’s concerns about the group’s conduct and practices also answer many of the questions about why Quebec’s child protection authorities seem so determined to take the 14 children into protective custody.

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  95. He testified that in the two years he lived in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., he personally knew of seven marriages arranged by Rabbi Helbrans that involved youth under the age of 16, which is the minimum age under Canadian law.

    “It was common when I was there,” he testified. “It was the stated goal of the community to perform marriages at the age of 13.”

    The ex-member, who now lives in Montreal, was himself in his mid 20s when he was called into Rabbi Helbrans’ office to learn about the girl who would become his wife. She was almost 16 — the minimum age at which one can be married in Canada — and described as an “A-minus girl from a respectable family.”

    He only learned her name the next evening when he viewed the marriage contract at an engagement party. He didn’t lay eyes on her for the first time until the day of their wedding, two months later.

    The ex-member normally worked in the Lev Tahor office, but occasionally he filled in as a substitute teacher at the boy’s school. The classrooms were filled with prayerbooks rather than textbooks and a wooden stick for discipline. He said he was instructed by one community member on how to enforce good behaviour in class.

    “I was told first to warn them, then slap them in the face with an open hand if they would speak in class without permission or misbehave,” he said, adding that he used physical punishment three times on boys between the ages of eight and 13.

    A girl’s education consisted of some English and mathematics. Lev Tahor’s boys were taught prayers, bible study and some Hebrew reading skills.

    “The goal of these studies was to enable them to understand the rabbi’s teachings,” the ex-member said. “The belief is that boys should be busy with holy studies and girls run the house.”

    The community is run with totalitarian discipline and in many cases, people are terrified to break ranks.

    Quebec child-welfare investigators have documented how women are obliged to shroud themselves in head-to-toe black robes even when they are in the hospital to give birth, according to a nurse who was interviewed in the course of the probe. They often seek the express permission of Rabbi Helbrans before accepting pain medication such as an epidural, child-protection workers testified.

    In person, Rabbi Helbrans can reportedly be quite charming. He speaks with a disarming lisp and a stutter.

    In a recording released on the Lev Tahor website of a conversation with Quebec child-protection workers after the group fled to Ontario, Rabbi Helbrans can be heard explaining: “The people in this group are not my slaves, they are not my servants. I’m just a rabbi. It’s spiritual. I have a big influence over people, but not everybody follows everything that I say.”

    But the ex-member countered that impression with the court.

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  96. On one occasion, shortly after the U.S. navy Seal raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011, Rabbi Helbrans confided in him, he said, a vision of the near future that involved Lev Tahor members fending off full-scale assault by the Canadian and American militaries at the group’s compound in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts.

    “He described how they would come over the mountain ridges to Ste-Agathe and will shoot everything they have at this community,” the ex-member testified, adding that the scenario had been written out in a document explaining that the overwhelming force would be repelled when the group’s members joined hands in meditation.

    “I didn’t believe it. It seems that people were afraid of this happening but they were hopeful,” he testified.

    On other occasions, Rabbi Helbrans would use reverse psychology to strengthen his emotional hold over the group, the man testified. He would threaten to leave Lev Tahor, which would render the group leaderless. While he locked himself away in his home, the community would go into a panic.

    “People would ask his forgiveness. They would sleep outside the doors of his apartment because they were afraid of losing him,” the ex-member said.

    By this point, he was beyond disillusionment. After his first attempt to leave the community, Rabbi Helbrans diagnosed him with borderline personality disorder, a psychological condition marked by unstable emotions, behaviour or sense of identity.

    “The main point was that I would observe positive things and interpret them in a negative way,” he explained, adding that he was one of three or four people who had received the rabbi’s diagnosis. “There were no symptoms (except) them claiming the falsehood of my criticism.”

    He was not seen by a doctor nor prescribed medication, but was put on a regulated diet and made to undergo telephone counselling with an Orthodox Jew in New York and adjust his life accordingly.

    The ex-member began plotting a dramatic escape.

    He secretly purchased a computer for his home with an Internet connection. Then he began feigning sickness and exhaustion, using the time at home to build trust and plot with his teenage wife who was born to a Lev Tahor family and knew nothing of the outside world.

    Eventually, he made contact with an Orthodox rabbi in the town and started using his excursions into town to stash his family’s essential belongings at a girls’ school run by the Orthodox rabbi.

    His family sent him money and the final step came when the young couple purchased airplane tickets. He had his wife, who was by this time six months’ pregnant, push the button on the computer, to ensure she was fully onside with the plan.

    On the night of the escape, the local rabbi arranged for a car to take them to the airport.

    “Everything was timed and planned so that it would be dark and no one would be around,” he testified. “We went through the bushes and into the waiting car.”

    He testified that he has had no threats or further contact with Lev Tahor since leaving two years ago, but suggests that may be because he made copies of internal documents “that would be very problematic for the community if they were made public.”

    “I figured that’s why they wouldn’t even dare to threaten me.”


  97. Cops swoop down on Lev Tahor community near Chatham

    By Jane Sims, The London Free Press January 29, 2014

    CHATHAM - Members of an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect want to know why Quebec police swooped down on their settlement north of here Wednesday, searching two homes.

    Shortly after 5 p.m., cars carrying eight Quebec police officers, and two Chatham-Kent cruisers, arrived at the Lev Tahor settlement with two warrants and no explanation about what they were looking for.

    Police weren’t saying what the search was for, but sources indicated it was for a criminal investigation focused on immigration issues.

    Quebec police near Laval said they can’t comment because it’s a continuing investigation.

    Lev Tahor officials say families were sent out into the cold by police while the search went on in two homes. They say they have nothing to hide and suspect it was another bit of pressure on the part of Quebec authorities to take their children into foster care.

    “We are crying SOS,” said Lev Tahor director Mayer Rosner.

    “It’s harassment,” said Uriel Goldman, a community organizer. “It’s terrorizing our life.”

    Goldman said social workers have constantly visited over the last half year, including during the two months the group has spent in Chatham.

    No children were removed from their homes Wednesday, and no charges had been laid.

    The Jewish sect arrived in Chatham in November, fleeing their homes in Ste. Agathe-des-Monts, Que., after three families were told Quebec child-welfare officials were going to take them to court.

    The sect claims persecution not only by Quebec, but by Israel where they are portrayed as a cult.

    Dubbed the “Jewish Taliban” for their stance on Israel and conservative dress, the group follows a strict religious code that forbids most modern conveniences.

    The group is anti-Zionist and led by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, a controversial figure who doesn’t believe in the state of Israel.

    Monday, the group is to learn if the local child-welfare agency can enforce a Quebec order to seize 14 of the sect’s children and send them into foster care.

    The raid’s timing couldn’t have been worse, said Chris Knowles, the group’s family court lawyer. There was no indication what police were looking for and no one was arrested, he said.

    “I just wonder why, if they’ve been here for this long, why is this warrant being executed now?” Knowles said. He agreed the matters must be serious enough to compel police to drive 800 km from Quebec.

    In fact, Quebec police were in Chatham a day earlier, Tuesday, to get two search warrants signed, said Chatham Kent Deputy police Chief Gary Conn.

    He said local police have had no issues with the group.

    After the raid, the sect found kids’ immunization records left on the floor in one house along with silver candlesticks, Rosner said, calling everything upended.

    The police took many photos, he said.

    Rosner said he suspects a Zionist conspiracy aimed at demolishing the sect.

    With files by Ellwood Shreve, QMI Agency


  98. Inside Lev Tahor: Jewish sect is traditional and radical, but is it illegal?

    by JANE SIMS, QMI AGENCY Toronto Sun FEBRUARY 01, 2014

    CHATHAM, Ont. — Head down, hand on his wide-brimmed hat to hold it in place while his robes flap, a Lev Tahor man steels himself against a stiff winter wind.

    The gusts howl down the long laneway at Spurgeon Villa, a collection of modest older duplexes outside Chatham, surrounded by frozen corn fields.

    The man ducks into a small office building that’s been converted into a makeshift synagogue and school for boys.

    Lev Tahor, a controversial ultra-orthodox Jewish sect, whose name means “pure heart” in Hebrew and is led by the radical Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, is making do here in a remote corner of southwestern Ontario, where it fled from Quebec in November.

    On Monday, an Ontario Court judge will decide if local child protection workers can act on a Quebec order to seize 14 Lev Tahor children and put them in temporary foster care.

    Quebec authorities believe the kids were physically and psychologically abused at their former settlement north of Montreal in Ste. Agathe-des-Monts, Que., the sect’s home for a dozen years.

    Lev Tahor argues this is just another in a series of attacks on their religious freedom, with a secular state holding them to educational standards that go against their teachings and using their children as weapons in a battle to destroy them.

    Dubbed the “Jewish Taliban,” the group has been maligned in Israel for its anti-Zionist stance and pegged as a cult.
    In Chatham, local child-protection authorities have kept a close watch.

    Last week, Quebec police officers swooped down on the settlement armed with criminal search warrants for two homes.

    After a two-hour search, they left without making an arrest.

    An exasperated Mayer Rosner, 37, a director in the community and spokesperson, said the children haven’t been hurt by their parents but “are being abused by the ongoing investigations.”

    “Each time they’re coming, we have to take a deep breath,” he said. “They’re looking for problems.”

    They deny the laundry list of allegations told to a Quebec court a week after they left, including beatings with sticks, sedating children with drugs, arranged marriages for girls as young as 14, neglect and poor education standards.

    Lev Tahor say it’s all persecution, and the wider secular world doesn’t understand them.
    . . .

    Rosner, Lev Tahor’s media point person in Chatham, is anxious to show the progress the group has made in just two months.

    School is going well, he said, as he whisks from room to room in the old empty offices to show off boys dutifully reciting their lessons based on religious texts.

    Rosner walks back to his small two-bedroom home, forgoing an offer of a ride, explaining he can’t be in a car alone with a woman.

    At the house, his wife, Malka, is cooking for Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, with their five daughters. All wear long black robes and head scarves.

    They have nine kids. Their oldest daughter, 17, was married a year ago and lives with her husband.

    The couple say they’re coping after leaving an established settlement in Quebec, 800 km away, but it’s tough.

    “We had our own bakery, our own grocery, our own school, our own synagogue, our own houses,” his wife says.

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  99. Rosner denies every allegation placed before the Quebec judge, including accusations the group is a cult, that it’s moving to Iran and has a suicide pact should things not go their way.

    “It’s not brainwashing,” Rosner says, pointing to one of Helbrans’ massive publications.

    “This is the real way. Right now, we are a small seed. But a seed can grow.

    “The world today is going down, down, down. He’s just saying he has the solution.”
    Quebec’s education policies, the group says, are the real reason for the unwanted child welfare probe.

    Malka said she was upset when a judge was told the teachings were well below standard.

    “I was very insulted ... I was working so hard.”

    They refuse to compromise on their curriculum. Any instruction about evolution or sex education is refused. In Quebec, the children weren’t taught French.

    “Why teach the history of Canada?” she says. “We are Jewish people. We are proud to live in Canada, but we are not proud Canadians.”

    Whatever way the court rules Monday, it’s not the end of Lev Tahor’s journey.

    Rosner says they’re checking out other properties in Ontario for a permanent settlement. Helbrans is expected to move to Ontario.

    Rosner says that while Chatham has been friendly and sympathetic, nerves here are still frayed they are tired of the outside prying.

    “We might close our doors (on) them soon,” Rosner says of child welfare authorities. “The feeling we have now is, enough is enough.”


    — Ultra-orthodox Jewish sect led by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, 52, who served two years in a U.S. prison for kidnapping a 13-year-old boy he was trying to convert.

    — Helbrans’ teachings reject the state of Israel, believing it should never have been established until the coming of the Messiah.

    — Followers believe in strict adherence to the Torah: They reject modern life, wear traditional dark clothing, follow a strict diet, marry young and speak Yiddish.

    — Homes are undecorated, without most modern conveniences, men are authority figures. Women are concealed in black robes.

    — After his U.S. prison term, Helbrans was deported to Israel in 1996. Weeks later, he was in Quebec claiming his life was in danger. He won refugee status in 2003.


    “Child welfare law applies — whether you are a Jew, a Catholic, a Muslim or a snake charmer ... If you’re (suspected of) violating the basic tenets of child protection, then the state has to step in whatever your religion.”
    - Marvin Kurz, general counsel, B’Nai Brith Canada

    “My clients say religious intolerance drives the investigation ... they are saying that the actions of the Quebec children’s aid society were motivated by an intolerance to their religious belief.”
    - Windsor, Ont., lawyer Chris Knowles, representing Lev Tahor

    WE ASKED: Is Lev Tahor’s quick exit from Quebec linked to that province’s drive for a secular state, including its proposed Charter of Values that would ban public workers from wearing religious symbols?

    “Certainly, here it’s believed that it’s closely related. On the other hand. it’s one of those cases where it’s brought some people to support the charter,” because of allegations — not proven in court — surrounding the treatment of children. “That’s sort of the way the issue is being seen here -- these are crazy people who use their religion to bully their children.”
    - Desmond Morton, historian, McGill University, Montreal

    It’s not clear where the truth lies about the child-protection issues versus freedom of religion in this case, but Quebec’s proposed charter is sending a message. “Regular people that feel that religion has a particular role they want it to play in their lives, and that manifests itself in some physical way, are being communicated a particular message which is, ‘We don’t want that here.’”
    - Cara Zwibel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association


  100. Lev Tahor mother pleads to be left alone from officials

    By Tim Alamenciak, Our Windsor February 2, 2014

    A mother in the Lev Tahor community who is the subject of a child protection proceeding sent a letter to media outlets Friday afternoon decrying the actions of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services and calling out for help.

    The letter also includes hundreds of pages of court documents filed in her case. The woman had two of her children temporarily removed after social workers discovered what they said was a bruise on the face of a child. She maintains it was permanent marker.

    The children, a boy and a girl both under five years old, were kept in a foster home for five days and returned. The matter was briefly heard Friday where it was adjourned until April.

    “I must cry out to just any one, please call the society and look for some human feeling at the society’s office and ask them please gave up the improper visits and withdraw your unjustified case against any innocent parents including Jewish devoted one,” reads the letter.

    The Child and Family Services Act prevents the Star from identifying either the parents or the children. The letter was written without the consent or knowledge of the woman’s lawyer, Chris Knowles.

    “I can tell you I had nothing to do with that. It’s unusual,” he said.

    Quebec authorities have documented what they say is evidence of neglect, psychological abuse, poor dental and physical health among members of the community. An Ontario court will rule Monday on whether to enforce a Quebec order for the removal of 14 children.

    Toronto Star


  101. A struggle to adapt to life outside the Lev Tahor sect


    Yona and Yakov are former members of the ultra-Orthodox community Lev Tahor. Formerly based in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, most members of the community fled last November ahead of a Youth Court hearing in St-Jérôme. In their absence, a judge ordered 14 children be removed from the sect and placed with foster families for a period a 30 days. On Monday, an Ontario judge upheld the original Quebec judgment, but gave the families 30 days to appeal the judgment. If the children are permanently removed from the sect, they will face a struggle adapting to life outside the community. Yona and Yakov spoke to The Gazette about their struggles to adapt to life outside the Lev Tahor sect. Their names have been changed for their protection.

    MONTREAL — It’s hard for most people to relate to Yona.

    But then again, it’s difficult for her to relate to most people.

    The young mother of two was born into the extreme ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, Lev Tahor. She married Yakov when she was 15, and Yakov was in his 20s.

    Until she left two years ago, she barely spoke a language other than Yiddish, and lived in a strictly structured environment where her daily routine was dictated, her every action scrutinized, even by members of her own family who would report to the sect’s authorities when she didn’t do as told.

    Though she never knew there was a possibility for another life, Yona said she was always unhappy under the strict rules of Lev Tahor. When she was growing up, she was known in the community as one of the rebellious young girls, always getting into trouble for acting out. She said she finally realized there was a possibility to escape the community when she got married and realized Yakov also wasn’t happy and was thinking of leaving.

    The oldest of 13 children, Yona has been cut off from her family since leaving the sect.

    In the years since she left, she has given birth to two children, and her mother, who is 37, also gave birth to two children. She only learned about the birth of her siblings through others, and never received congratulations from her parents after her second child was born.

    “Through my sisters, my mother told me I’m not considered a daughter or a sister anymore,” she said in Yiddish through her husband, Yakov, who acted as a translator.

    “(Losing contact with my mother) doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I feel my mother was never my real mother. I never really felt a connection. The whole way she brought me up was with extreme force.

    “I’m upset at how they treat me, and I want my siblings back. I would like youth protection to take my siblings back. I really miss them, and if they do take them away, I want to at least meet (my youngest siblings).”

    Yakov was born in Europe (The Gazette is not naming his country of birth to protect his identity). He moved to Monsey, N.Y., and was originally a member of another ultra-Orthodox sect. He wasn’t happy with what he considered to be that community’s lack of modesty among women, and liberal interpretation of dietary rules. When he heard about Lev Tahor, he was intrigued. He travelled to Ste-Agathe-des-Monts to visit the community and decided to join.

    But soon after he joining, Yakov became distraught by the extreme control exerted by the community’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans.

    With the help of family abroad, the couple fled the sect and moved to Europe for eight months, where their first son was born. They spent another eight months in Monsey, where there is one of the world’s largest ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities before settling in Montreal late last year.

    Although they escaped Helbrans’s clutches, Yona and Yakov feel like they’ll always be part of Lev Tahor, which means pure heart.

    “It’s like we never left,” Yakov said. “We’re still under their power.”

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  102. For nearly two years after leaving, Yona continued to wear the prescribed religious garb that is unique to women in the sect: a long black robe and a head scarf. That garb, and the sect’s anti-Zionist stance, has earned it the nickname in Israel of “Jewish Taliban.”

    Yona knew her way of dressing was different, but she couldn’t bring herself to dress any differently.

    “It would be like asking someone to walk around in their underwear all the time. I just wasn’t comfortable,” she said.

    She also worried that if she changed her dress, word would get back to her family, who was still living in the sect. Before they left, both Yakov and Yona were warned by Helbrans that if they were no longer part of the community, they would “fall down.”

    “We also want to disprove the rabbi,” Yakov added. “The only way not to fall is to continue living the same way.”

    After leaving the sect Yona said she was severely criticized for maintaining the Lev Tahor style of dress.

    “She would get bad comments from the Jews about her ‘Taliban’ clothing,” Yakov said of the couple’s experience in Europe. “On the street, every single day, people would scream at us because she was dressed like that.”

    He explained that many ultra-Orthodox Jews have strong beliefs about how women should dress.

    “It was to the point that people would stop their cars on busy thoroughfares, roll down their windows, use their telephones to take pictures of me and yell something nasty, and then drive away,” she said. “This was every day.”

    The reception was similar in Monsey.

    “I thought Monsey would be an open-minded place,” Yakov said. “They have everything from modern orthodox to the other end of the spectrum. Of course not everyone would be yelling, but enough people had the audacity to do so.”

    In Montreal, where they now live, no one has screamed at Yona about her clothing, but many people approached her to ask why she was dressed in that manner.

    “They’re not exactly accepting (in Montreal) either,” Yakov said. Yona decided to change her clothing when she realized it would be impossible to live in Montreal ultra-Orthodox community if she didn’t.

    Yona now wears a head scarf and a long dress, which is more typical of how women in Montreal’s Satmar community dress.

    Though he doesn’t get as much backlash, Yakov hasn’t shed what he calls his Lev Tahor uniform: a large kippa (skullcap), longer sideburns than other ultra-Orthodox members, a longer coat, and a wider-brim black hat.

    Yakov also still follows the teachings of Lev Tahor — which is based on Jewish mysticism, known as Kabbalah.

    Lev Tahor even has its own way of praying, slow and boisterously loud. The community prays and meditates for eight and a half hours a day.

    Yakov explained that much of the allure of Lev Tahor, which continues to attract new recruits from within the ultra-Orthodox community, is the sect’s obsession with the concept of spiritual purity as defined by Kabbalah. All the teachings of the sect’s leader are based on this concept. That’s also the reason the community has strict rules about the way women and men dress, why the community insists children be home-schooled, and why Helbrans insists community members only speak Yiddish among themselves.

    continued below

  103. The community also imposes strict separation between men and women, and stringent dietary laws, which are more strict than most ultra-Orthodox communities. For example, Helbrans doesn’t believe that milk from stores is Kosher, so a community member travelled to another ultra-Orthodox community, where there was a goat farm. He would buy the milk unpasteurized and then sell it to Lev Tahor community members.

    “I don’t believe, for the most part, that anyone in Lev Tahor does anything intentionally to make it a cult,” Yakov said. “It’s happening as a side effect of wanting so much to reach (spiritual purity).”

    Yakov said he still believes in the same concepts. While he doesn’t still follow the dietary restrictions or the same rigid prayer structure, which usually began at 6 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m., it’s only because he has to work and manage family life.

    “Everything I learned there, I have kept, and I still believe probably 99 per cent of the teachings,” he said. “I didn’t change my opinion on the extremism of Lev Tahor. It’s only a question of the way they pull it off: forcing people. I should still do the meditations. I miss them. In Lev Tahor, you have the time and the space to do the meditations.

    “But the reason I joined Lev Tahor, not being satisfied with the level of observance of ultra-Orthodox Jews, still bothers me.

    “I’m also still staunchly anti-Zionist, (against the foundation of the state of Israel). On Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath), I still sing the songs the Rabbi composed. The Rabbi changed my name, and I still go by that name.”

    While the couple has had difficulty being accepted, they are extremely grateful for the help they have received from local community members. The family receives food donations from a local store, and another family cooks for them once a week.

    “They’re extremely helpful,” Yakov said. “They really have a sense of community and are willing to help. The amount of help people are offering is almost suffocating.”

    And they gladly accept it.

    Yona has had difficulty adapting to everyday things like going to the store or taking the bus, and Yakov, who grew up as a secular Jew, has had to help her.

    Although Yona’s English has improved, and she can now carry on a conversation, she’s still extremely shy. She spoke in Yiddish throughout the interview with The Gazette.

    Yona’s shyness, however, has become much less pronounced. When she first left the community, she couldn’t stand to be in the same room with any man other than her husband.

    Gradually, she has become more accustomed to life in a bustling city.

    She is now used to taking the bus and going to the doctor’s office on her own.

    With the freedom of no longer being part of Lev Tahor has come the difficulty of adjusting to the notion of personal responsibility.

    Yakov said he has noticed that members of the community who have left have trouble budgeting time and taking care of their families.

    “Most people look at all the things they have to do in a day and start doing it,” Yakov said. Former Lev Tahor members don’t have that ability. “I didn’t realize this, but this is a common thing for people who leave cults, or who escape totalitarian regimes.”

    Yakov said he believes the couple will never really fit in, no matter where they live.

    “Two years out of Lev Tahor, one hand is plenty to count our friends,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult to connect with anyone.”


  104. Children to be removed from Lev Tahor community: Judge

    Children to be removed from ultra-Orthodox Jewish community


    MONTREAL — An Ontario judge has decided to uphold a ruling removing 14 children from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Lev Tahor.
    The order means the children must be removed from the sect and placed into the custody of foster families in Quebec.

    The ruling at the Chatham-Kent Courthouse upholds a Nov. 27 ruling in St-Jérôme by Youth Court Judge Pierre Hamel, who ordered the children be placed in temporary homes for a period of 30 days.

    On Monday, Ontario Judge Stephen Fuerth ruled the Quebec Court had jurisdiction in this case, and said not to uphold the decision would "create jurisdictional chaos."

    The children were ordered back to Montreal where foster families have already been identified. Fuerth exempted the oldest of the 14 children, a 17-year-old mother of an infant from the judgment.

    However, the ruling won't take effect for 30 days, so the families can have a chance to appeal the judgment, Fuerth ruled.

    Ahead of the Nov. 27 court date, about 200 members of the 240-person community fled Ste-Agathe-des-Monts for Chatham-Kent. The case has been tied up in Ontario youth court since that time.

    The Quebec hearing, which was carried out in the absence of Lev Tahor members, had heard from a witness, a former member of the sect, who said children were hit in the sect's schoolhouse with wire hangers. The witness also described how children were routinely taken away from their parents and placed with other families as a form of punishment.

    Social workers from Quebec's Youth Protection Department had also described how one of the children targeted to be removed was married at age 14, two years younger than the minimum legal age in Canada. Social workers also noted fungus on the feet of most of the girls, ostensibly caused from adhering to strictly modesty rules that they always wear socks, stockings and shoes.

    Known as the Jewish Taliban, because of the full-body cloaks warn by women and the sect's anti-Zionist ideals, Lev Tahor has been widely criticized as an extremist cult in Israel. Most of the community's members are either born in Israel or Monsey, N.Y. The sect relocated to Ste-Agathe in 2004 after Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans was granted refugee status in Canada. He claimed he would be persecuted in Israel if he returned there.

    Francine Campeau, a spokesperson for Quebec's Youth Protection Department, said she was pleased with the ruling.

    "We're happy the judgment was recognized, but we continue to be concerned for the children while they remain with their families," Campeau said.

    A spokesperson for Montreal's Jewish community said back in November that several families came forward to act as foster homes for the children. The families are from ultra-Orthodox communities in and around Montreal, and they speak Yiddish, which is essential since Yiddish is the predominant language used in Lev Tahor.

    "We welcome the ruling itself," said David Ouellette, the public affairs director at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the community is anxious to help. "This is the course of justice. They have the right to appeal. That can't be denied to them."


  105. Star seeks unsealing of Lev Tahor warrant

    The Toronto Star, along with several other media outlets, has applied to a Quebec court to unseal information used to obtain a search warrant and the warrant itself.

    By: Tim Alamenciak, Toronto Star News reporter, February 04, 2014

    The Toronto Star, along with several other media organizations, applied to unseal search warrants and information used to obtain them in connection with a January search of homes that belong to members of the ultra-orthodox Lev Tahor community.

    Homes in Chatham, Ont., and Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., were searched in January by Quebec police. In Chatham, floorboards were removed as police spent hours searching the homes. Authorities in Quebec and Chatham have refused to disclose any information about the search warrants as they are under a sealing order. The Star and others are fighting that order in the public interest.

    “The Supreme Court has decided time and time again that these proceedings are presumed to be public,” said Sébastien Pierre-Roy, a lawyer with the Quebec-based Chenette Litigation Boutique Inc. and lead counsel representing the group of media outlets.

    The application notes that the media outlets provide “coast-to-coast reporting on matters of public interest” and notes the broad coverage of the Lev Tahor community. It says the onus is on the court to justify the order, not on the media to justify its right to access the information.

    “Such proceedings are presumed to be public unless strong evidence is entered into the record to convince a judge that there’s a necessity to keep it sealed from public view,” said Pierre-Roy.

    About 200 members of the controversial sect fled Quebec for Chatham ahead of a child protection order calling for the removal of 14 children. An Ontario court judge upheld that order this week, with a 30-day grace period for appeal. One child, who is 17 and also a mother, will not be subject to the Ontario order.

    Quebec child protection authorities have documented what they say is evidence of abuse, neglect and a sub-standard education regime within the community.
    The province’s child protection authority had concerns about underage marriages and feared a mass suicide among the group.

    A sect leader, Nachman Helbrans, suggested that the raids may have been an attempt to find evidence of illegal child marriages.

    “The timing may be connected to our advice to the (Children’s Aid Society) that after six months of humiliating investigation of the innocent mothers, boys and girls, it is time to draw (a) conclusion rather than paralyzing the innocent families,” he told the Star earlier.

    The application calls on the Quebec court, which issued the warrant, to make the information that led to the search warrant public. It also requests a list of seized property.

    The motion, which could take months to address, will first be heard in Quebec court Feb. 7.


  106. Foster parent of ex-Lev Tahor kids speaks out

    Janice Arnold, Canadian Jewish News Staff Reporter February 24, 2014

    MONTREAL — When Eluzor and Vita Moscowicz welcomed five young foster children into their home about six months ago, they were shocked by their appearance and demeanour.

    The kids, ranging from infancy to seven years old, had been entrusted to them by Quebec’s youth protection officials after they were removed from the controversial Lev Tahor chassidic sect, then based in Ste-Agathe des Monts, Que.

    Eluzor Moscowicz said the children were not clean and wore shoes that were so ill-fitting that they were not walking normally.

    Even the toddler girls were attired from head to toe in the black chador-like cloaks and kerchiefs that all female members of the sect are required to wear.

    Disturbing as well was their suspicion and timidity, even about taking a shower or using soap that might have a scent, and the boys’ fear that their heads would be shaved with a straight razor, as was the custom each Friday among the Lev Tahor.

    Moscowicz was struck by the children’s habit of talking against one another, behaviour that he persuaded them was not right, reassuring them they were all now loved and safe.

    His wife sent written testimony about the children to a Knesset committee, which has been hearing from Israeli relatives of Lev Tahor members who are worried about what is going on within the group.

    Allegations against it include forced underage marriage, failure to provide adequate education and inappropriate discipline of children using force

    Moscowicz said in an interview that the foster children’s father ran afoul of Lev Tahor chief leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, when his unhappiness with the sect became apparent. He made plans to leave and bring his family with him.

    Rabbi Helbrans had already split up the family, placing the children among other families in the community because he felt they were not being brought up according to his notions of proper Jewish practice.

    Moscowicz said the authorities got involved after Lev Tahor leaders called in the police, claiming the father was acting violently, including abusing his kids.

    The father lodged a complaint with youth protection that his kids were not being adequately cared for by the Lev Tahor families they were with.

    Moscowicz, a marriage counsellor and social worker, came into the picture when a rabbinical council serving Outremont-area chassidic communities asked him to interview the couple to see if their troubled marriage was salvageable.

    Today, the five children live in the Moscowiczs’ comfortable house in Mile End, in the heart of a chassidic neighbourhood. The couple have six children of their own, with five still living at home. Their eldest teenaged daughters have been a great help.

    How long they will be in foster care has not been determined, Moscowicz said.

    Three of the children were seen by a visitor one day. They appeared healthy and happy, flourishing under the care of this gentle couple who clearly love children. One laughing toddler repeatedly came in to show her foster father a new bow in her hair.

    Their father, who no longer belongs to Lev Tahor, lives in Montreal and visits his children almost daily, Moscowicz said. Their mother remains with Lev Tahor, which last November resettled in Chatham, Ont.

    She has had health problems, Moscowicz said, and has little contact with the children.

    Moscowicz’s claims that the children were not cared for well within Lev Tahor were refuted by the group’s spokesperson, Uriel Goldman.

    Goldman told The CJN that Moscowicz is making assumptions based on hearsay.

    “He never was in Lev Tahor, ever. He never came to meet with us,” Goldman said.

    continued below

  107. Moscowicz is the descendant of a rabbinical dynasty of one of the smaller chassidic groups, and identifies today most closely with the Satmar and Belz communities. He wears the traditional earlocks and short pants. He was born and grew up in Montreal, and left for Israel where he married and lived for around 15 years before returning to Montreal about five years ago.

    When the rabbinical court approached him last year he said, he knew little about Lev Tahor. “I heard people talking about them. It was very scary. But it was not my business, what could I do?” He was reluctant at first when the rabbis asked him to speak to the couple, whom he met separately.

    Since fostering the children, Moscowicz has been contacted by former Lev Tahor members who have told him about life on the inside. He never visited their former Ste-Agathe enclave himself.

    Moscowicz said he personally has met three women who were forced to marry while underage, and has heard reliable information about others.

    Goldman denied that members are cowed by their leader. Goldman, who has been with Lev Tahor for more than 20 years, said he comes from a prominent Israeli family – his father was a surgeon – and served in the Israel Defence Forces.

    “These are ridiculous allegations. Rabbi Helbrans is a straight guy. He says exactly what he thinks. You can ask him anything directly… about why you are doing this… Every single point is discussed.

    “But we believe that if you practise Judaism, it has to be the right way. This is very reasonable.”

    As for the order by a Quebec court in November, upheld on Feb. 3 by an Ontario court, that 14 children from two Lev Tahor families should be placed in temporary foster care because of gross neglect, Goldman responded that the community was under investigation for two years and received “hundreds” of visits by police and child-welfare workers and “they found nothing… We were not charged with anything.

    “It is very difficult to hide such a thing [abuse]. If small children are questioned a lot by a social worker, if there is a trauma like that, they will talk.”

    It would be “impossible,” in any case, he added, because abuse is “against the Torah.”

    He said Lev Tahor wants to go to court and be cross-examined on these allegations. “Take us to court. Let’s see if it’s true or not.”

    Moscowicz said Lev Tahor believes, as is prescribed in the Zohar, that if at least one community of Jews in the world adheres “100 per cent” to Judaism then the Mashiach will come.

    “For sure, the way they are acting is against the Torah, against everything it means for normal living,” said Moscowicz. “But [Rabbi] Helbrans mixes in a lot of Judaism, and they pray so well and long, but it is all forced. By us, no one is forced to pray.”

    Moscowicz is worried about the 18-minute video Rabbi Helbrans released on Feb. 14, in which he accuses child-welfare workers, the courts and other authorities of persecuting Lev Tahor, going so far as to charge that they are the victims of attempted “genocide.”

    Moscowicz has not seen the video, only heard about it, but said, “We have to answer that video. We are not fighting with Quebec, and Quebec is not fighting with us. Youth protection is not against Lev Tahor. They are trying to help the children, and we have to be thankful.”

    Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Quebec vice-president Luciano Del Negro said he is satisfied that the Quebec youth protection department has acted with thoroughness and sensitivity in dealing with Lev Tahor.

    “Youth protection has acted in a responsible manner. It didn’t rush in… It did due diligence and ensured that any action taken was evidence-based,” he said. “And not one, but two judges has found the evidence compelling…

    “A great deal of thought and care went into determining how to act in the best interests of the children and meet their specific needs.”


  108. Documentary casts doubt on refugee claim by Lev Tahor leader

    By Tim Alamenciak News reporter, Toronto Star‎ February 28 2014

    The decision to grant refugee status to Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, leader of the controversial ultraorthodox Lev Tahor sect, was based in part on testimony paid for by the sect, a boy involved at the hearing told the CBC’s the fifth estate.

    Shai Fima, the boy who was at the centre of Helbrans’ 1996 kidnapping conviction, told the CBC that he was paid $5,000 in 2003 to appear on videotape, denying that he was kidnapped and saying the leader was being unfairly persecuted.

    That video was part of Helbrans’ successful refugee application that claimed he was being targeted in Israel for his anti-Zionist beliefs. Now Fima, who did not want to appear on camera, says it was a lie and that he was indeed kidnapped, according to the program.

    Sect spokesman Uriel Goldman also testified at the Immigration and Refugee Board hearing, saying that when he served in the Israeli Defence Forces, he was ordered to infiltrate the sect, according to the documentary.

    The IDF told the fifth estate that they had no record of Goldman.

    The Star did not independently talk to Goldman or Fima.

    Former refugee board commissioner Gilles Ethier remembers Goldman’s testimony as being an important factor in the decision to grant Helbrans refugee status.

    “That was an important element as I recall because it illustrates the fact that the state or the government was giving some importance to this gentleman,” Ethier told the show.

    Helbrans and Goldman deny all of the allegations in the program.

    “I understand there’s no record, but I don’t want, whatever, but say no record, it’s most . . . for you as a journalist, it’s like someone saying ‘no comment,’ ” Goldman tells CBC’s Gillian Findlay. “I understand why they say that. This was not a normal operation.”

    Goldman said they paid for Fima’s travel but denies giving any additional money to him.

    Members of the sect have been under investigation by Quebec police and child protection authorities in Quebec and Ontario for years. An order issued in Quebec in November called for the removal of 14 children from the sect. Prior to the order, the group fled their home in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts and resettled in Chatham, Ont., where a judge upheld the Quebec decision. An appeal of that judgment is scheduled to be heard in Chatham on March 5.

    In 1996, Helbrans was convicted of kidnapping while the group was living in New York. He was sentenced to six years in prison and served two. Fima was the boy he was convicted of kidnapping. Thirteen years old at the time, Fima was brought to the rabbi by his mother who was seeking to prepare him for his bar mitzvah, according to the documentary. He disappeared for two years. The sect, and Fima himself, said he ran away of his own volition, but a court found otherwise.

    The documentary details other allegations that have been previously reported by the Star, including underage marriage, the use of physical discipline and forced medication. Quebec social workers have detailed the same accusations in court.

    “To say that no child never receives a . . . slap of his hand, never and ever, is false. What I can declare very strongly is that physical punishment of children in our community is a lot less than western society,” Helbrans told Findlay.

    He called allegations of abuse by former sect members “lies.” He tells her the pills former sect members witnessed others taking are simply vitamins, and that the sect never allows illegal marriages of girls under 16, but that he has performed ceremonies for three couples who were married in Missouri, where the law allows girls as young as 15 to wed.

    The fifth estate’s documentary is scheduled to air Friday at 9 p.m.


  109. Members of Jewish sect Lev Tahor detained in Trinidad

    By Tim Alamenciak, Toronto Star News reporter, Sahar Fatima Staff Reporter, March 05 2014

    CHATHAM-KENT, ONT. — Several members of the controversial ultraorthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor have been detained in Trinidad and Tobago.

    A man in Trinidad who identified himself to the Star as a senior official in the immigration division said three adult members of the sect arrived with six children around 5 a.m. on Wednesday. The official did not want his name used.

    He said they came from Toronto and were en route to Mexico.

    “Usually if you are coming in to the country you must have a ticket saying you are going on to another part. Because they did not have that, immigration refused them entry,” said the Trinidad official.

    He said the group refused to go back to Toronto and was subsequently detained. He said the group hired a lawyer to try and get passage to Guatemala.

    “I think they ended up in Trinidad by mistake because they missed their flight to Mexico,” said the official. He said the detention was not related to the ongoing court case, but rather because they did not have their connecting tickets already.

    “It was just by coincidence that they were detained because I don't think immigration here was aware of what was going on in Canada,” he said.

    News of the detention came on the day an appeal was scheduled to be heard into an order for the removal of 13 children over allegations of physical abuse and a substandard education regime within the sect.

    Judge Lynda Templeton made an order excluding the media from the courtroom while an emergency motion was discussed.

    “I was of the opinion that the presence of the media would cause harm to a child who is the subject of the proceeding. I am not at liberty to disclose the nature of that harm because that forms part of the evidence,” said Templeton.

    Julie Lee, the lawyer representing the sect families, refused to comment outside court saying the case was a child protection matter.

    At least one adult detained in Trinidad is involved in the Chatham court case.

    Those subject to the order were under strict conditions not to leave the region of Chatham-Kent.

    No members of the sect were in court Wednesday. The appeal will be heard at a later date.

    Sect spokesman Uriel Goldman, reached by phone, would not discuss the departure of sect members but offered no denial.

    “I do not want to respond to that,” he said when asked about the report of nine Lev Tahor members in Trinidad. He said the same thing when asked where the 13 children subject to the order are located.

    He reiterated the sect's position that the group is being unfairly targeted by the government and children's services.

    “We are a target until, God forbid, the end,” said Goldman. “We feel very attacked by the whole thing.”

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  110. Members of the sect have been under investigation by Quebec police and child protection authorities for years. Child protection authorities have documented what they say is evidence of physical abuse, poor mental and physical health and a substandard education regime. The sect has categorically denied all allegations of abuse.

    The sect fled their home in Ste-Agathes-des-Monts, Quebec for Chatham in advance of an order calling for the removal of 14 children. The children were slated to be placed in foster care for 30 days.

    An Ontario judge upheld the Quebec decision, ordering the removal of 13 children because one of them was 17 and thus not a child under Ontario law.

    The decision was appealed by the group and a stay was placed on it until the resolution of that appeal.

    The sect's time in Chatham has been fraught with brushes with the law and child protection authorities. In January, Quebec police in co-operation with local authorities raided two Lev Tahor homes searching for evidence in relation to a criminal investigation. Homes in Quebec were also searched.

    Documents related to the search warrant application contain allegations of sexual abuse, confinement, and beatings with crowbars, whips, belts and a coat hanger. The allegations have not been proven in court. The group denies the allegations, which it says are part of a smear campaign.

    The heavily-censored documents black out the specific charges being investigated as well as the items retrieved in the search. The Star and other media outlets are currently appealing the decision to keep the information secret.


  111. Members of Lev Tahor, Quebec Jewish sect, flee to Trinidad

    Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect members fail to appear in court to appeal seizure of 13 children

    CBC News March 05, 2014

    Some members of Lev Tahor, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect from Quebec that fled to a town near Windsor, Ont., last November, have once again apparently flown the coop — this time to Trinidad and Tobago.

    Members of Lev Tahor arrived at Piarco International Airport Monday and have refused to leave, an immigration officer at the airport told CBC News.

    According to media reports in Trinidad and Tobago, the Lev Tahor members were in transit to Guatemala, but immigration authorities in Trinidad and Tobago prevented them from continuing to Central America after they allegedly found some inconsistencies in their responses.

    The members are not being detained as fugitives.

    A spokeswoman with Trinidad and Tobago's Ministry of National Security said the group was offered hotel accommodations, but the sect members refused.

    Journalists in Trinidad and Tobago are reporting that the Lev Tahor community has asked to be sent to the French Caribbean islands of Martinique or Guadeloupe instead.

    A decision is expected this evening.

    Emergency motion

    The flight south comes as two families were scheduled to appear in a Chatham-Kent, Ont., court today to learn the result of their appeal of an earlier court judgment that demanded the children be returned to Quebec and placed in foster care.

    Stephen Doig of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services said his agency has alerted sister agencies with offices along the Canada-U.S. border after the families in southern Ontario could not be found at their homes.

    It's not yet known if the families involved in the court case are the same members who fled the country to Trinidad and Tobago.

    A lawyer for the agency on Wednesday afternoon brought an emergency motion in the case of the removal of some children from the sect.

    The motion resulted in a closed court hearing, where the Ontario judge ordered that the children be apprehended immediately and placed in foster care in Ontario, subject to the appeal.

    Last month, an Ontario judge upheld a Quebec ruling ordering 13 children in the Lev Tahor sect to be surrendered to child welfare authorities. After being denied an appeal by a Quebec court, the group issued a request for appeal to an Ontario court.

    This came after the Quebec and Ontario provincial police forces raided the Lev Tahor homes in Chatham.

    Quebec’s Youth Protection Services alleged in court that children living in the sect were medicated with melatonin to control their behaviour, couldn’t do basic math and were married off as young as 14.

    Much of the Lev Tahor community of about 200 people left their homes in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., in the middle of the night in November 2013, days after a child welfare agency started a court case against a couple of the families.


  112. Most of the Lev Tahor kids at centre of custody case have left Canada: police


    CHATHAM, Ont. - An Ontario judge has issued an emergency order that 14 children from an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect at the centre of a custody case be placed in the care of children's aid, but police said Thursday most of the children have left the country.

    Two families whose children were ordered removed from their custody left Canada for Guatemala this week, but some of the travellers were detained in Trinidad and Tobago during a stopover, according to a Lev Tahor member's email to supporters, which was obtained by The Canadian Press.

    Immigration authorities in Trinidad met Wednesday with Canadian Embassy officials to inform them of the ongoing developments regarding Lev Tahor and "to advise with the consultation of the Canadian authorities on the way forward," said Marcia Hope, a spokeswoman for that country's Ministry of National Security.

    Hope could not say whether Canadian police are involved in the discussions and as of late Thursday morning authorities in Trinidad had not received "evidential proof" the Lev Tahor members were the subject of a Canadian court order, she said.

    A judge in Chatham, Ont., has ordered that 14 Lev Tahor children be placed in the temporary care of Chatham-Kent Children's Services. The order, which was released Thursday, says the agency can ask for assistance from local and provincial police, Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP and Peel Regional police, whose jurisdiction includes the Toronto Pearson International Airport.

    Chatham-Kent police said Thursday afternoon that 12 of the 14 children named in the emergency order have left the country. They said police and child services are trying to locate the remaining two children.

    Canadian authorities in Ottawa did not respond to repeated requests for information. However, Canada Border Services Agency has said it cannot detain anyone without a search warrant.

    One legal expert said any kind of extradition proceedings could only occur if someone faced criminal charges.

    Two local police officers and four children's aid workers went door to door Wednesday night in the community of homes in Chatham, hours after the court order was made.

    A community spokesman confirmed police were looking for the children at the centre of the court case. A Canadian Press reporter, who was at the Lev Tahor complex when authorities arrived, could hear the officers ask parents to see their children and to produce identification.

    The police officers and child welfare workers stayed at the complex for about 90 minutes and left around 10 p.m. without apprehending anyone.

    A provincial police spokesman said they have not yet received a request for assistance from children's aid in Chatham.

    A Quebec court originally ordered late last year that 14 Lev Tahor children be placed in foster care after the community of about 200 people left their homes in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., in the middle of the night, days after a child welfare agency started a court case against a couple of the families.

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  113. The community settled in Chatham, Ont., where a judge found last month that their move from Quebec was made to avoid the custody proceeding there and he ordered that 13 Lev Tahor children be turned over to child protection authorities in Quebec.

    The judge didn't include one girl who is both under 18 and a mother of an infant in his order. He delayed enforcement of that order so the families could have a chance to appeal.

    That appeal was scheduled to be heard Wednesday in Chatham, but instead Chatham-Kent Children's Services brought an emergency motion that resulted in the order to place the kids in temporary care.

    The community member's email said that part of the group was going to Guatemala via Mexico and the other part was travelling via Trinidad.

    The email indicated that members of one family are American citizens and the others are Israeli citizens and both families were in Canada on work permits, so they dispute that they should be sent to Canada, instead they're pushing to be allowed to travel on to Guatemala.

    Hope said in a statement that the Lev Tahor members are not being detained in Trinidad, as they are free to return to Canada, however officials are holding onto their passports.

    They were stopped after immigration officials found "inconsistencies" in the group's statements, Hope said.

    The group has also hired a local lawyer, Farai Hove Masaisai, who said Thursday from Port-of-Spain he was still trying to get access to his clients, who he said were being kept in an undisclosed location near the airport.

    A court did direct authorities on Thursday to grant such access, likely later today, he said.

    Masaisai said he had no idea about the Canadian custody court order when informed by The Canadian Press about it, but called it "something very serious."

    Contrary to what Trinidadian authorities said Thursday, Masaisai said the nine sect members were in fact being detained.

    "They can't leave. They can't come and go as they please. They're being detained," Masaisai said.

    "Immigration has a lot of powers, so they could send them anywhere they choose."

    Masaisai said he hoped to be able to take translators to a meeting with his clients given that only one of them speaks a little English.

    The actual appeal of the Canadian court order is now scheduled to be heard April 4.

    The Lev Tahor, which means "pure heart,'' came to Canada in 2005 after their spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Elbarnes, was granted refugee status here.

    The community was under investigation for issues including hygiene, children's health and allegations that the children weren't learning according to the provincial curriculum.

    Testimony from social workers has highlighted concerns that the community is almost completely isolated from the outside world, the children are terrified of others who are not modestly dressed or "pure,'' and some girls are married as teenagers.

    The group has denied all allegations of mistreatment.

    — With files from Colin Perkel and Diana Mehta in Toronto


  114. Child protection officials to push for custody of Lev Tahor children


    MONTREAL — Quebec and Ontario's child protection services will ask for the removal of all 127 of the children from the Lev Tahor community, The Gazette has learned.

    The 250-member community moved en masse from Ste-Agathe-des-Monts last November ahead of youth court dates in Quebec. They relocated in Chatham-Kent, Ont., but 13 children were ordered to be placed in foster care in a Feb. 3 judgment that upheld a Nov. 27 ruling in Quebec. Youth protection officials have alleged neglect, child abuse and squalid living conditions. On Wednesday, when the appeal of the Ontario order was set to be heard, it was discovered that all 13 children had left the country.

    In an interview Thursday, Denis Baraby, the director of Quebec's Department of Youth Protection for the Laurentians region, said he's concerned the group is planning another exodus.

    "I think the community is preparing a mass move," Baraby said. "If we want to protect the children that are in the community, we need to start working on the exit of the 114 other children."

    On Wednesday morning, a group of nine members of the community were found at the Piarco International Airport in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. They had flown from Toronto, and were in the process of buying tickets for a flight to Guatemala, in Central America, when local authorities intercepted them. Among the nine, were six children ordered into foster care.

    They are staying in a hotel and have refused to return to Canada. Through a lawyer, they are working to negotiate passage to Guatemala.

    Another six children are already in Guatemala, while a 6-month-old baby is with her 17-year-old mother in New York, Baraby said.

    On Wednesday evening, Ontario's Superior Court issued an order that the children be apprehended and returned to Canada, where they will be placed in the custody of Chatham-Kent Children's Services.

    A spokesperson for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said the children will be placed in homes in Toronto while they go through court proceedings. The appeal that was to be held Wednesday has been rescheduled for next month.

    "This will be for a short time until the Quebec order (is evaluated by an Ontario judge)," said David Ouellette, director of public affairs for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. The centre has helped identify families in Montreal that could accommodate the children and their unique needs. They have strict dietary restrictions, and most speak only Yiddish.

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  115. As for the children who have fled, Canadian authorities are working with their counterparts in Guatemala and Trinidad for their return.

    Baraby said police and Crown prosecutors are preparing to lay criminal charges against the guardians of the children who took them out of the country.

    He said because they defied a court order issued from youth court, they could be charged with kidnapping.

    If that happens, an international treaty called The Hague Convention would make it fairly straightforward for the families to be returned, explained Howard Barza, a Montreal family lawyer. Both Guatemala and Trinidad respect the convention, which secures the prompt return of children wrongfully removed or retained.

    As for the other 114 children in the sect, Baraby said authorities need to act quickly.

    "We don't want them all to leave in the middle of the night to go to Guatemala," he said. "It will be a bit late to act at that point.

    "We want a regular surveillance of the community, but my colleagues in Ontario will have to take certain measures in order to give more powers to police to prevent people from leaving."

    If all the children are ordered by a judge to be removed from the community, Ouellette said there is a plan to welcome them all.

    "There is a contingency plan, because this isn't the first time this possibility has been raised. But I can't discuss that contingency. Obviously, it would no longer involve families."

    He said the children would be placed somewhere in the Laurentians.


  116. Once removed, caring for children of Lev Tahor will be no easy task


    Members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor fled the country this week with 13 children, days before they were to have appealed a judgment ordering them into foster care.

    The children, ranging in age from six months to 15 years, were to have appeared in court Wednesday in Chatham-Kent, Ont., to appeal a Feb. 3 order validating a Nov. 27 Quebec court ruling that the children be removed from the community and placed in foster care. That ruling was made after most members of the community had already left their Ste-Agathe-des-Monts homes for Chatham-Kent.

    This week, six of the children were found in Guatemala in Central America, another six turned up in Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean, while the baby is believed to be with her parents somewhere in New York state.

    The children remained out of the country on Friday, despite a court order for them to return to Canada to be placed in the custody of Child Welfare Services in Ontario.

    On Friday, the adults accompanying the children in Trinidad appealed that country’s decision to deny them entry.

    Although appeals may delay the process, the children will likely return to Canada in the coming days or weeks, where they have been ordered into foster homes in Ontario until the cancelled appeal can be heard next month. If the appeal of the Feb. 3 order stands, they’ll be sent back to Quebec, where foster families in and around Montreal have been identified.

    But caring for the children will be no easy task, said Mendy Marcus, a product of the foster care system.

    Marcus, 20, grew up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish home as the youngest boy in a family of 12 children. At age 9, he and his siblings were removed from their home in Boisbriand, north of Montreal, because their father was physically abusive. Even though he was no longer in his care, his religious father continued to exert control over his life, including his schooling and the foster families he was placed with. Youth protection officials granted his father’s request that Mendy, then 11, and his older brother be sent from Montreal to live with the Lev Tahor community in the home of one of its leaders, Uriel Goldman in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts.

    His brother remains with the community today, is married and has a son. Marcus said he feels for all the children in the community, and would like child protection services to remove them all, including his nephew. Quebec’s Department of Youth Protection has said it is working with its Ontario counterparts to remove all 127 children from Lev Tahor.

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  117. Marcus said the road ahead for the 13 children ordered to live with foster families will be a difficult one.

    “They’re all under the impression that if they are placed in foster care, it’s like they’re put in a house with Nazis,” he said. “All other Jewish communities aren’t doing it right. According to the (Lev Tahor) community, everyone else is going to hell.”

    He said as long as the children remain in contact with their families and the Lev Tahor sect, they won’t be able to adjust to a normal life.

    Mike Kropveld, the executive director of Info-cult, a non-profit charitable organization, agreed it will be emotionally difficult for the children to leave the community.

    “They have probably grown up with fear of those on the outside,” he said. “Since they are the ones that are the exclusive holders of truth, those on the outside will be perceived as enemies set out to destroy their spiritual life.”

    Members born in the community often have very rudimentary knowledge of any language that’s not Yiddish. One former member who spoke to The Gazette on condition of anonymity said she had trouble with basic tasks like going to the store, taking the bus, or even being in the same room as a man who was not her husband, as the community has strict rules separating men and women.

    Another former member living in Montreal successfully got his five children ordered out of the community by a youth court last year. They have been living with a foster family. The father has yet to gain custody of his children.

    Kropveld said if the children are removed, the ideal scenario is for them to be reunited with their parents if the situation improves. In that case, youth protection officials will have to closely follow what happens with the community.

    “If the group stays the way it is, it is less likely the children will be returned (if the parents remain part of the community), but a group can change,” he said. “If parents leave the group, what kind of state will they be in, and what kind of help will they need? If they have been in the group their whole life and have no education, no language or budgetary skills, what are they going to do?”

    Marcus is afraid the children will struggle to find stability in foster care. In his case, he lived with a different foster family or group home almost every year.


  118. Religion is so divisive *sigh*. To me, this "isolationist" mentality is a type of shunning, in this case everyone not of the Lev Tahor faith is shunned. I know much about shunning, since I am being shunned in my family's religion, namely, the Jehovah's Witnesses. Of course the family view themselves as belonging to a "moderate" religion no matter how extreme. Even Muslims who circumcise their girls figure they are "moderate." I would like for ALL the children to live normally and safely, including Lev Tahor children. I send love and light.

    1. You are right about shunning, Phoenix. Shunning is a common tactic in many religious groups. On this blog I have used the label ``shunning`` and although I have not labelled all articles here, among those I have labelled there are almost 100 articles that report some aspect of shunning. This type of spiritual abuse is found in a wide range of groups, usually the more fundamentalist and exclusive they are, the more shunning occurs, but pretty much all Judeo Christian groups use some form of shunning. That spiritual abuse is related to scriptures that say things like ``be not yoked with unbelievers`` and similar sentiments.

  119. AG: Lev Tahor members to return to Canada

    by Geisha Kowlessar, Trinidad Guardian March 7, 2014

    Attorney General Anand Ramlogan says nine members of the controversial Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor, who arrived at the Piarco International Airport on Monday, will be returned to Canada. In an interview with the T&T Guardian, Ramlogan said the T&T Government has been liaising with the relevant authorities in Canada and he was of the firm view that the welfare of the children was paramount in the matter. Saying the children were the subject of a child protection order in the provence of Quebec, Ramlogan added, “We are liaising with our counterparts to facilitate their swift return.”

    Meanwhile, spokesman for the group Lee Bolton, speaking to the T&T Guardian from Canada yesterday, said it was reported that around 5 pm yesterday, law enforcement agencies, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Preventional Police, Chatham Kent Police, Peel Regional Police and the Canadian Border Police, were expected to board a flight to Trinidad to escort the group back to Canada. She said the court gave the child protection service in Ontario the green light to return the children from Trinidad on Wednesday. “The child protection service in Ontario was granted an order to apprehend the children. The decision was made yesterday (Wednesday) but it was only revealed today (yesterday). It is set to happen tomorrow (today).”

    And amid allegations of physical beatings, sexual abuse, underage marriage and forced medication of the children of Lev Tahor, Bolton, a Canadian human rights activist, made a final appeal to the T&T Government not to deport the sect members. The nine—three adult members of the sect and six children— were detained at Piarco by immigration officers. One official said the sect members were en route to Mexico and had refused to go back to Toronto. They also tried to get passage to Guatemala. Bolton said she understood their passports had been seized.

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  120. Lev Tahor persecuted, says ally

    Bolton knocked the child protection system in Ontario, describing it as very intrusive and abusive to families and their children. Bolton, who is not Jewish and is not related to the Lev Tahor community, said, “Our child protection industry uses apprehension as a first option rather than try to keep the families together. It is my expert and educated opinion that the child protection industry in all of Canada is mainly about making money. “I have great concern if the children of the Lev Tahor should be sent back to Canada and the child protection agency is permitted to take these children into their care.” The Lev Tahor community relocated to Chatham, Ontario, from Quebec last November. Bolton said she and another advocates approached the community when they were having difficulty with the child protection workers. “It seemed right from the beginning that the Ontario and Quebec child protection agencies were on a mission to slander the Lev Tahor community by referring to them as ‘Taliban,’ ‘cult,’ and making several derogatory remarks and allegations concerning Rabbi Shlomo and other members of their community," Bolton said.

    She said she spent several months with the community and some of the children and got to know some members quite well by spending time in their homes, office and around their school.

    “I find the members of the Lev Tahor to be very kind and loving parents that only want what’s best for their children. The parents are not only affectionate with their own children, but help to look after other family members children when the need arises. “I personally have never witnessed or have any concerns of any type of abuse or neglect within this Lev Tahor community. As a matter of fact I wish every child in the world could experience some of the love, compassion, respect and care the children in the Lev Tahor Community are subjected to regularly,” Bolton said.

    She added, “As much as I would like to have the entire Lev Tahor community back together in Chatham-Kent, it is my hope that doesn’t happen while they are still under the threat of having children apprehended by the child protection agency here and in Quebec.”


  121. Lev Tahor children back in Canada

    By Tim Alamenciak, Toronto Star March 08, 2014

    A plane from Trinidad and Tobago carrying nine Lev Tahor members, some of whom are children subject to apprehension orders in Canada, landed at Pearson airport late Saturday.

    Peel police officers were scheduled to meet the plane at 10:30 p.m. When it landed, Chatham-Kent Children's Services apprehended 6 children.

    “It went well,” said Sgt. Dave Housdon of Peel's airport division. “The kids are off the plane and in the company of Chatham-Kent Children's Services.”

    The three adults were to be processed by border security, said Housdon.

    The sect members on the plane are in the control of Canadian authorities, the source said. The source said law enforcement agents are on the aircraft.

    The flight departed Trinidad and Tobago Saturday afternoon. Fiona Thivierge, a communications officer with Peel police said she did not know if any criminal charges were pending and directed inquiries about that to Chatham-Kent police, who are leading the investigation.

    Six children and three adults were stopped at the border in Trinidad and Tobago this week over a ticketing mishap when authorities discovered that the children were the subject of a court proceeding in Canada. Chatham-Kent police said Thursday that 12 children are known to be out of the country, and the whereabouts of the other two is unknown. Denis Baraby, director of the Quebec child protection agency that first investigated the sect, said some of the children are in Guatemala.

    In November, a Quebec court ordered the removal of 14 children from three families in the controversial ultraorthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor.

    Quebec child protection authorities and police have documented allegations of widespread abuse within the community. Police documents related to a search warrant executed in Chatham and Quebec contain allegations of physical abuse, including beatings with a coat hanger and underage marriage. The documents allege members of the sect confined children in the basement for punishment and say leader Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans exerts strict control over all members. The allegations have not been proven in court.

    Leaders of the sect have categorically denied all allegations of wrongdoing and abuse. They say they are being unfairly persecuted by the government and child protection workers.

    More than 200 members fled the province in advance of that order and resettled in Chatham, Ont., where they have since been mired in a months-long legal battle over jurisdiction.

    An Ontario judge ruled in February that the Quebec order still applied to the children, however he placed a stay on his order to allow the families time to appeal.
    He made an order that the children not leave the region of Chatham-Kent. He did not take their passports or require daily check-ins. Instead the only safeguard in place was the authorization of “announced and unannounced” visits from Chatham-Kent Children’s Services.

    News of the children leaving the country broke on the day the appeal was scheduled to be heard.

    Superior Court of Justice Judge Lynda Templeton held a secret hearing Wednesday that resulted in an order to apprehend the 14 children. She excluded the media and the public from the proceedings, so the rationale for her order and any evidence presented are not known.

    Lawyers for the Toronto Star and other media outlets will attempt to fight the secrecy order before the Ontario Court of Appeal next week.

    It is also not known where the children will be placed or for how long. A hearing for the original appeal is scheduled for April 4.


  122. Two Lev Tahor members apprehended in Calgary

    by CTVNews.ca Staff March 9, 2014

    Two more members of an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect that left Canada after an Ontario judge ordered the removal of 14 children were apprehended Sunday afternoon at the Calgary airport.

    Calgary Police confirm that officers assisted officials with Chatham-Kent Children’s Services in apprehending a 17-year-old female and her five-month-old daughter as they stepped off a flight at Calgary International Airport. They arrived at the airport at 3:30 p.m. local time Sunday, but it remains unclear where they had travelled from.

    The pair remains in the custody of children’s services. They were to be flown back to Ontario, police said, and were expected to arrive at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport late Sunday.

    Last week, a judge ordered that the 14 children be removed from the Lev Tahor sect and be placed in the care of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services. On Thursday, police confirmed that 12 of the children named in the emergency order were taken from Canada by their parents.

    Two families whose children were ordered removed from their custody left for Guatemala. However, nine members of the sect were held by authorities during a stopover in Trinidad and Tobago.

    The attorney general of Trinidad and Tobago, Anand Ramlogan, said Sunday that the group was “red-flagged” by immigration authorities, who became suspicious when they started “acting strangely.”

    The group was put up at a local hotel while authorities checked into their status and learned of the child protection order, he said.

    “When they arrived in Trinidad they fell into a bit of a Twilight Zone because they were denied entry to Trinidad and Tobago,” Ramlogan told CTV News Channel in a telephone interview.

    “And because we were apprised of the situation by our Canadian counterparts, we could not in fact let them pass through Trinidad to go to Guatemala to evade the jurisdiction and the authority of the Canadian courts and the law enforcement agencies.”

    According to Ramlogan, the group appealed a decision to deny them entry to Trinidad and Tobago. However, he said, “there was no lawful basis or any legal justification for the group to remain within our jurisdiction and borders.”

    The group was put on a flight back to Canada shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday, he said.

    Peel Police confirmed late Saturday that the group landed in Toronto at 10:30 p.m. Saturday and the six children were placed in the care of the Children’s Aid Society. Three adults were processed by the Canada Border Services Agency.

    Last year, a Quebec court had ordered that 14 children from the sect be placed in foster care after investigating allegations that the children in the community were being mistreated, malnourished and weren’t being properly educated. The sect has denied all allegations.

    The community of about 200 people left their homes in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., during the night and settled in Chatham, Ont. Last month, a judge found that their move had been made to avoid a custody proceeding in Quebec.


  123. Third Lev Tahor child hospitalized due to hunger strike: spokesperson

    By Erika Tucker, Global News March 11, 2014

    TORONTO – Several Lev Tahor children apprehended by Chatham-Kent Child Services are on a hunger strike until they are returned to their families, according to an email sent by someone acting as a “media coordinator” for the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

    Three of the children have apparently been admitted to Toronto’s SickKids Hospital to be force-fed, according to Pamela Palmer, who identifies herself as the Lev Tahor’s media coordinator. That includes a 14-year-old girl reportedly rushed to hospital Monday night after she lost consciousness due to lack of food.

    “As for the children that are still in the care of the CAS [Children’s Aid Services] since being illegally detained and taken into custody by police in Trinidad, the children are on a hunger strike until they are to be returned home to their families,” said an email signed by Palmer.

    A SickKids spokesperson did not “have authorization to release any information” pertaining to whether any Lev Tahor children had been admitted or whether the hospital had been in touch with police or Chatham-Kent Children’s Services as of Tuesday.

    The director of Quebec’s youth protection centre—one of the first organizations to get involved in the children’s welfare while the community was still living in St.-Agathe-des-Monts—said in a Sunday statement (translated from French) that he was pleased at the return of six Lev Tahor children from Trinidad and Tobago to Ontario. But there are eight more children under a judge’s apprehension order to be placed into foster care.

    “Pursuant to the order of the Superior Court of Ontario, issued earlier this week, the children were taken care by the child welfare services of Chatham-Kent,” Centre jeunesse des Laurentides director Denis Baraby said in a statement.

    “Despite this positive outcome, I remain very concerned about the situation of the other eight children, as well as that of the hundred others remained in the community. As such, we continue to closely monitor developments and continue to work with the child welfare services in Ontario and the authorities.”

    At least two Lev Tahor families left Canada for Guatemala last week, but some of them were stopped in Trinidad. The group (three adults and the six children) was detained by immigration authorities after their flight landed in Trinidad and Tobago Monday, March 3.

    Palmer said those in Guatemala are “on vacation” and will stay there until after their appeal against the order to remove 13 children from their families is heard April 4. She said if Lev Tahor loses the appeal, the group on vacation will likely stay in Guatemela.

    Nine members of the sect returned to Canada Saturday evening and the children were placed in the care of the Children’s Aid Society.

    The members of Lev Tahor were supposed to appear in court last Wednesday for a hearing in Chatham-Kent, Ontario to contest a Feb. 3 order that 13 of the sect’s children be taken into foster care because of allegations of abuse and neglect—all of which Lev Tahor has denied.

    After the verdict, six children were sent to Trinidad and Tobago and six others went to Guatemala for a “vacation.” Canadian authorities, including child protection, flew to Trinidad on Friday to bring them back.

    Reports suggest a teenage girl and her infant daughter were met by police Sunday afternoon in Calgary and will be returned to Ontario’s Chatham-Kent Children’s Services at an unspecified time.

    The hearing of the appeal has been postponed to April 4.

    With files from Global News reporter Rachel Lau and The Canadian Press

    Editor’s note: This article has been updated from its original version published March 10 to include information on the third child apparently admitted to hospital and the plans of the Lev Tahor members in Guatemala.


  124. Trinidad's attorney general speaks out on Lev Tahor travellers

    Anand Ramlogan says Lev Tahor children were travelling without their parents or legal guardians

    CBC News March 12, 2014

    A group of Lev Tahor children travelling without their parents immediately raised red flags for immigration officials in Trinidad and Tobago, says the country's attorney general.

    “The group ... aroused the suspicions of our immigration authorities when the young children in their care could not be accounted for properly, as they were not being accompanied by their parents or legal guardians,” Trinidad Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, told CBC News.

    Some members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, originally from Quebec, fled Canada last week to head for Guatemala — but they were intercepted in transit in Trinidad.

    Trinidad and Tobago Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan, says he will keep in touch with Canadian authorities about the Lev Tahor case. (CBC)

    Ramlogan said officials grew suspicious after asking the group more questions.

    “The group was travelling to Guatemala, but did not speak Spanish and could not properly account for the reason and purpose for their visit to Guatemala, and far less, the duration of their stay.… In addition, they could not explain what was the purpose of their trip — either in transit to Trinidad or to Guatemala."

    Ramlogan said this caused officials to think the children’s safety was at risk.

    “These are matters — given the international concerns about child labour, child prostitution, the harvesting of organs from little children and, of course, human trafficking on the whole — that would be of obvious concern to any serious immigration and border protection agency,” Ramlogan said.

    Border agents prevented the group from continuing their travel to Central America and contacted Canada’s Justice Ministry.

    “They were trying to ask Canadian authorities what were the facts,” Ramlogan said.

    That’s when authorities in Trinidad learned that some Lev Tahor members were subject to a child protection order that was issued in Quebec.

    They also learned of a pending case before the Ontario Court of Appeal, where last month an Ontario court ruled to uphold a Quebec’s court’s decision that 13 children be placed with foster families.

    “I do not know if they wished to return to Canada to have the decision in that appeal, but it would seem that they were attempting to go to Guatemala indefinitely,” said Ramlogan.

    Lev Tahor turns to legal system

    continued below

  125. According to Ramlogan, the group faced immediate deportation, but they contacted a lawyer and filed an application under the constitution of Trinidad and Tobago to be freed from the immigration authority’s jurisdiction.

    That application was dismissed, so the members of Lev Tahor filed an appeal, which Ramlogan said was done past the 24-hour deadline.

    “In this case, they filed almost five days after they were notified of the rejection — because the group was immediately notified by the immigration officer on duty that they were going to be denied entry into Trinidad and Tobago,” Ramlogan said.

    According to Ramlogan, the six children and three adults were accompanied by three police officers on a private chartered plane back to Canada.

    “There was no formal basis or legal justification to support their presence in Trinidad and Tobago, and they were therefore returned to Canada.”

    Widespread attention

    Ramlogan says the case has garnered international attention, and he’s been getting comments, messages and phone calls from people all around the world.

    “I think this is a group that has attracted widespread controversy and attention, and their short stay with us in Trinidad and Tobago is one that has been very colourful,” Ramlogan said, adding that authorities in Trinidad acted appropriately.

    “We are very concerned about the international image of Trinidad and Tobago. The group was treated decently and in a humane manner and we extended all courtesies and hospitality that one could extend in the circumstances, once the group was in our care.”

    Ramlogan said he will keep in touch with Canadian authorities.

    “We are interested to know what was the result of our efforts, and also on a humanitarian and compassionate level, what was the outcome,” he said, adding that he wants to continue to maintain good relations with Canada.

    “Trinidad and Tobago takes pride in the fact that it shares very strong relations with Canada. We want to ensure that this sends the right signal that Trinidad and Tobago is the wrong place to try to use as a springboard for any form of suspected illegal activity or any form of evasion of lawful jurisdiction and authorities in any country.”


  126. Lev Tahor members being sought by Guatemalan officials

    Members of sect have consulted lawyer about seeking asylum

    CBC News March 13, 2014

    CBC’s the fifth estate has learned that the Guatemalan Interior Ministry in coordination with Interpol are trying to identify and locate Lev Tahor members who arrived in Guatemala on March 4th.

    According to the government source, Guatemalan officials were approached by Canadian authorities.

    Six children and two adult members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect have consulted a lawyer about seeking asylum in Guatemala, the fifth estate has confirmed.

    They are now staying in the tourist town of Panajachel, a few hours west of Guatemala City.

    It is the latest development in an international effort to find children from families in the controversial sect and place them in foster care.

    Last week, other members of Lev Tahor were forced to return to Canada after fleeing to Trinidad and Tobago.

    That group, consisting of six children and three adults, aroused the suspicion of Trinidad and Tobago immigration authorities, the country’s Attorney General Anand Ramlogan told CBC News.

    Border agents prevented the group from continuing their travel to Central America and contacted Canada’s Justice Ministry.

    That’s when authorities in Trinidad learned that some Lev Tahor members were subject to a child protection order that was issued in Quebec.

    They also learned of a pending case before the Ontario Court of Appeal, where last month an Ontario court ruled to uphold a Quebec’s court’s decision that 13 children be placed with foster families.


  127. Lev Tahor: Officials seize children in Guatemala resort town

    Six Lev Tahor children have been apprehended and taken to court in Panajachel, Guatemala for a hearing.

    By: Tim Alamenciak, Toronto Star News reporter, March 14 2014

    PANAJACHEL, GUATEMALA—Guatemalan officials peacefully apprehended six Lev Tahor children and their parents Friday night, whisking them away to a local courthouse after the family attempted to find refuge at a hotel tucked into the bucolic mountainside of the tourist town of Panajachel.

    Late Friday, the group was waiting for a Guatemalan judge to rule on the case. An official from the Central American country’s attorney general’s office said it is up to Canada to file the appropriate paperwork for their return, but said that had not been done as of 4 p.m. local time.

    Four police officers and an unknown number of detectives arrived at the hotel on the outskirts of town around 11:30 a.m. local time Friday. One of the detectives left with a stack of passports and then came back. It is unclear where the passports were taken.

    “Everywhere they persecute us and we have never done anything bad for anybody. Never have we done anything bad for the children,” Yoil Weingarten, a member of the controversial ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect who travelled with the family from Canada, said Friday.

    He expressed sadness at the fact that police apprehended the family on Friday evening, the beginning of Sabbath, a sacred day in the Jewish faith. The police officers “didn’t even know,” Weingarten said.

    The father of the children, who cannot be identified owing to a publication ban, also spoke to the Toronto Star Friday.

    “I’m asking please that you close the case,” he said.

    Two of his other children, teenage girls, were apprehended by Canadian authorities last week with another Lev Tahor group that flew into Trinidad and Tobago.

    Hours before the children in Guatemala were apprehended Friday, they played in a courtyard in the hotel, enjoying the spring weather. As is customary, the children were dressed in traditional Lev Tahor attire: the boys in black pants and pressed button-up shirts, the girls shrouded in black from head to toe. The mother, who also cannot be identified, was seen.

    Mayer Rosner, one of the directors of the Lev Tahor Jewish Community, says he has been in frequent contact with the members since they fled to Guatemala and was speaking to them earlier Friday while police were present.

    Rosner described them as “calm” when police arrived, saying they were not surprised when the authorities showed up at their hotel.

    He added the group had not been trying to avoid police since landing in the country.

    “They have nothing to hide,” he said.

    The father and Weingarten said the children were happy and well-fed. A nearby market provides raw fruit and vegetables appropriate for their kosher diet.

    The group says they are being persecuted by the Canadian government following a long court saga over the removal of 14 children from three families in the sect culminated in an emergency order to apprehend the children.

    The group in Guatemala approached a lawyer to assist with their immigration work but said he would not take the case. They blamed the influence of Israeli companies.

    The sect says they are being persecuted by the state of Israel over their anti-Zionist beliefs.

    “(The father of the children) has never done any crime,” said Weingarten. “Never beat his child. Never any of these allegations.”

    A source in Guatemala’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the group had applied for refugee status. Officials at the Ministry of Immigration said they had no record of the application, but if there is one it would be confidential.

    Weingarten refused to talk about any matters related to the group’s immigration status in Guatemala. He did not confirm or deny the refugee application.

    continued below

  128. He said Quebec child protection authorities did not make allegations directly against the children’s father — “they didn’t blame him nothing what he has done.”

    “They just make allegations against the community. This is real persecution,” he said.

    Revelations that members of the sect and their children were holed up in a Panajachel hotel is only the latest twist in a child welfare saga that began late last year, when nearly 200 members of the sect fled their homes in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, a town north of Montreal, for southwestern Ontario.

    The group, which included some 40 families, moved to Chatham-Kent last November, in advance of a child protection order demanding the removal of 14 children.

    The sect had been butting heads with Quebec’s child protection authority over a secular curriculum the religious group was being ordered to teach the children, who are home-schooled. They believe there to be more freedom for faith-based schooling in Ontario.

    Only days later, Quebec officials ordered the seizure of 14 of the sect’s children — ranging from 2 months to 16 years — saying they needed to be placed in foster care. The judge overseeing emergency hearings said the children were at “serious risk of harm,” including physical abuse, sexual abuse from underage marriages, psychological mistreatment and neglect to their health.

    Concerns were also raised about sect leader Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, who some say employs an extreme interpretation of the Torah: one that includes extreme dietary restrictions, marrying off children as young as 13, teaching only religion and telling women to completely cover themselves in heavy black robes.

    Recently unsealed documents give a window into a broad-reaching investigation into the sect that spanned both provinces, beginning more than two years ago with allegations dating back to May 2012. The allegations, which sect members categorically deny and have not been proven in court, include sexual abuse, confinement, beatings with crowbars, belts, whips and a coat hanger, and more.

    In one case, it is alleged that a 17-year-old pregnant girl had been sexually abused by her father, beaten by her brother and married off at age 15. The documents also alleged disobedient girls as young as 13 and 14 were confined in basements of the homes. Further allegations include the use of forced medication.

    In February, after Ontario’s Children’s Aid authorities launched their own legal battle to seize the children, a Provincial Court judge upheld the order for 13 of the 14 children — which once again prompted the dramatic departure of some sect members.

    Last week, three adults and six children — including those ordered to be seized — fled to Trinidad and Tobago, while a second group travelled to Guatemala.

    Among them were 12 of the 14 children who had been ordered seized. They were under strict conditions not to leave the Chatham-Kent area.

    According to Rosner, the group had tried to travel together to Guatemala on one flight but there wasn’t enough room. Those booking the escape made a scheduling error, and one group had to fly to Trinidad and Tobago, where officials apprehended them.

    Shortly after, Superior Court of Justice Judge Lynda Templeton ordered Chatham-Kent Children’s Services to employ local, provincial and national police forces and Canadian Border Services to apprehend the 14 children.

    Last Saturday night, the group from Trinidad and Tobago arrived back at Pearson airport, where police apprehended the six children. Two others, a 17-year-old mother and her infant daughter, were met by child protection workers after a flight landed at Calgary International Airport Sunday afternoon.

    With files from Wendy Gillis


  129. Lev Tahor family remains in Guatemala as Canadian authorities try to enforce apprehension order

    By Erika Tucker, Global News March 18, 2014

    TORONTO –Six Lev Tahor children under an Ontario apprehension order have been allowed to stay with their parents after appearing in Guatemalan court Monday, as Canadian child services agents work with officials to retrieve and place them in foster care alongside eight others under the same order.

    An Ontario judge issued an apprehension order for the 14 children following a Quebec investigation into allegations of child abuse and neglect. The Lev Tahor community has claimed parents have done nothing wrong and are the victims of religious persecution.

    Chatham-Kent Children Services Executive Director Stephen Doig said his agency hasn’t sent any staff to Guatemala but is working with Foreign Affairs in Canada, the United States and Guatemalan officials to resolve the situation in Guatemalan court.

    “Working through the government officials, we’re doing what we can do to have them appreciate the court order that exists in Canada,” Doig said.

    The Guatemalan court reportedly didn’t find sufficient evidence was presented by Canadian authorities to proceed with a removal order. The judge let the group keep their passports and requested the family visit the Canadian embassy within three days of the ruling. RCMP referred Interpol Canada requests to Guatemalan officials, who declined comment Friday. A Canadian Foreign Affairs spokesperson referred a Global News request regarding consular involvement to Doig.

    But this case is proceeding “very quickly” by Canadian standards, according to Queen’s University law professor Nicholas Bala.

    “[Hague convention] cases often go quite slowly and unfortunately the history of Canada’s enforcement of Hague proceedings from other countries—including in South and Central America—is often very slow … [dragging] on for months or even years,” Bala said.

    He added that orders have to be proven in a particular manner, and it’s possible the Guatemalan court hasn’t received an authenticated copy, for example. He said the fact that Lev Tahor has been asked to attend the Canadian Embassy suggests authorities there are concerned with the situation and are dealing with it “fairly rapidly.”

    “As I understand it, the judge in Guatemala actually met with the children and spoke through an interpreter, and was satisfied they’re not in any immediate risk,” Bala said.

    Bala suggested there’s the potential for Lev Tahor to submit refugee application in Guatemala, a move that would delay the court proceedings significantly.

    “There has to be some inquiry, but the claim of persecution in Canada does not seem to be well-founded, but will have to be considered by the courts in Guatemala. Canadian courts sometimes refuse to send people back … because of threats of persecution,” he said, citing examples of parents bringing Roma children from Hungary to Canada who are permitted to stay.

    continued below

  130. Bala explains the Hague conventions generally indicate apprehension orders should be respected and children should be returned, but there are two exceptions he suspects the Lev Tahor parents may argue: If a mature child objects to the return, and if there’s grave risk of harm from the return.

    The “mature age” definition is a child-based assessment, typically estimated at around 10 years old in Canada, but can vary. Letters purportedly written by some of the Lev Tahor children and sent to media in January suggest they prefer to remain with their parents, though the degree to which parents were involved in the writing is unclear.

    As to the next steps for Lev Tahor, Bala said it’s hard to gauge given the lack of information made available by Guatemalan officials.

    “It depends on how much the parents are willing to fight this in Guatemala and what their resources are for doing that. But Canadian Hague cases sometimes take years to resolve,” he said.

    “Yes, there’s been flight involved, but these are not criminal charges.”
    Two other sect families with nine members attempted to reach Guatemala but were intercepted in Trinidad two weeks ago and returned to Canada; two minors were also taken into custody in Ontario after they were apprehended in Calgary March 9.

    Doig said he’s aware of alleged hunger strikes that Lev Tahor claims resulted in the hospitalization of three children his agency had placed in foster care, although he wouldn’t confirm the reports’ veracity. Asked if it’s possible parents had told the children any food provided by outsiders of the community would be non-kosher or poisoned, he said the children have been put in “religious and culturally appropriate placements.”

    “Their lives are definitely not at risk right now,” Doig said.
    Lev Tahor community spokesman Uriel Goldman, who said he doesn’t know what the families’ plans are in Guatemala, suggests the order to apprehend the children is an act of persecution against the group’s religion.

    “The Guatemala judge was the proof. … If it’s so obvious the kids are being so abused and are in such a bad situation, why didn’t this judge see that?” said Goldman.

    But Doig reiterated that the order for the 14 children was reviewed by multiple judges in Canada who all reached the same conclusion.

    “All of the evidence has been reviewed by three separate judges: One in Quebec, two in Ontario—one of which was a superior court judge—all of whom felt that there was sufficient evidence to order the children into the care of a child protection agency.”


  131. Lev Tahor secret court transcripts made public

    Transcripts from emergency hearings in the ongoing child welfare case of 14 children detail confusion and concern.

    By: Wendy Gillis, Toronto Star News reporter March 19 2014

    Newly released documents from the ongoing Lev Tahor child welfare case reveal a scene of confusion — and of community members seemingly playing defence — when officials from child protective authorities discovered 14 children involved in an ongoing welfare case had fled the community days before an appeal in their case was set to be heard.

    The documents also show workers with Chatham-Kent Children’s Services were suspicious that the families may once again flee to avoid a court order that would see 14 children taken into protective custody.

    On March 5, Superior Court Justice Lynda Templeton issued an order to immediately apprehend 14 Lev Tahor children — “at the doors of the plane as soon as it lands” — because of the “extremely unusual circumstances” of the case.

    The details of the emergency apprehension order, made during a previously secret court hearing, were made public Wednesday after Templeton reversed a previous decision to ban all media from attending the hearing or accessing transcripts.

    The documents show Templeton and child welfare authorities moving with great haste to arrange for the immediate apprehension of the children.

    “I am entirely satisfied that the extremely unusual circumstances created solely by the appellants (Lev Tahor families) themselves require, as I’ve indicated, immediate intervention of the court,” Templeton said.

    “My expectation is, so it’s clear, that if these children are returned on a plane that they will be apprehended at the doors of the plane as soon as it lands,” she said.

    Service workers with Chatham-Kent Children’s Services discovered the children were missing after they arrived at the Lev Tahor compound in Chatham-Kent around 2 p.m. March 4. Attending to the home where some of the children lived, they found no one home.

    The first sign something was wrong, child protection worker Ted Heath testified, was that the home was unusually silent — “usually when we do visits we can hear lots of people inside,” he said.

    When no one answered the door, officials attempted to enter a nearby school, where they spoke to an adult who would not tell them what was happening or if he had seen the family. They were not permitted to enter the school.

    “It took 15 minutes of talking to him to finally for him to say he hasn’t seen them today,” Heath said.

    Heath said when he spotted one of the community leaders, Uriel Goldman, he tried to speak to him about the whereabouts of some of the children. But he and two other community members, Nachman Helbrans and Mayer Rosner — who Heath described in his testimony as controlling essentially everything in the community — moved to run away.

    “We noticed Mr. Goldman got into his . . . minivan, and Mr. Rosner yelled ‘Nachman, get in the van,” said Heath. The three community leaders then got into the van, Heath said.

    “It was very odd to have them all leave the community at the same time and not be on site while we’re there,” he said.

    Heath also testified that Chatham-Kent Children’s Services had suspicions that members of the group may be considering fleeing prior to the court date. He and another worker saw some of the 14 children on March 1 — three days before the group fled — and cautioned them not to leave.

    Heath said he reminded one of the families that they were expected in court on Wednesday for their appeal of a recent Ontario ruling that the 14 children be removed from their homes.

    Asked what their responses were, Heath said the parents, who cannot be identified due to a court-ordered publication ban, said: “Yes, we know, we will be there, no problem.”

    continued below

  132. Heath said he and another worker, Jennifer Doran, searched the two-bedroom, one-level home for signs of them possibly leaving, but found the clothes all hung in closets.

    “It did not look like they were fleeing,” he said.

    Child welfare officials returned to one of the homes of the families the morning of the hearing, March 5.

    “On the side of the door where we usually knock on there was packing tape on the door . . .” Heath said. “It was just kind of down the seam of the door and we weren’t sure why that would be there, but it was all quiet inside and we heard nothing.”

    In the March 5 hearing, Chatham-Kent child protection officials also spoke more generally about their recent communications with the community, specifically, with community leaders Helbrans, Goldman and Rosner.

    “Decisions in the community go through these individuals,” Heath said. “If we’re to be let into the home, it goes through these individuals. If they are not to let us into the home, it goes through these individuals.”

    There was a point in time they were being co-operative, Heath said, but not anymore. The leaders had in fact handed the Chatham-Kent Children’s Services letters saying that the child welfare officials could enter the homes of people in the community but they could not speak to the families.

    They discuss the possibility that the community acted together to plan the exit of the 14 children, their parents and a few others adults from the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect.

    The 14 Lev Tahor children, alongside several adults, fled Canada two weeks ago ahead of an appeal of an Ontario court order mandating that the children be placed in the care of children’s aid services in Quebec.

    Eight have since been returned: Six were apprehended after fleeing to the Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago, en route to join the Guatemala group, while two others — a 17-year-old girl and her infant daughter — were apprehended in the Calgary airport.

    The six remaining children and their parents are in Guatemala, in defiance of Templeton’s Ontario court order. This week, a Guatemalan judge ruled the six children could stay with their parents in the Central American country, provided they return to Solola court with paperwork signed by embassy officials saying they are allowed to stay.

    At the March 5 court hearing held following discovery of the children’s disappearance, the lawyer for Chatham-Kent Children’s Services — the child welfare authorities leading the Ontario investigation — brought forward an emergency apprehension motion under the Family and Child Services Act. Templeton immediately ordered all media and members of the public out of the courtroom and did not hear arguments or allow time for a lawyer for the media to arrive.

    The London judge also initially ruled that transcripts of the court hearing would not be made available until the safe apprehension of all of the children. Templeton overturned that decision Sunday, saying the complete ban on public access was no longer necessary because circumstances had changed and some of the children had already been placed under the care of children’s services.

    Lev Tahor has been under investigation by child protective authorities for more than two years following allegations ranging from corporal punishment using crowbars, belts, whips and a coat hanger, to forced medication, to confinement of disobedient girls in basements of the homes. Child protection authorities in Quebec have documented allegations of underage marriage, physical abuse and more.

    The sect has denied all allegations of abuse and say they are being persecuted for their beliefs.

    Last November, more than 200 members of the controversial, ultra-orthodox sect fled Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que. for Chatham-Kent, in advance of a court order in Quebec for the removal of 14 children.


  133. Lev Tahor family in Guatemala appeal court order

    The Lev Tahor family in Guatemala has filed an appeal against a court order that they check in to the Canadian embassy.

    By: Tim Alamenciak, Toronto Star News reporter, March 20 2014

    PANAJACHEL, GUATEMALA— The Lev Tahor family in Guatemala has filed an appeal of the Monday ruling that they must check in with the Canadian embassy.

    Filed Wednesday afternoon, the appeal argues that the family and children “are not under investigation, nor have they been charged with a criminal offence and entered Guatemala legally,” according to the court secretary in Solola, the regional capital.

    The judge has to decide on the appeal Thursday and may open up the process for more deliberation.

    The move is the first step in Guatemala’s labyrinthine court system. If it is denied, the family may file an amparo — a human rights-based appeal mechanism unique to Guatemala that can bring the legal process to a grinding halt.

    Thursday had marked the final day for the family to check in with the Canadian embassy in accordance with the court ruling.

    Yoil Weingarten, a Lev Tahor member who travelled with the six children and their parents, has said they are looking for a house in Guatemala. A local source in Panajachel with knowledge of their situation said the group is supposed to check out of the hotel they are staying at Thursday.

    The family has hired Fredy Alvarado and Hugo del Aguila, among the most expensive lawyers in Solola, according to a local source within the legal community.

    The Guatemalan legal system affords the group multiple options for appeal, including an amparo, which can be invoked whenever someone feels their human rights are threatened.

    The immigration status of the family is unclear, but Guatemala allows those who enter the country as tourists to stay for 90 days.

    The judge, who ruled Monday afternoon, had required that the family present proof to the court within five days that they had checked in with the Canadian embassy.

    Meanwhile, in Canada, officials continue to remain silent about what specific efforts are being undertaken to order the return of the children, who were taken out of
    the country in defiance of an Ontario court order that they remain in Chatham-Kent.

    Child protection authorities in Quebec have documented allegations of abuse, underage marriage and a sub-standard education regime within the sect. Before those allegations could be tested in court, more than 200 members of the sect fled the province. A judge ruled that 14 of the children should be apprehended.

    An Ontario court upheld that ruling, but placed a stay of 30 days to allow time for appeal.

    Fourteen children from the controversial ultra-orthodox sect became the subject of an emergency order for their apprehension when it was discovered they had left their homes on the day the appeal was scheduled to be heard.

    The hearing was held in secret, but the Star and other media organizations successfully fought for the transcript to be revealed.

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  134. The sect has maintained that all of the allegations are false and part of a campaign being waged against their community.

    “We don’t disobey court orders, the courts are disobeying our human rights,” said Weingarten.

    “I am sure that no one in the globe would do different than us,” said Weingarten. “We’re just being persecuted because of our religion.”

    Six children were apprehended in Trinidad and Tobago. Two were apprehended off a plane that landed in Calgary. The remaining six are in Guatemala, where their parents have legal representation, and are staying in a peaceful lakefront tourist town.

    Weingarten said it’s not likely the family will return to Canada by choice.

    “They just want to pull them back and steal our children,” said Weingarten.

    Denis Baraby, the head of the child protection agency that started the investigation and one of the few officials who have spoken openly about the process, says he and Quebec police have been sidelined and offers of help have been ignored.

    “Here in Québec, we have done as much as possible. Our help offers have been received by the child services but there were no requests from them except for clarifications regarding our involvement in this situation,” said Baraby in an email to the Star.

    Baraby says the Sûreté du Québec, the province’s police force, was instrumental in the return of the eight children so far, but Ontario has taken the reins now.

    “Ontario has taken the responsibility of bringing back the children. I was told that they were working with the authorities in Guatemala to have the children brought back to Canada,” said Baraby. “I do not know what has been done exactly.”

    Stephen Doig, executive director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, did not respond to an email Wednesday asking for an update on the situation.

    “The international aspects of the situation for the children in Guatemala have certainly complicated matters however we are working with the Canadian and American foreign affairs staff to determine next steps in this extremely unique situation,” he said in an email sent Tuesday, marking the first substantive statement from a Canadian official.

    At times, the Canadian government has seemed confused about who is officially handling the file, with the minister of foreign affairs’ press secretary directing a reporter to the minister of justice, whose press secretary subsequently referred the inquiry to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.

    DFATD has only issued vague statements saying they are working with Guatemalan authorities, yet no embassy officials were present at either of the two recent court hearings. At both hearings judges saw no reason to remove the children and noted that Canada had not filed the appropriate paperwork for their return.


  135. In Lev Tahor case, an insular sect puts on a public face

    By Erika Tucker Global News March 24, 2014

    TORONTO – An investigation into allegations of child abuse leading to an apprehension order for 14 children of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor –and the placement of several children in foster care–has prompted the community to launch a public relations strategy of their own.

    Lev Tahor claims parents have done nothing wrong and are the victims of religious persecution. They’ve hired a “media planner” who began sending out emails calling the apprehension of families in Trinidad a “religious genocide” and saying that three of the eight children now in foster care are on a hunger strikeuntil they’re returned to their parents. (The latter has yet to be confirmed by children’s aid workers or hospital staff).

    One Lev Tahor mother started a website of her own with photos and her own explanations for why child services agencies are involved; community members have taken to wearing yellow Stars of David and making similar comparisons to the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

    But these actions may be less about influencing outside opinion and more driven by a fear that losing control of their message will lead to dissension within the community, according to associate director of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication Josh Greenberg.

    “Radical or fringe religious groups are typically less worried about public perceptions than they are the perceptions of their own adherents — the target of communication is internal to the extent that it’s about maintaining control over the beliefs and ideological commitments of members, not to influence the values or opinions of outsiders,” said Greenberg in an email to Global News.

    Greenberg, who specializes in social movements and crisis management, said the use of such propaganda techniques is “old as religion itself” but not necessarily successful in this situation. He noted most social media traffic related to Lev Tahor is made up of links to news articles that “reinforce an image of the sect as ideologically extreme.”

    “Twitter posts, Facebook discussions, blogs and reader comments on news sites offer little evidence of the community or its supporters actively driving any discussion at all,” he said.

    And rather than a situation of crisis management, he believes this is “crisis construction” on the part of Lev Tahor. He said the use of the star of David (which has angered many Jews and Jewish organizations) is likely to create fear in the community so adherents will “turn inward in an act of self-preservation.”

    “This nevertheless presents a framing dilemma for the sect’s leaders: on the one hand, the need to reinforce a belief that they are being persecuted for their religious values is fundamental to the hold they exert over community members; on the other hand, they need to be careful not to amplify anxiety to a point where it can no longer be controlled,” said Greenberg.

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  136. When it comes to the definition of freedom of religion, says University of Waterloo sociologist Lorne Dawson, courts must weigh religious rights against the laws, so if the religious right conflicts with public interest or rights of another group, then the right to religious expression isn’t “absolute.”

    In the case of Lev Tahor, where allegations of abuse have centred around the treatment of the children, Dawson points to the fact that child-rearing practices are an extremely important part of most religions.

    “Religions only survive to the extent that they can pass on their beliefs to their children,” he said.

    “You have to have lots of kids, your kids have to have lots of kids, and they all have to stay in the religion.”
    Dawson said it’s common for child-rearing practices of orthodox religious groups to clash with public practices in Canada’s increasingly liberal society.

    “The odds are overwhelming that any of these kinds of groups are probably going to have standards of child rearing including modes of punishing … that are at odds with current norms in secular society,” he said.

    He noted that since three separate judges have looked at the case and come to the conclusion that the children should be placed in foster care, there must be “codified elements and child protection laws” related to abuse. However, he doesn’t think this necessarily means the children are unhappy.

    “They don’t know an alternative. But the odds are, they probably do legitimately feel loved and cared for… by the entire community,” he said.
    Letters purportedly written by some of the Lev Tahor children and sent to media in January suggest they prefer to remain with their parents, though the degree to which parents were involved in the writing is unclear.

    Dawson said the counterargument about religious freedom will probably only carry so much weight in family court, which is based primarily on protecting the interests of children.

    “Probably if this goes to court, the religious group will say, ‘We have to engage in certain practices with our children–whatever it is: not sending them to school, homeschooling them, having them married by age 15, 16 … because this is what our religious beliefs tell us, what our scripture or what God wants us to do.’ That’s where it gets a bit dicey because the courts don’t want to get into the business of telling any religious group what God does or does not want them to do.

    “So the courts always act like they’re not talking about theology, but the trouble is in the end, if you take the kids away and say, ‘You can’t do that,’ then you are basically saying, ‘We know what’s right and God as you understand him doesn’t.’ So there’ll be push and shove on that.”



    BY Effy Fisher | MISHPACHA March 19, 2014

    A shocking court case has thrust the insular, controversial, ultra-pious Lev Tahor group into international headlines, provoking discussions of extremism, mind control, and abuse. The group insists that they’re being persecuted for exalted religious strictures, but troubling reports paint a different picture.
    BY Effy Fisher

    Is Lev Tahor pursuing a warped vision— and are their children paying the price?

    IN AN ISOLATED SNOW-SWEPT TOWN NEAR WINDSOR, ONTARIO, the controversial Lev Tahor community is struggling to hold itself together amid allegations of child abuse and other legal irregularities. The lonely collection of houses, the groups of women dressed in black burkas, the unflinching devotion to a leader seen as a direct link to G-d, the tightly controlled yet perfectly behaved children, the self-imposed isolation, the hours-long prayers, the teenaged brides, the rickety shelves lined with rows of vitamins — all paint a picture that captured headlines but still remains a mystery to most.

    Now the group, under the charismatic — and some say dictatorial — leadership of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, is fighting to retain more than a dozen children that a Quebec court ordered removed from their families, due to charges of unlawful confinement and physical abuse. Rabbi Helbrans’s own wife Malka reportedly fled to Israel after allegedly being beaten by the rabbi’s followers when she took a public stand against child punishment tactics. Last November, in order to avoid implementation of the court order, about 200 Lev Tahor members fled the Quebec town of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts — a two-hour drive from Montreal, where the group has lived since 2003 — to Chatham, Ontario, in the middle of the night. And last week, after an Ontario court upheld the Quebec ruling, nine of them — three adults and six children — were apprehended in Trinidad and Tobago on their way to Guatemala. Even after their forced return to Canada, other members of the group have applied for emergency passports to undisclosed locations, making observers wonder about their final destination.

    The developing story of Lev Tahor has captured the imagination of many Canadians as it continues to make headlines both locally and internationally. The group has shown itself to be media savvy as well, opening up its doors to reporters: Global Television news reporters spent a week in the community where they spoke for hours with Rabbi Helbrans, and two national media outlets aired investigative documentaries on Lev Tahor. Centre for Israel-Jewish Affairs executive director Jonathan Kalles says that coverage has been responsible and reasonable. “People understand this is not representative of the Jewish community. But within the broader Jewish community, some are offended that this group is using the name of Judaism to justify their behavior.” But amid all the headlines and intrigue, there is a deeper, more fundamental question: Can a group’s right to religious freedom be overridden by society’s standards of normative behavior? And who, really, is this ultra-chassidic group that resided for a decade in the sleepy Laurentian town of Sainte-Agathe? Is it, in fact, a cult with sinister underpinnings, exerting mind control over its 250 members? Or is it an extreme version of chassidus, a group that merely wants to be left alone to live in peace? Does their distrust of government stem from their desire to maintain their value system, or is there something they are trying to hide?

    read the rest of this article at:


  138. Lev Tahor family in Guatemala no longer needs to check in with embassy

    By: Tim Alamenciak, Toronto Star News reporter March 25 2014

    A Guatemalan judge has ruled a Lev Tahor family no longer must check in with the Canadian embassy after they appealed his original order, ending their legal problems in that country — for now.

    Six children, their parents and Yoil Weingarten, another member of the ultraorthodox Jewish sect, fled Canada ahead of an appeal in their ongoing court saga. Guatemalan police took the family to a courthouse on Mar. 14, kicking off yet another legal battle.

    But it didn’t last long. Two judges ruled the children could stay with their parents. The second judge ordered the family to check in with the Canadian Embassy, but that was rescinded on appeal, according to the family’s lawyer.

    Meanwhile, Stephen Doig, executive director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, says the agency is pursuing options to have the children returned.

    Child protection authorities in Quebec have documented allegations of widespread abuse, underage marriage and a substandard education regime in the sect. The group has denied all allegations of abuse and insists the government is unfairly targeting them for their beliefs.

    Before the allegations could be tested in Quebec court, 200 members of the group fled to Ontario, where a subsequent process upheld the Quebec order.

    Fourteen children and their families left their homes on the day an appeal was to be heard. Eight kids have been apprehended, while six remain with their parents in Guatemala, staying in a small lakefront town called Panajachel.

    “Yes, thanks God we don’t have to go the Canadian embassy anymore,” Weingarten said in an email.

    Despite a history of fleeing jurisdictions where they encounter the courts, group members were allowed to retain their passports and Guatemalan officials made no attempt to ensure they do not flee.

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  139. Chatham-Kent Children’s Services said it sent Spanish-language paperwork to Guatemalan courts. It’s unclear whether it was received or to which court it was sent.

    “We continue to work through Canadian Foreign Affairs to attempt to bring our court order before the justices in Guatemala,” said Doig. “Our understanding is that the Lev Tahor families’ appeal was only related to not having to present at the Canadian Embassy.”

    “This continues to be a challenging situation for CKCS as we provide services to those Lev Tahor children in our care while navigating the international legal landscape. We are hopeful that the Guatemalan officials will recognize and enforce the Ontario order finding these children in need of protection and assist us in returning them to Canada,” he said.

    Nicholas Bala, a Queen’s University law professor specializing in children’s law, said proceedings under the Hague convention on international child abduction, the act likely to be used in their return, take a very long time.

    “My sense is that there are two proceedings going on in Guatemala, as there were in Ontario. One is the child protection process and the other is the Hague process. Apparently the child protection process there has ended, but the Hague process may well still be going on,” said Bala. “That in and of itself may take many weeks and, based on Canadian experience, months to resolve.”

    Jeffrey Wilson, a prominent family lawyer, said the Canadian government, through the Crown attorney’s office, could potentially lay criminal charges because of the disobedience of the court order.

    “The issue . . . is they clearly disobeyed a court order in leaving the jurisdiction. I don’t know why the Crown is not taking steps with the criminal act, because the criminal act will increase the leverage of enforcement. They’re in contempt of the order of Justice (Stephen) Fuerth,” he said.

    Fredy Arnoldo, one of two lawyers working for the family, said the judge decided they were in Guatemala legally and saw no reason for them to check in with the embassy.

    The court in Solola received no order from Canada, said Arnoldo, adding he is unaware of any other legal processes involving the family within the country.


  140. Lev Tahor unrepresented 0

    By Vicki Gough, Chatham Daily News April 1, 2014

    A Lev Tahor couple in Chatham are looking for a new lawyer.

    Chris Knowles of Windsor requested his name be removed as the solicitor of record during a child welfare hearing at the Chatham courthouse Tuesday.

    Knowles told The Chatham Daily News he could no longer represent his clients under rules of professional standards.

    "I can't meet the rules of professional conduct if I represent them," Knowles said.

    A publication ban prohibits publishing anything that could identify the family.

    The couple's two children were taken into temporary foster care for five days in December 2013, when Chatham-Kent Children's Services investigated an unexplained mark on a baby's face.

    The infant was seen by an ER physician for what appeared to be a bruise on her face.

    During a hearing in January, Knowles sought an adjournment to allow for more time to prepare his response to the allegations against the parents.

    The family continues to be monitored by child welfare agents.

    The matter returns to family court to be spoken to April 23.


  141. Canadian Border Services officials make arrests at Lev Tahor compound north of Chatham 0

    By Jane Sims, Vicki Gough, QMIAgency April 2, 2014

    Immigration officials have raided the settlement of a runaway Jewish sect and have made arrests.

    Reports from the Lev Tahor community north of Chatham indicate more than a dozen Canadian Border Services Agency officials arrived at the community this afternoon and have taken people into custody.

    The controversial group, known for its extremist religious views and traditional garb, landed in a tiny enclave north of Chatham in November after fleeing Quebec, fearing their children were to be taken into temporary foster care after allegations of abuse and neglect. Nothing but controversy has followed them since.

    This afternoon, one Lev Tahor man was seen being driven away in handcuffs.

    There was screaming, crying and one Lev Tahor man was overheard shouting, "Shame on you," as he waved his finger at the agents.

    One witness, who wished not to give a name,​ saw immigration officials trying to get into a building where it's believed children are housed.

    "I can hear the children crying and praying," the source said.

    A woman at the scene who described herself as a friend of the ultra-orthodox community denounced the actions of the CBSA and Chatham-Kent Children's Services.

    "They stir up s**t just before going to court," the woman said.

    The woman was pulled away from six babies and told to leave as authorities investigated.

    "These people have rights just like anybody else," she said.

    Lev Tahor community organizer Uriel Goldman was trying to collect details from where he was in Toronto seeking legal advice for their latest skirmish with the courts.

    Goldman said there had been arrangements made for a meeting with immigration officials over “a few people who are not legal,” living in the community.

    “I don't know why they decide to come like that. It's not very nice,” he said.

    Goldman questioned why CBSA would target Lev Tahor when there are thousands of illegal immigrants living in Ontario.

    “It's a great opportunity to destroy the community,” he said.

    On Tuesday, the sect took down content on their web page. Much of it went into detail about child protection allegations and pleaded for help.

    Goldman said they were following the advice of their new lawyer Guidy Mamann of Toronto.

    Wednesday's raid is the latest set-back for the group.

    Child protection officials were successful last month in getting an order from an Ontario court to act on a Quebec child protection order to apprehend the children and return them to Quebec.

    Just days before they were to appeal that order, the 14 children and their families fled the country. Nine were detained in Trinidad and eventually returned. A teen and her child were arrested in Calgary.

    But the rest are in immigration limbo in Guatemala, their original destination.

    This week, their lawyer for one of their court actions, Chris Knowles, removed himself from the case.

    Also last month, Quebec police raided the compound, but there were no charges or arrests.


  142. Police seize seven adults from Lev Tahor group amid ongoing child-welfare dispute

    by PATRICK WHITE, The Globe and Mail April 02 2014

    For more than four months, the 200 members of Lev Tahor have slept fitfully, worried the morning would bring another raid.

    Their anxieties stem from the constant presence of child-welfare officials and a pending court order for the seizure of 14 children from the controversial ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect.

    On Wednesday morning, part of those fears were realized when a flotilla of vehicles from the Canadian Border Services Agency, Chatham-Kent Children’s Services and the Chatham-Kent Police Services rolled into Lev Tahor’s cluster of bungalows on the outskirts of Chatham, Ont.

    “It was our worst nightmare come true,” said community member Avraham Dinkel. “We feared this day would come.”

    But, contrary to expectations, it wasn’t the kids they were after. Agents with the CBSA’s Enforcement and Intelligence office arrested seven adults for suspected immigration violations. The agency refused to talk about the arrests, issuing a cursory press release that noted agents are “authorized to arrest permanent residents and foreign nationals who have, or who may have, breached the [Immigration and Refugee Protection] Act.” By law, all the detained adults will appear before the Immigration and Refugee Board within the next two days.

    It has been long known that community members carry passports from several nations. The peripatetic group started in Israel during the mid-1980s under Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans before migrating to Brooklyn, N.Y. They returned to Israel after Mr. Helbrans was deported for a kidnapping conviction and then began moving to a settlement in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., about a decade ago.

    A CBC documentary that aired in February alleged that Mr. Helbrans bribed a witness to testify in his favour as part of the rabbi’s Canadian refugee application.

    The arrest on Wednesday has left 19 children in the community without both parents and nine others without one of their parents. Child-welfare workers took several children under supervision at Chatham-Kent Children’s Services head offices, but the agency’s director was hopeful they would be returned quickly.

    “We’re negotiating with families in the community for the return of the children,” said Chatham-Kent Children’s Services director Stephen Doig on Wednesday evening. “We hope none of them will be in our care by the end of the day.”

    Mr. Doig said it still was unclear how long the adults would remain in custody. “We don’t know if this is long term or short term,” he said. “So we’re not sure yet whether we should apprehend [children] or whether we should hold them in a babysitting capacity pending the CBSA investigation.”

    If Chatham-Kent Children’s Services does end up formally apprehending any of the children, they will become part of a drawn-out custody battle between Lev Tahor and child-protection agencies in two provinces.

    Judges in Quebec ordered 14 children placed in temporary foster care because of allegations of neglect, abuse and lack of education up to provincial standards.

    The leaders thought they could escape the unfavourable judgment by abandoning their Quebec enclave for the more flexible education laws of Ontario. But an Ontario court endorsed the decision in February. Lev Tahor is appealing the decisions. Final arguments are set for April 4.

    Chatham-Kent Children’s Services already have seven Lev Tahor children under agency care. They were seized after Trinidadian border officials foiled one Lev Tahor family’s attempt to flee Canada for Guatemala just days ahead of the appeal date. Another family made it to Guatemala, where a local court is reviewing the Canadian case against them.


  143. Lev Tahor children returned to their families after CBSA arrests: lawyer

    CTV News, Windsor April 3, 2014

    According to the immigration lawyer representing the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor, the Canadian Border Service Agency arrested and detained six members Wednesday morning.

    As a result Guidy Mamann says about a dozen children were briefly taken by the Children’s Aid Society. However, as of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, CAS had returned all children to their families.

    Executive director of Chatham’s Children’s Services, Stephen Doing, says CAS worked with agents, while they executed several warrants for suspected immigration and refugee protection act violations.

    "Everyone was at everyone's throats,” said sect member Joel Helbrans. “You can see the terrible decisions that have been made and the terrible anxiety that's been created."

    Mamann agrees with Helbrans about the ongoing struggle of the sect and its impact on the children.

    “Pretend you are looking at the world through a child's eyes," Mamann says. "The kids are absolutely traumatized at the very sight of immigration officials – the very sight of the police.”

    It’s the latest incident involving members of the group, who are under investigation in Quebec for alleged child neglect.

    The matter is scheduled to return to a Chatham family courtroom on Friday.


  144. Lev Tahor parents dispute allegations of abuse in letter to judge

    JANE SIMS, QMI AGENCY April 4, 2014

    LONDON, Ont. — The ultra orthodox Jewish parents of six children named for temporary foster care and who fled to Guatemala sent a letter to an Ontario judge pleading to be left alone.

    The nine-page letter from the Lev Tahor parents addressed to Judge Lynda Templeton disputes the allegations of physical abuse, neglect and inadequate education standards in the tiny community in Chatham, Ont.

    The parents also deny allegations of foot funguses, underage marriages and that Lev Tahor families are expected to spy on each other.

    Templeton was scheduled to continue an appeal hearing in the case Friday morning in Chatham. Lev Tahor is challenging a lower court’s decision to uphold a Quebec ruling that 14 children be placed in temporary foster care. The group settled in Chatham in November because it feared Quebec child protection officials would take the children.

    Templeton wrote her own emergency order last month when the children and their parents fled Canada intending to go to Guatemala. Six children were returned from Trinidad and a teen mother — who also sent a letter to the court — and her baby were found in Calgary.

    The parents in Guatemala say they aren’t there in contempt of any court order but to preserve their religious freedom for their children.

    They also asked that two of their children, who were returned from Trinidad, be allowed to join them.

    They said they have no plans to return to Ontario or Quebec.

    The parents also report undercover police officers in Guatemala pressured them at their hotel. They claim they appeared before a judge “who made scary faces” and requested on behalf of the Canadian Embassy that they return the children to Canada.

    The young mother’s letter reported she is back at the small Chatham enclave.

    She wrote that she was released Thursday.

    She explained that she went to Calgary with the sole purpose of saving her baby from “being a life orphan for no reason.”

    Her intention was to reunite with her husband in Mexico, she wrote.


  145. Lev Tahor children denied Passover visit

    An Ontario Court of Justice Judge has denied the request for two Lev Tahor children to return to the community for Passover, citing concerns over a flight risk presented by the community leader who would host them.

    By Tim Alamenciak, News reporter Toronto Star April 08, 2014

    CHATHAM, ONT.—An Ontario Court of Justice judge has denied a request for two Lev Tahor children to spend Passover with members of the community, citing a concern over flight risk raised by the lawyer for Chatham-Kent Children’s Services.

    William Sullivan, the lawyer representing two children who were apprehended and placed in foster care, said the family of Mayer Rosner, a community leader in the controversial ultra-orthodox Jewish sect, was willing to host them for three days during Passover.

    “They are prepared to come here, participate in Passover, and if ordered, to return,” said Sullivan of the two children. “I said to my children clients when I saw them on Sunday, I said I want you to be the engineers of building this small bridge. I want you to, if this court was to permit you, to come to Chatham to spend Passover on the days that I’ve mentioned … to show the court that you will respect it.”

    But Loree Hodgson-Harris, lawyer for CKCS, alleged Rosner played a role in the flight of the families that prompted the emergency order.

    “Mayer Rosner is one of the community leaders that the society has concerns with,” said Hodgson-Harris, who said she was not given enough time to fully respond to the request. “The circumstances of this case involve parents fleeing the jurisdiction in the face of a court order. The evidence will be that it was with the assistance of the community leaders and in particular Mayer Rosner. The long and the short of it is that it’s much more complicated than the girls spending a few days in the community.”

    Justice Lucy Glenn ruled that the two children could have access to the other children in care in Toronto and visits from their parents, but would not be returned to the community for Passover.

    Glenn also ordered that the parents of the children be allowed eight hours per week of supervised visits. Chatham-Kent Children’s Services agreed to pay part of the cost required for the parents to travel to Toronto where the children are in care.

    Glenn refused to release any of the documents filed with the court Tuesday. It’s not known exactly what the record contains, but one element filed by a lawyer for some of the children is an affidavit from a “clinical investigator.” A lawyer for the Toronto Star will fight for access to the court record Wednesday.

    The two girls are part of a group of eight children apprehended after a March 5 emergency order. The court found that 14 children were taken out of the region of Chatham-Kent contrary to an order that they remain. Eight of the children were apprehended and placed with Jewish families in Toronto, while six remain in Guatemala with their parents.

    The identities of the children and their parents are protected by a publication ban.

    Child protection authorities in Quebec have documented allegations of abuse, underage marriage and a substandard education regime in the sect. The group fled Quebec en masse ahead of an order for the removal of 14 children to foster care. An Ontario court upheld that order, but allowed a 30-day stay for the families to appeal. On the day that appeal was scheduled to be held, it was discovered the children had been removed from Chatham-Kent.

    The sect has categorically denied any allegations of abuse and says the Quebec case was solely related to its religious-only education.

    The appeal hearing is scheduled to resume Wednesday.


  146. Lev Tahor decision expected by Monday

    By Vicki Gough, Chatham Daily News April 9, 2014

    The fate of the Lev Tahor children named in a Quebec child-apprehension order is now in the hands of a Superior Court judge.

    Justice Lynda Templeton concluded Wednesday's appeal hearing of an Ontario Court judge upholding the Quebec order stating: "I will endeavour to have my decision (in writing) by Monday afternoon.

    "You will not see me in court again.

    "There are a number of silent invisible human beings in this courtroom ... I will now re-focus my thoughts and efforts to the children not here today."

    The thoughtful closing comments to the appeal hearing of whether 14 Lev Tahor children should be repatriated to Quebec, commenced with a stern warning from the bench.

    The judge said she found unsolicited mail in her mail slot of two Jewish Family Weekly magazines, postmarked in Brooklyn, NY, containing stories about Lev Tahor.

    "I'm extremely disturbed ... I see this solely as an attempt to influence justice," Templeton said.

    The judge also denied a media report that she read a nine-page letter regarding the case, as well as refused a call from someone purporting to be a paralegal who wanted to attend the hearing.

    "I did not take the call," Templeton said, noting child protection proceedings are not open to the public.

    At issue is whether there is a jurisdictional pathway open to the Chatham-Kent Children's Services to work inter-provincially with child-welfare counterparts to repatriate the children named in the Quebec order.

    Under the Child Law Reform Act, an agent for the lawyer representing some of the children's parents argued the act is not a remedy for jurisdiction in the case before the court.

    "The Child Law Reform Act never intended for corporations to seek custody of children," Marnelle Dragila told court.

    Dragila said if the CKCS had concerns, local child workers could commence their own protection application.

    In reply, Loree Hodgson-Harris, counsel for CKCS, argued case law where the CRLA and the Child and Family Services Act have interplayed in child protection disputes for the best interest of children.

    "It would be unfair for people to avoid their legal obligations by moving from one province to another," Hodgson-Harris said.

    "It would fly in the face of reason," she added.

    Of the 14 children named in the Quebec order, six were returned from Trinidad and remain in temporary foster care.

    Six more are believed to be staying in Guatemala.

    A 17-year-old mother, named in the order, and her baby were intercepted in Calgary and brought back to Ontario.

    A publication ban protects the identify of the children.

    Motions before the Ontario Court of Justice regarding access to the children covered by an emergency order to be taken into temporary care when families fled the country, are to be argued at later dates.


  147. Quebec officials say many more Lev Tahor children could be at risk

    Quebec obtained court orders for more than 100 children, Ontario child services urged to follow up

    By Julia Sisler, CBC News April 10, 2014

    The head of the youth protection agency in Quebec that first gained access to the Jewish sect Lev Tahor is frustrated that children’s services in Ontario have not acted on Quebec court orders for more than 100 children in that community, CBC’s the fifth estate has learned.

    While an Ontario judge has upheld a Quebec court order to place 13 Lev Tahor children in temporary foster care, Denis Baraby, the director of Quebec’s youth protection services Laurentian branch, told the fifth estate that his agency is concerned for more than just those children.

    After Lev Tahor left Quebec, Baraby said youth protection authorities went to court and obtained orders to bring all the children in the community before a judge to determine if they are at risk. He said there were 128 orders in total.

    Last November, members of the ultra-orthodox community suddenly left their homes in Ste-Agathe, Que. and moved to Chatham, Ont. They fled Quebec just before a court ordered that 14 of the Lev Tahor children be placed in foster care.

    Since then, several of the families have moved on again, with one now staying in Guatemala.

    Quebec youth protection authorities spent a year investigating issues related to hygiene and health, as well as allegations that children in the LevTahor sect weren't learning according to the provincial curriculum.

    In court-filed affidavits, Quebec police also said they were investigating allegations of abuse, including beatings, confinement and marriage between underage girls and much older men. Leaders of Lev Tahor have denied all allegations against them.

    Baraby told the fifth estate’s Gillian Findlay that Quebec authorities handed over the court orders to their colleagues at the Chatham-KentChildren’s Services, expecting they would take them to an Ontario judge to enforce them. He does not understand why that has not happened.

    “Frustrated, yes frustrated,” he told Findlay. “They [Chatham-KentChildren’s Services workers] had been in the community, they saw what was going on.

    “Things were bothering [them], and yet there is no more action regarding the remaining children. So there is something we have difficulty comprehending.”

    The executive director of Chatham-Kent’s Children’s Services, StephenDoig, told the fifth estate that his organization is not legally obliged to act on the Quebec orders, as laws are different between the provinces. He said children’s services will wait to see what ultimately happens to the case of the 14 children that is already before an Ontario court. A decision is expected Monday.

    Doig said his agency is not actively monitoring all the children in LevTahor, but he said if there are concerns reported, children’s services will visit the home and do an assessment.

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  148. Baraby said that Lev Tahor members might be presenting Ontario officials with a different view of their community. For example, Baraby says that in media reports, he’s seen the children playing with new toys that they didn’t have in Quebec.

    “They’ve learned from their mistakes in Quebec, so things appear to be better in Chatham,” Baraby says. “If they are, you know it's going to be beneficial for the children because we know that they're seeing toys.

    “I think we have all been manipulated by the community, even us.”

    On the move

    After leaving Quebec suddenly, some of the families in Lev Tahor have moved again.

    The group is appealing the initial Ontario decision upholding the Quebec court's ruling to remove children from the community. But, last month, the families involved in the case did not appear in court.

    The fifth estate tracked down one family who went to Guatemala in early March, and was found staying in the tiny resort town of Panajachel.

    In an exclusive interview, the father of that family explained to Findlay why he took his six children out of Canada.

    “There’s no child-abuse case or any problem,” the man said. “They [the children] have food, they have a place to live and they got the education that you want to give to them, because they don’t want the education that they have in public schools.

    “That’s why I made up my mind to take my children to a place where no one can bother me,” he told Findlay.

    The Lev Tahor members told Findlay they randomly chose Guatemala as their destination. However, that country may offer them a legal haven.

    In Quebec, some of the allegations against Lev Tahor include marriage of girls as young as 14, and not following the provincial curriculum. In Guatemala, the legal age for marriage is 14 and there is no required educational curriculum.

    The fifth estate learned that last month, Guatemalan authorities were warned that more members of Lev Tahor might be on their way to that country.

    That warning came the same day the fifth estate learned that Lev Tahor’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, was detained in the Heathrow airport in London and sent back to Canada.

    The nine people now in Guatemala were not the only Lev Tahor members who tried to get there.

    In early March, another nine members of the sect were en route to Guatemala when they were detained at the airport in Trinidad and Tobago, and sent back to Canada.

    Three adults from that group were processed by the Canada Border Services Agency in Toronto and released, while six children were placed in the care of the Ontario Children’s Aid. They remain in temporary foster care.

    A Lev Tahor teenager and her baby were apprehended at the Calgary International Airport last month. They are also both in temporary foster care.

    The family currently in Guatemala is permitted to stay there for up to three months, under its immigration and visa rules.


  149. Secret Lev Tahor court orders prevent Jewish sect’s children from leaving country

    Lawyer for ultra-Orthodox group says families have been denied access to the Quebec court orders, which concern more than 100 children and were discovered after some were denied passports.

    By: Tim Alamenciak, Toronto Star News reporter, Allan Woods Quebec Bureau, April 10 2014

    More than 100 Lev Tahor children have effectively become prisoners of this country as a result of secret court orders that prevent them from obtaining passports and crossing international borders.

    Guidy Mamann, an immigration lawyer who is representing the ultra-orthodox Jewish group, said the existence of the judicial orders was discovered when some Canadian-born children were denied passports. Their parents are temporary residents in Canada and would therefore be free to leave the country.

    “Some of the families said, ‘You know what, we’re not going to apply for (residency) extensions. This is getting crazy — we just want to go,” Mamann told the Star in a telephone interview. “We’re not talking about running; we’re talking about these families do not have permanent status in Canada — they have temporary status. What is being proposed? That they leave their kids here? It’s crazy.”

    The families have been refused access to the court orders. Mamann said one of the families demanded to see the orders, which were obtained in Quebec in November, and was told to file an access to information request.

    A spokesperson for the director of youth protection for the Laurentians region of Quebec said the warrants for every single child in the Lev Tahor community were obtained in the days after they fled Quebec for Chatham-Kent, Ont. — a departure that was prompted by a fight over the community’s home-schooling regime as well as an approaching court case that risked seeing 14 children from two families taken into temporary foster care.

    “Quebec knows what they’ve issued: they’ve issued warrants for committal, it looks like for every child in the community, but they haven’t told us, nor did they tell the court,” said Mamann.

    He said Marnelle Dragila, the family lawyer representing the parents in the recent appeal hearing over an order for the removal of 13 children, was shocked to learn of the widespread orders.

    “I think this is very heavy-handed. It doesn’t have anything to do at this point with the protection of children,” said Mamann. “If really every single child in this community needed protection, you’d think Ontario would agree. There’s no way that any child protection authority can claim that every single child, if in Quebec, needs protection, while in Ontario … the protection authorities are not taking a position anywhere near that position.”

    continued below

  150. Quebec child protection authorities had documented allegations of abuse, underage marriage and poor health among the sect’s children. Chatham-Kent Children’s Services have conducted its own investigations, resulting in one child protection hearing involving two children, one of whom allegedly had a bruise on her face.

    But Ontario authorities have primarily focused on executing the original court order relating to the 14 Lev Tahor kids. One of them, a married, 17-year-old mother of one, has since been exempted from the foster-care ruling. In an appeal of an earlier Ontario ruling against Lev Tahor, all 14 of the children were discovered to have fled their homes. Six were picked up at the Trinidad airport and returned to Canada, two were apprehended at the Edmonton airport and another six remain in Guatemala with their parents.

    Superior Court Justice Lynda Templeton is slated to rule on the appeal concerning the fate of 13 children on Monday — a ruling that could send those children currently in the custody of foster families back to Quebec.

    The secret Quebec court orders against the children of Lev Tahor were revealed by Denis Baraby, whose office initiated the child protection case against the Jewish group.

    Baraby sent all of the judicial orders to his counterparts in Ontario hoping they would carry out the warrant.

    Baraby would not make himself available for an interview Thursday and his spokesperson would not provide any of the information used to obtain the secret court orders.

    But a source said relations between officials in Quebec and Ontario have been hampered all along by poor communications and a sense that the child protection agency in Chatham-Kent has not shared the urgency of Baraby’s investigators. That seems to have changed in recent weeks after the various attempts by Lev Tahor members to flee their legal problems by escaping the country, the source said.

    Stephen Doig, executive director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, explained there was a joint Ontario-Quebec consensus that the priority should be to carry out the original order relating to the 14 Lev Tahor children. That was an obvious choice, Doig said, because a Quebec judge had already made a ruling based on the evidence and testimony of social workers and a former Lev Tahor member.

    But Doig said that the differences in child welfare laws in Ontario and Quebec resulted in “uncertainty” about how or whether his office could act on the other judicial orders obtained in Quebec.

    “Another factor is that any Ontario law enforcement agency would require either a ‘Canada-wide warrant’ or an Ontario court order to assist in the removal of children where there was likely to be physical resistance from the parents,” Doig said.


  151. Foster families have been ‘ready for months’ to receive Lev Tahor children

    Foster families have been ‘ready for months’ to receive Lev Tahor children targeted by court order

    By: Allan Woods, Toronto Star Quebec Bureau, April 12 2014

    MONTREAL—They speak Yiddish, follow the Jewish law to the letter and they’ve been on standby for months, waiting to welcome into their homes the children of Lev Tahor, the ultra-orthodox sect at the centre of a two-province child abuse probe.

    Four months after child-welfare authorities in Quebec first went to court to have 14 children from two families taken into protective custody, the hassidic community of Montreal has been waiting to play its part.

    Foster families able to meet some of the exacting needs of the children — namely, speaking Yiddish and keeping a high degree of religious observance — have been located. Now they are waiting for the ruling of an Ontario court judge Monday that could send the children along Highway 401 from Chatham-Kent to the hassidic enclave of Outremont in central Montreal.

    “It was last week that they were expecting the children would be returned to Quebec, and so they have made contingency plans,” said David Ouellette, associate director of public affairs with Montreal’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “As far as the foster families are concerned in Quebec, they’ve been ready for months.”

    Four months, to be exact. It was last November that Quebec’s director of youth protection first went to court seeking an order that the 14 children be taken into temporary foster care for physical and psychological examinations. Social workers testified that the children were living in filth, lacked access to doctors and dentists, received a religious education that didn’t come close to meeting the provincial curriculum and were subject to a regime of psychological abuse and underage marriages.

    A few days before that court order was granted, the entire Lev Tahor community fled to Ontario. They hoped to find escape from the snooping social workers and freedom to follow their strict interpretation of the Torah. Instead, they have been subject to the scrutiny of Ontario social workers, a police raid and an immigration probe that resulted in the detention and deportation of several adult members of the group.

    Mixed in with those Ontario tribulations was the failed exodus of the children and their parents, who took a run for Guatemala last month. That incident resulted in six children being forcibly returned to Canada when they landed at the Trinidad airport; one infant child being apprehended with his 17-year-old mother at the Edmonton airport; and another six who made it to the Central American country and are currently fighting attempts to have them brought back.

    The seven children who did not escape the long arm of Canadian law are currently with Ontario foster families.

    continued below

  152. Stephen Doig, executive director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services said there are three possible outcomes of Monday’s court decision: the children could be returned to their families; the children could remain with foster families in Chatham-Kent; or the children could be returned to Quebec.

    He said that the agency has been sensitive to religious considerations in their dealings with the children and has had help from nearby social service agencies that have Yiddish or Hebrew-speaking staff members that can act as translators.

    “Some of the children and many of the adults in Lev Tahor speak or understand some English as well,” Doig said.

    But adding to the difficulty of handling kids from a community like Lev Tahor — one that frowns on speaking any language but Yiddish, whose interpretation of kosher means extreme dietary restrictions and whose contact with the outside world is said to be next to nil — is what the children are said to have endured since last November. Put it all together and long-term care for the children may require a more intensive effort that only an ultra-orthodox Jewish clan can provide.

    Eluzor Moscowicz, who has been caring for five Lev Tahor children for more than a year, said that when the children arrived in his home, they were unclean and wore too-small shoes that had left them with a stunted gait when they walked.

    He told the Canadian Jewish News in February that they were suspicious and uncertain about such things as using scented soap or bathing. He said the children also had a habit of informing on one another, which coincides with testimony by a former Lev Tahor member that they were encouraged to report bad habits or breaches of the community’s strict rules to the group’s leadership.

    The seven children affected by Monday’s court ruling may be in better physical shape, but the ordeal they have gone through since last November will have left psychological marks all the same, Ouellette suggested.

    “The whole idea of having hassidic foster families is to ease the trauma that these kids are going to go through,” he said.

    And even when the final decision is handed down, there could still be one additional snag that draws out the fate of the Lev Tahor children just a little bit longer.
    Monday will be marked by a flurry of preparation for the Jewish holiday of Passover, which would prevent observant Jews from travelling or working on Tuesday and Wednesday.

    “It’s going to be difficult also for the foster families in Montreal — they won’t be able to go and pick them up in Ontario,” said Ouellette. “I can’t tell you what will happen but the timing is not the best.”


  153. Appeal granted in Lev Tahor case, children do not have to go to Quebec

    A Superior Court of Justice Judge has ruled Judge Stephen Fuerth erred in upholding the Quebec order, meaning the 14 Lev Tahor children can stay in Ontario.

    By Tim Alamenciak, Toronto StarNews reporter April 14 2014

    A Superior Court judge has ruled 14 Lev Tahor children subject to a Quebec court order no longer have to return to that province, where they would be placed in foster care.

    Judge Lynda Templeton ruled Ontario Court of Justice Judge Stephen Fuerth erred in his original Feb. 3, 2014 decision that upheld the Quebec order. Her ruling means the children may stay in Ontario, but she directed the Ontario Court of Justice to address the question of what will happen with the seven children who are currently in foster care.

    They are there because of an impromptu flight that saw some of the 14 children removed from the country ahead of the first appeal hearing. Eight of those children were apprehended and seven were placed in foster care with Jewish families in Toronto.

    The Ontario Court of Justice is the court with the jurisdiction to decide whether they should remain in foster care. The court has already ordered eight hours of weekly visits by the parents of the children and directed Chatham-Kent Children’s Services to pay a portion of the travel costs.

    Quebec child protection authorities have documented allegations of abuse, underage marriage and a substandard education regime within Lev Tahor. Leaders of the ultraorthodox Jewish sect have denied all allegations of abuse and say they are the victims of a smear campaign targeting the group for its religious beliefs.

    The group originally fled Quebec ahead of a November ruling for the removal of 14 children, which kicked off a long legal saga that sought to determine whether the Quebec order could be enforced in Ontario. Fuerth ruled that it could, but allowed a stay of 30 days on his decision to permit time for the families to appeal.

    On the day that appeal was scheduled to be heard, it was found that some of the children had fled the country. Templeton held a secret hearing and issued an emergency order for the apprehension of 14 children. Eight of the children were found, while six of the children subject to the original order remain in Guatemala with their parents.

    A few families not subject to any court orders that they knew of attempted to get passports for their Canadian-born children to leave the country, but found that Quebec had issued apprehension orders for their children as well.

    Guidy Mamann, lawyer for the group, says the orders apply to all children in the sect. It’s unclear if, or when, they will be brought before an Ontario court.

    The appeal decision, issued by Templeton on Monday, instructs Chatham-Kent Children’s Services to continue investigating the community, which it has been since the group’s arrival in November.


  154. Lev Tahor child back in mother’s care

    An Ontario judge allows baby placed in foster care to return to 17-year-old mother in Chatham

    CBC News Aprill 28, 2014

    An Ontario court judge has allowed a mother, who is a member of theLev Tahor community, to have custody of her child again, after the infant was placed in foster care in Toronto.

    The judge imposed conditions, one of which forbids any contact between the baby and her father.

    The infant’s mother, 17, lives in Chatham-Kent, Ont., with about 200 other members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect.

    The baby, along with six other minors of the Lev Tahor community, were placed in foster care after the families tried to flee Canada.

    The mother and her baby were apprehended in Alberta, while other LevTahor members were intercepted in Trinidad and Tobago.

    The community had been under investigation for a wide range of issues, including hygiene and the treatment of children. In court-filed affidavits, police also said they were investigating allegations of child abuse and under-age marriages.

    Lev Tahor members have always denied the allegations.

    The court case for the 17-year-old mother to determine if she will keep custody of her infant will resume in July.

    The cases for the six other children taken by Ontario child services will be heard May 7.


  155. Lev Tahor members migrating to Guatemala, family member says


    Members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor appear to be migrating to the Central American country of Guatemala, according to several sources close to the group.

    A group of eight — two adults and six of their eight children — relocated to Guatemala in early March, ahead of a court date in Chatham-Kent, Ont., that would have determined whether the children would be placed in foster care. Although their trip was in violation of court orders to remain in Canada, they were granted temporary refuge in Guatemala for up to 90 days. Now that original group has swelled to about 30, all living in a rural lakeside community. The family’s two eldest daughters are living with a foster family in Toronto. They were apprehended with another group that tried to flee Canada at the same time.

    The children’s uncle recently travelled from Israel to see the family in the village of San Juan de Laguna, a two-hour-trip east of Guatemala City. He said he counted about 30 adults living in a two- or three-room shack.

    The man — referred to as K, because a youth court has ordered the identities of the children to be protected — spent a month in Guatemala from March 27 to April 30 tracking down the whereabouts of his sister. He made several visits to the shack where they were living before he was finally permitted to speak with her.

    “Armed with a metal bar for protection, I told her that if she did not come out, I would break in. So she finally agreed to come outside and talk with me,” the man told The Gazette through a Hebrew interpreter Friday.

    Speaking from Israel, K said he was distraught by his sister’s psychological state.

    “It seemed like she had no emotions,” he said. “I hadn’t seen her in more than three years, but to her the visit seemed normal, like nothing special.”

    He said he also saw his nephew who appeared dirty, hungry and covered in bug bites.

    Speaking to some members of the local Jewish community in the village, K found out that the children were sleeping on the dirt floor of the shack, and that there is no plumbing; they receive barrels of fresh water once a week. There is only a limited amount of food. Shortly before he arrived, the families had purchased 15 used mattresses.

    K said he saw community leaders Yoil Weingarten, Mayer Rosner and Uriel Goldman there, and believes they also now live in the Central American country. Mendy Marcus, a former Lev Tahor member who has a brother and a nephew in the sect, said he believes his brother has relocated to Guatemala. Another former member confirmed that another family with 12 children has relocated to Guatemala as well.

    Calls to Weingarten and Rosner were not returned Friday.

    While he was there, Rosner’s teenage daughter had a baby. K said the nearest hospital is at least two hours away, so the baby was born on the floor of the shack without any medical assistance.

    K’s sister had been contacting the family regularly when she was living in Canada, but her cellular phone was taken away by the sect’s leadership when she left the country, he said.

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  156. She was given a phone about a week ago, and used it to call her parents in Israel to ask for money.

    K said he wanted to remove his sister and her children from the sect, but she refused to go with him, saying the situation “wasn’t simple.”

    Speaking on behalf of the sect, lawyer Guidy Mamann said Lev Tahor members are feeling unwelcome in Canada, and are considering options to live elsewhere.

    “They have an opportunity to find somewhere where they can go,” he said. “I’m sure the group is discussing a number of possibilities. Guatemala is one of them.”

    He said the community isn’t fleeing the country to avoid child protection authorities, rather most members are Israeli or American citizens on temporary visas, so they’ll have to leave soon anyway.

    “In fairness to the parents, I think it’s important for the public to know that these are not bad people,” Mamann said. “They made some bad decisions clearly about leaving Quebec and Ontario. But that doesn’t mean they were abusive or neglectful of their children.”

    Quebec’s Department of Youth Protection conducted an intense investigation of the community, which was based in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts until last November. Authorities allege the community resorts to corporal punishment to discipline children, that children are routinely removed from their families for weeks or months at a time and forced to take psychological drugs, and that under-age marriages are performed. Most of the girls were found to have fungus on their feet, ostensibly caused by the community’s strict modesty rules that compel girls and women to always wear socks, stockings and shoes. None of the allegations have been proved in court, and Lev Tahor members continuously defied court orders to appear in Quebec, or to allow their children to meet with lawyers. Last year, the Quebec Court issued an order for 14 children to be removed and placed into foster care. It later issued an apprehension order for all of the 127 children in the community. The orders were issued after all of the 200 members relocated in Chatham-Kent, ahead of a date in youth court. The order to apprehend the 14 children has been denied by an Ontario court. Chatham Kent Children’s Services has refused Quebec’s request to pursue the order to apprehend the 127 children.

    K said he is speaking on behalf of all family members of Lev Tahor members when he asks Canadian authorities to intervene and remove the children from the sect, because keeping them there is dangerous for their well being.

    “The children need to be returned immediately to Canada,” he wrote recently in a blog. “All children within this cult are helpless against its leadership.”

    Youth protection authorities in Chatham-Kent and in Quebec declined to comment on the case Friday, so it’s not known if anyone is monitoring the conditions in which the children are living.


  157. Passport woes keep Lev Tahor kids anchored in Canada

    By Jane Sims, The London Free Press The Beacon Herald May 13, 2014

    Any plans that an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect may leave the country for Central America have been halted because Quebec’s child welfare agency still has warrants outstanding to apprehend all 129 kids in the Lev Tahor community, their lawyer says.

    Immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann said it wasn’t known until two weeks ago that the Quebec department of youth protection obtained a court order to apprehend all the children who fled Ste. Agathe-des-Monts, Que., last fall for Chatham.

    More than 200 members of Lev Tahor bolted from Quebec while authorities there investigated allegations of child abuse and neglect. The group says the allegations are unfounded.

    Details of the warrants for the other children weren’t discovered until some Lev Tahor families made passport applications for their Canadian children.

    That information was never disclosed to any Ontario court that weighed whether 14 children subject to an initial Quebec foster-care order should be returned to Quebec, Mamann said.

    The outstanding warrants have scuppered any applications for Canadian passports necessary to leave the country.

    It was believed any issues with the Quebec authorities were finished. Last month, Superior Court Justice Lynda Templeton said it wasn’t in the best interests of the children to be sent back to Quebec and away from their families. She ordered the children be placed in temporary foster care in Ontario.

    Mamann said all the children under the order are likely to be reunited with their families by the end of May. They were apprehended after two families disobeyed an order to stay in Chatham. One family made it to Guatemala, while the other was arrested in Trinidad and returned to Canada.

    There have been rumours the community is ready to leave Canada because of the scrutiny placed on their education standards and allegations for abuse.

    Mamann said it’s true two of the community’s leaders, Mayer Rosner and Uriel Goldman, are in Guatemala but primarily for the birth of a grandson.

    They also plan to look around the country to decide if it’s suitable for the anti-Zionist group to live there.

    But no one is going anywhere until the children’s passport issues are resolved.

    Mamann said the outstanding Quebec warrants have created a sticky situation for the families because parents, most of whom are American or Israeli, are about to have temporary visas about to expire but can’t leave because their children aren’t allowed to leave Canada.

    He said there hasn’t been “a shred of proof that they have been neglected.”

    The warrants weren’t put in place to ensure the children were protected, Mamann said. “It’s a question of politics.”

    If there was real concern about the children’s safety, the Quebec authorities would defer to the investigation by Ontario child welfare authorities, he said.


  158. Lev Tahor lawyer seeks lifting of apprehension order


    The lawyer for Lev Tahor said Quebec must lift an order for the apprehension of all the children of Lev Tahor to allow the group to travel freely outside of Canada.
    An apprehension order was issued by Quebec’s court last year asking for the return of all 127 of the children of Lev Tahor, an extremist ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect that moved en masse to Ontario late last year after living in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts since 2001.

    The apprehension order was not executed by Children’s Services in Chatham-Kent, where the group relocated. Guidy Mamann, the group’s lawyer, said they only discovered the order existed several weeks ago, when some of the children applied to get Canadian passports. He said passports aren’t issued to people who have an outstanding warrant against them. The passport office has since asked that the children who have valid passports return them.

    Mamann said since the order won’t ever be enforced, it must be lifted, because keeping it in place could force some families to leave the country without their children.

    Most of the adults of the group are Israeli or U.S. citizens, and are in this country on temporary visas. Although they have been renewed in the past, Mamann said recent events lead him to believe the government will probably deny future requests.

    “The dozen years they spent here were uneventful, but the last six months were clearly not,” he said. “It has become quite clear that the (Canadian Border Services Agency), and (Citizen and Immigration Canada) have a very different approach to Lev Tahor at this point.”

    In recent months, seven of the members were arrested by CBSA, and three have since left the country. If the residency status of other members expires, they may also have to leave the country. If their children don’t have Canadian passports, they won’t be permitted to travel with them.

    “They’re going to risk being arrested and deported without their kids, and that’s crazy,” Mamann said. “This order that was meant to protect the children may end up harming them if their parents are deported and they end up here on their own, risking being placed in foster care. That makes no sense.”

    Mamann said the group is looking for a new place to live because it seems to have worn out its welcome in Canada. Several members have recently relocated to Guatemala in Central America.

    Isabelle Dugré, a spokesperson for the Department of Youth Protection in the Laurentians region confirmed by email last week the apprehension order is being maintained, but refused to elaborate on the reason. The department’s director has declined an interview request.

    In the meantime, the uncle of eight children who are part of the sect said he’s disappointed with how Canadian authorities have handled the situation. The man can’t be identified because the children are the subject of youth court proceedings in Quebec.

    “These children were born in Canada and four have Canadian citizenship,” he recently wrote in a blog. “Canada is responsible for them. We demand that the Government of Canada meet its obligation to protect these children.”


  159. Human-rights commission to study handling of Lev Tahor case

    Will look into handling of case of extremist Jewish sect that fled Laurentians town Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts to avoid youth court


    The Quebec Human Rights Commission will study what went wrong in the case of an extremist Jewish sect that fled the Laurentians town of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts to avoid a hearing in Youth Court.

    Last November, a group of about 200 members of the extremist ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor fled their homes of 12 years to relocate in the Ontario city of Chatham-Kent. They had been due in court to respond to allegations of child abuse and neglect made by Quebec’s Department of Youth Protection.

    After several court hearings, the Ontario courts have ruled it would not be in the best interests of the children to execute an order made by Quebec’s youth court to return 14 children to the province and place them in foster care. Chatham-Kent’s Children’s Services has also refused to execute a warrant to remove all 127 children from the community, also issued by the Quebec court in November. That warrant is still outstanding.

    Now, the commission will examine whether police, youth protection officials, the school board, the health sector and the legal system in Quebec had the proper tools to deal with the situation, and if they used them properly.

    “We’re not going to make a judgment about the Lev Tahor intervention, but rather to examine whether we’re well-equipped for these situations in Quebec,” said Camil Picard, the commission’s vice president who deals with youth protection matters. “The commission has to assure that all young people in Quebec in all communities see their rights respected. We want to know that the actors have what they need to intervene in assuring children’s rights are protected.”

    He added the study, to be completed by the end of the year, will rely on testimony from the primary actors in the intervention: police officers, officials at the department of youth protection, and their counterparts in Ontario.

    Picard would not say whether he considers that it was a major failure of the youth protection system in Quebec that the children were not repatriated.

    “It’s too soon to answer that question,” he said. “The study will determine that.”

    Picard said the study will also look into other high-profile cases, such as the murder of four members of the Montreal-based Shafia family by their parents and brother in 2009.

    He said the study will examine whether Quebec’s system is equipped to deal with youth protection cases as they relate to sects and different cultures.”


  160. Residents of small Guatemalan town want Jews to leave

    There are 10 Jewish families in San Juan La Laguna. Indigenous Mayans want to ‘defend their rights’ against the ‘ill will’ they’re purportedly causing

    BY NATALIE A. SCHACHAR, Times of Israel May 28, 2014

    BUENOS AIRES — Indigenous residents of San Juan La Laguna, a small town of under 10,000 in the Guatemalan state of Sololá, have asked members of the Jewish community — comprising 10 ultra-Orthodox families, most of whom arrived only recently — to identify themselves in a municipal registry and leave within the next few months.

    The registry was established to verify whether immigrants from the Jewish community are legally in the country and where they are from, information which has not been asked of other foreigners granted temporary visas.

    “We, as a local authority, have nothing against the Jewish community,” city mayor Rodolfo López told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “But every community, and especially ours, as indigenous Mayans, has very special customs and traditions and we have to defend our rights.”

    Residents have filed complaints with the municipality that the community of ultra-religious Jews have used a public body of water as a mikveh (ritual bath), practiced unhygienic rituals like kaparot (where a chicken is swung around a rabbi’s head before being slaughtered), and made disparaging comments about immodesty to tourists.

    According to the mayor, the indigenous population has also been suspicious since a Canadian couple accused of child abuse reportedly moved to San Juan La Laguna with their six children.

    “There is almost every other religion here, and there have never been any problems. When they came, there started to be ill will,” the mayor said of the Jewish families.

    Members of the Orthodox community said that they do not bathe in front of others, and have been the target of verbal and physical attacks.

    “I put myself in their place and perhaps they are right to feel scared because before we were two families and now there are 10. And seeing us with our traditional dress, which is black, out of devotion and humility, in the streets, may cause fear,” said Misael Santos, in an interview with the newspaper Prensa LIbre.

    Santos, a Guatemalan Christian who is converting to Judaism, said that residents uploaded photos of Hitler and said they would put members of the Jewish community in cremation ovens.

    “They asked us to get out of town because they said that we kidnap children, and then added to the fire by saying the town would be invaded by Jews,” he said.

    After rocks hurled at his house broke windows and a firework bomb exploded nearby, Santos requested an urgent meeting with the city to discuss the attack and ask for security.

    “At the meeting, a lady presented 300 alleged signatures, asking us to leave the village,” he said to Prensa Libre. According to the mayor, the Jewish community was also told that other entities, not the local municipality, were the ones who provide security.

    In a telephone interview with The Times of Israel, Santos was reluctant to speak and said there was tranquility in San Juan La Laguna.

    “Some of us are foreigners, so they asked for ID,” he said, “but we are living very peacefully.”


  161. Children’s Services turns up heat on Lev Tahor families remaining in Chatham

    by Sarah Sacheli, Windsor Star (blog) May 29, 2014

    CHATHAM- Child welfare authorities opened new protection proceedings involving the Lev Tahor religious sect this week, but with members of the community on the move again, an Ontario court judge had a hard time Thursday making orders on the cases.

    “I cannot make orders about kids that are not in the jurisdiction. It’s as simple as that,” said Justice Lucy Glenn.

    Glenn, who heard the new cases Thursday, learned that at least one of the more than dozen children involved travelled to Guatemala the day after a worker Tuesday tried to notify his parents of the proceedings. The boy’s brother, also subject to the protection proceedings, was already in Guatemala before child protection workers arrived, court heard Thursday.

    Publication bans under the Child and Family Services Act prohibit identifying any of the children or their parents.

    Lev Tahor, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect that has made enemies in Israel and abroad for their anti-Zionist views, has been nomadic since late last year when child welfare authorities in Quebec began protection proceedings in that province. The families, who had been living in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts near Montreal, fled to Windsor, eventually settling in Chatham. In advance of the courts in Chatham ruling on whether the children would be returned to Quebec and placed in temporary foster care, the families fled again.

    Some children were intercepted in Trinidad and Tobago and returned to Canada. An infant and her teenaged mother were intercepted in Calgary. One family, the subject of another case spoken to in court Thursday, made it to Guatemala.

    Two children intercepted in Trinidad were the subject of a case spoken to in court Thursday. Those children, the last of the 13 who were originally ordered into care in Quebec, remain in foster care in Ontario. The rest are living with family members.

    Court heard Thursday that some of the parents involved in the new files have been deported. “The parents’ whereabouts are not known,” said Ronald Burnette, a lawyer acting for Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, explaining to the court why the agency has been unable to officially serve documents on parents in some of the six files he spoke to Thursday.

    Most of the parents, including some that are absent, are represented by Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann. Mamaan has in turn hired London lawyer Marnelle Dragila to speak to the child-protection issues.

    Dragila Thursday did not oppose Children’s Services’ proposals to have some of the children who are still in the country ordered into their grandmother’s care under the agency’s supervision. The grandmother’s own children are also subject of child protection proceedings, but those children left the country about one month ago, the woman told the court through a Hebrew interpreter.

    The judge ordered the woman to surrender her own passport and those of any of the children under her care.

    Dragila said the immigration lawyer handling the case will begin preparing a list of which children and parents are still in the jurisdiction.

    “They all have varying degrees of immigration issues,” Dragila told the court. While the parents are not Canadian citizens, some of the children were born here. She urged the court not to judge the parents based on the fact that they are no longer in Canada. “There is a difference between flight and deportation,” Dragila said.

    All the cases return to court in July.


  162. Lev Tahor sect starts new life in Guatemala after fleeing child neglect allegations in Ontario and Quebec

    by Graeme Hamilton and Natalie Alcoba, National Post June 23, 2014

    The villagers in San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala, did not know what to make of it when the devout newcomers appeared, the men in long black coats, the women and girls in dark chadors despite the tropical heat.

    Their arrival sparked fear among some people in the indigenous community, who were taken aback by their clothing, customs and Yiddish speech. “There were even people who believed that their presence signalled the second coming of Christ,” Salvador Loarca, an assistant attorney in the local human rights office, said in a telephone interview last week.

    In fact, what appears to be occurring in the lakeside region about 80 kilometres west of the capital Guatemala City is the latest coming of the nomadic, ultra-orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor. Founded by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans in Jerusalem in the 1980s, the group spent close to a decade in New York state and more than a decade in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., before fleeing to Chatham, Ont., in the middle of the night last fall as Quebec child-protection authorities prepared to intervene.

    With Canadian authorities scrutinizing the members’ immigration status (the adults were mostly born outside Canada) and Ontario children’s aid officials seeking protection orders, Lev Tahor leaders have decided they have no future in Canada. A well-connected source inside Montreal’s Hassidic community said Mr. Helbrans left Canada last week and Lev Tahor members were told to pray for his safe arrival in Guatemala.

    “There is no future for this community in Canada,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann, who is representing community members in various immigration and child-protection files. “There is none …. Generally speaking, these people want to be together, and that’s going to be impossible here in Canada. They have some very bad memories here.”

    Mr. Mamann said “several” Lev Tahor families have already left for Guatemala, including a mother and six children who were subject to a court order to remain in the Chatham area. Mr. Mamann dismissed concerns that the children would be at even greater risk in the impoverished Central American country. “The children are fine in Guatemala. There are millions of children in Guatemala,” he said.

    “It’s obviously a country that is a bit poorer than Canada …. It’s a lot poorer, but children live there.”

    In Quebec, an investigation by child-protection officials last year revealed that children were suffering from poor dental health and fungal infections. They were not bathing on a regular basis, were not being schooled according to any Canadian curriculum and only spoke Yiddish and Hebrew. Girls are required from the age of three to wear the chador, which only reveals their faces. Youth protection officials also told a court that the community practised arranged marriages with girls as young as 14.

    After community members hurriedly left Ste-Agathe for Chatham during the night of Nov. 17, a Quebec judge ordered that 13 children belonging to three families be placed in foster care. An Ontario Superior Court justice ruled last April that Ontario had no jurisdiction to enforce the Quebec order, and since then Quebec authorities have been left on the sidelines.

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  163. A spokeswoman for Quebec youth protection, Isabelle Dugré, said her organization “remains very worried about the situation of children who are currently in Ontario and Guatemala” and is prepared to provide any help Ontario requires.

    It appears, though, that once again the Lev Tahor children are slipping through the safety net, bound for a country where community leaders will not be hounded about following a specific school curriculum and where girls can marry at age 14.

    Mr. Mamann said the choice of Guatemala as a destination was last-minute, but a similar ultra-orthodox sect called Toiras Jesed has also been putting down roots in San Juan la Laguna.

    The new arrivals have sparked some recent tension, leading to reports on Israeli web sites that anti-Semitism had broken out in Guatemala. But Misael Santos, a member of Toiras Jesed, said the only violence involved some rock throwing and insults by a group of drunken youth.

    “It’s past. The young people came and asked for forgiveness,” he said.

    “What happened was a lack of information about how a Jewish man lives. Some people thought we were part of a satanic sect.”

    Mr. Loarca, the human-rights attorney, said rumours spread that the newcomers wanted to buy land and populate the town, at a time when the municipality was encouraging locals to have fewer children as a way to manage poverty. One woman at a community meeting called for their expulsion, he said.

    “This is a town of peace and tranquility. Here, no one is discriminated against,” Rodolfo Perez, the mayor of San Juan La Laguna, said. “They called us racists, but we have never had problems with these people. ” He said the municipality, at the request of the community, asked the group to provide a list of its members in order to protect them. Mr. Loarca said the list was compiled “in order to gain some control, for their own safety.”

    A spokesman for Guatemala’s General Directorate of Migration said he is aware of one Lev Tahor family — ­ the mother and six children who fled the Canadian court order — that has settled in San Juan la Laguna. Fernando Lucero said that upon arrival in Guatemala in March, the family presented themselves in front of a judge, who said they could remain free because they are not accused of any crime in Guatemala.

    “In terms of the laws of Guatemala, they have not committed any offence. They are here legally,” Mr. Lucero said. He said 90-day tourist visas like the one on which they entered can be renewed.

    Shelley Thibert, a spokeswoman for Chatham-Kent Children’s Services (CKCS), said there is little her agency can do once families leave the province. “We are aware of the families in Guatemala and have had discussions with Canadian Foreign Affairs as CKCS has no jurisdiction outside of Ontario,” she said.

    A Foreign Affairs spokesman would say only that consular officials are providing assistance to the families in Guatemala. He said further details on the case could not be released for privacy reasons.

    Back in Quebec, where a Jewish social services agency had been preparing to find foster homes for the allegedly neglected Lev Tahor children, the prospect that they will be beyond the reach of Canadian law has been met with disappointment.

    “We continue to be extremely concerned for the sake of these children,” said David Ouellette, public affairs director at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Montreal. “I would hope that everything is done for them to be protected.”


  164. Ultra-orthodox Lev Tahor settlement has spurred tension in Guatemalan village, CIJA says

    by Graeme Hamilton | National Post July 3, 2014

    MONTREAL — Following reports of anti-Jewish sentiment in the rural Guatemalan village where members of the ultra-orthodox sect Lev Tahor have settled, Jewish leaders in the Central American country are reaching out to their Canadian counterparts for help.

    Just back from a trip to Guatemala, David Ouellette of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ Quebec office said the recent arrival from Canada of more than 100 Lev Tahor members is testing the longstanding good relations between Guatemala’s small Jewish community and its Christian majority.

    “I think there is grounds for concern. There is tension in the village,” Mr. Ouellette said in an interview Thursday, referring to San Juan la Laguna, where the Lev Tahor members have settled.

    Representatives of Guatemala’s Jewish community, which Mr. Ouellette said numbers just 800 people, contacted the CIJA last month following reports in the local press that the arrival of Lev Tahor families had sparked anti-Semitism.

    The sect, founded by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans in Jerusalem in the 1980s, spent more than a decade in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., before fleeing to Chatham, Ont., in the middle of the night last fall as Quebec child-protection authorities prepared to intervene.

    The child-protection agency alleged that children were being denied a proper education, that girls were required to wear chadors from the age of three and that marriages were arranged for girls as young as 14.

    With Canadian authorities scrutinizing the members’ immigration status (the adults were mostly born outside Canada) and Ontario children’s aid officials seeking protection orders, Lev Tahor leaders have decided they have no future in Canada.

    Mr. Ouellette travelled to San Juan la Laguna, speaking to locals and to the mayor, to get an idea of how los hombres de negro — the men in black, as the locals refer to Lev Tahor — are perceived. People he spoke to repeated the teachings of their priest that “He who curses the people of Israel will be cursed himself.”

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  165. But there were also signs that the Lev Tahor customs were a source of irritation. Lev Tahor men turn their back to local women when doing business in town and the group’s women rarely leave their homes. One local mechanic was forced out of his place of business when a Lev Tahor arrival offered the landlord a much higher rent, Mr. Ouellette said.

    He said the tension has caught the mainstream Jewish community off guard. “They have really harmonious relations with different religious leaderships, so they’re just not accustomed to being the centre of any negative attention,” he said.

    In fact, Mr. Ouellette said it is common to see the Star of David adorning businesses in the country, such as the Jerusalem tortilla shop he passed on his way to San Juan la Laguna. Guatemala has long enjoyed warm relations with Israel, dating back to the 1940s when Guatemala’s ambassador to the United Nations was instrumental in pushing for recognition of the Jewish state.

    “This is a country where people tend to have an idealistic perception of the Jewish people, and then the only Jewish people they actually meet are the members of a bizarre cult,” he said.

    He advised the country’s Jewish leaders to draw a clear line between their community and Lev Tahor: “I told them it was very important for them, as we did here in Canada, to explain to non-Jews that this is a cult, that these people are not representative of any normative current of Judaism.”

    All indications are that Lev Tahor has chosen Guatemala as its next home. Guidy Mamann, a Toronto immigration lawyer representing Lev Tahor members, confirmed Thursday that Rabbi Helbrans has arrived in Guatemala. He said only four of the more than 40 families that moved to Chatham last fall remain in Canada, and they have only stayed because their children are under children’s aid supervision orders.

    “People are moving on with their lives,” he said. “Obviously, I think they’ve had enough here.”

    Mr. Ouellette said the choice of Guatemala as a destination is not good news for the children. “This is a country that faces serious social problems and has limited ability to address them,” he said.

    But Mr. Mamann said the group’s determination to stick together limits its immigration options. “If this group means a lot to them, then they are going to have to find a country that caters to the lowest common denominator,” he said. “There are very few countries whose entry standards will include every family in the Lev Tahor group.”


  166. Custody, immigration issues continue for Lev Tahor families

    CTV Windsor July 17, 2014

    Custody proceedings involving the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor continued in Chatham Thursday, but the group also continues to battle immigration issues.

    According to immigration lawyer Guidy Mamman, most of the sect’s members have now left Chatham.

    "There are half a dozen families here in Canada who are on temporary status. The CAS is seeking a supervision order of presumably an indefinite nature. We don't know for how long, so we have an immediate conflict."
    Mamann says either the Children's Aid Society has to overturn their orders or Canadian immigration officials and the Canada Border Services Agency have to give the parents more time to stay in the country.

    If neither can happen, the Lev Tahor families will be unfairly forced to leave without their children, something he says they will never do.

    About six Lev Tahor families were in court in Chatham regarding their CAS cases on Thursday, but their matters were only spoken to and new dates assigned for the fall.

    And at the group's cluster of homes on the north end of Chatham -- CTV News could count no more than 30 Lev Tahor members remaining.

    Mamann says his clients would have prefered to stay in Chatham, but people shouldn't be surprised that it is no longer an option for the sect.

    "If CAS wants to walk in once, twice, three times, into their homes, fine, but this it was a ritual that occurred in excess of 100 times in Quebec and Ontario. A lot of the outlandish allegations have never been proven, in fact, they've been disproven.

    "There are long term prospects for this group, as a group in Canada, trying to get 40-50 families to immigrate successfully...is beyond wishful thinking...I know a lot of the families have gone to Guatemala because their immigration laws are far more generous than ours."

    In November, more than 200 sect members came to the area to get away from orders issued by Quebec’s child protection services – forcing 14 children into foster care.


  167. Lev Tahor, ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, quietly moves to Guatemala

    Of the 200 sect members, only half a dozen families remain in Chatham, Ont.

    CBC News August 23, 2014

    Most of the members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor have moved from Canada to Guatemala amid allegations of child abuse.

    Of the nearly 200 members of the sect, a half-dozen families remain in Chatham, Ont., where the group has been based since November 2013. The members left in Canada include some of those who have been involved in a custody dispute with the region's children's services authorities for several months.

    Radio-Canada's sources said the bulk of the families began leaving Canada one by one starting in June to join some of the members involved in the custody battle who had left for Guatemala in March.

    The sect picked up and moved to Chatham from Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., last November after Quebec's youth protective services (known by its French acronym, the DPJ) initiated steps to remove 14 of the children. One of the children was a mother to a young child herself.

    Case workers at the DPJ's department in nearby St-Jérôme, Que., alleged that some of the children experienced physical punishment, had poor hygiene and were not being educated according to the province's curriculum.

    At Quebec's urging, Chatham-Kent Children's Services picked up where the DPJ left off.

    Families left Canada in March

    In February, an Ontario judge upheld a Quebec ruling that ordered the 13 children who were part of the original group involved in the dispute with DPJ but did not include the young mother to be surrendered to child welfare authorities.

    The sect appealed the decision.

    In March, 12 of the children involved in the custody dispute and six adults left Canada on two separate flights: one group of nine flying through Mexico City, and the other group of nine travelling through Trinidad and Tobago.

    The group travelling through Trinidad and Tobago were intercepted by immigration authorities and returned to Canada. The group travelling through Mexico City arrived safely in Guatemala, where they remain.

    The young mother and her child were stopped at the Calgary airport and returned to Ontario, as well.

    In April, Lev Tahor members won their appeal of the February ruling ordering the return of the children to Quebec.

    Representatives of Lev Tahor have always vigorously denied all allegations of child abuse.


  168. Jewish group Lev Tahor expelled from Guatemala sanctuary

    Lev Tahor families flee San Juan La Laguna just months after fleeing Canada amid child abuse allegations.

    By: Allan Woods, Toronto Star Quebec Bureau August 29, 2014

    MONTREAL—After fleeing Canada amid allegations of child abuse, about 230 members of the ultraorthodox Jewish group Lev Tahor have now been expelled from the Guatemalan village where they had reassembled their reclusive community.

    An edict from a group of indigenous elders in the town of San Juan La Laguna, 150 kilometres west of Guatemala City, said that the Lev Tahor members were no longer welcome in the lakeside town.

    It was the culmination of a dispute with the local community that has been ongoing for months and escalated in recent days with some Lev Tahor families having their water supply cut off and being threatened with violence, Nachman Helbrans, the son of the group's spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, told the Star on Friday.

    The move was denounced by another prominent Jewish leader in Guatemala, who said it is unacceptable that any group should be forced to leave their homes because of religious beliefs.

    Rabbi Shalom Pelman, who leads the Chabad Lubavitch congregation in Guatemala's capital city, said it is the type of activity that brings to mind the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany.

    “This is not typical in the world I live in. Even in Iran, Jews are not expelled,” he told the Star in a telephone interview.

    Locals say that a bus full of Lev Tahor families left for Guatemala City on Thursday night and a second bus departed San Juan La Laguna on Friday morning.

    The edict to leave was delivered Wednesday after Lev Tahor and the Council of Indigenous Elders, representing the majority Christian population, were unable to negotiate a solution to their clash of civilizations.

    Lev Tahor, a radical strain of Hassidic Judaism, was founded by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans in Israel and flourished after he moved the group to the U.S. in the early 1990s. While living in New York, Helbrans was jailed for kidnapping a young follower and preventing contact with the boy's parents. He was deported to Israel after serving a portion of his prison sentence. In the early 2000s, Helbrans moved his group to the Quebec town of Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, north of Montreal, where they were able to live largely in isolation and in accordance with Helbrans' strict interpretation of Jewish law.

    Sources and former Lev Tahor members have said they lived off of government welfare cheques and any earnings were submitted to senior council within the group that exerted strong control over the followers' lives.

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  169. Problems began several years ago when encounters with Quebec's child protection authorities led to suspicions the group was carrying out underage marriages, forcing members to take powerful and unnecessary psychiatric medication and raising their children in poor conditions with no access to doctors or proper education. That prompted a full-scale raid on the community in August 2013 and proceedings to have more than a dozen children taken into temporary foster care.

    The community fled across the Quebec-Ontario border to Chatham-Kent in November 2013. After investigators from local Children's Aid Society, the Canada Border Service Agency and Quebec provincial police followed up on the original Quebec child-welfare probe, Lev Tahor members started fleeing the country.

    Nachman Helbrans said that two children remain in foster care in Chatham-Kent and a number of families are still fighting in Ontario court to overturn a court-ordered ban on obtaining Canadian passports so that children can be reunited with their parents. In some cases, those parents have fled the country or been deported for immigration violations.

    But the majority of Lev Tahor members have reconstituted their community in the tourist town on the shores of Lake Atitlán.

    Their arrival last spring did not sit well with locals, said tour guide Luis Cholotio, a lifelong resident of San Juan La Laguna and owner of the Atitlán Expeditions.

    “They want to be on their own, they don't believe in the schools, the educational systems here, so they do their own things,” he said in an interview. “So the leaders talked about the future of the community and said they can live in Guatemala, we don't care, but they should live in a separate place, not inside a community.”

    A spokesman for the indigenous council, Miguel Vasquez, said the decision was made to protect the culture of the local population and he said was protected by the country's constitution.

    “We act in self-defence and to respect our rights as indigenous people,” he told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

    Cholotio also said there were concerns about the oft-repeated accusation that Lev Tahor children are forced to marry as early as 13 years old. Lev Tahor has repeatedly denied this claim, which was made in a Quebec court hearing last November, and says the community always abides by the laws of the place in which they reside.

    Rabbi Pelman, a 15-year resident of Guatemala, said he has never before heard of such an edict being applied in the country.

    “Even if they are the most problematic group . . . the expelling of a religious group or ethnic group from one place to another is not acceptable,” he said. “That's why we have laws, we have judges, we have police. They are the ones qualified to deal with problematic issues.”

    He is calling on the Guatemalan government and the international community to come to the defence of Lev Tahor.

    “It's less than 70 years since the Holocaust. If that can happen again it's a wake up call for the international community to see what we're doing wrong and how we can fix it sooner rather than later.”

    With files from Jane Gerster


  170. Quebec police believe Lev Tahor members falsified passports, marriage licences

    A document obtained by CBC/Radio-Canada alleges Lev Tahor members falsified documents to fool officials

    By Tracey Lindeman,

    CBC News September 10, 2014

    Members of Lev Tahor are believed to have falsified some passports, marriage licences and birth certificates, according to an affidavit filed by Quebec provincial police to obtain a search warrant.

    The document, called an Information to Obtain, is a written testimony that sets out allegations to a judge to get a search warrant. The sworn document was signed by Sgt. Normand Dion of the Sûreté du Québec.

    CBC/Radio-Canada obtained a copy of the extensive document pertaining to Lev Tahor, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect that inNovember 2013 fled Quebec for Chatham, Ont. to evade a youth protection order and allegations of child abuse.

    Some of the documents left behind by the Lev Tahor families as they hastily moved to Ontario were seized by SQ investigators.

    The Sûreté du Québec affidavit also details how the suspicion of falsified documents was the crux of the search warrant executed by Quebec's provincial police in Chatham, Ont. on Jan. 29, 2014.

    The SQ document of which CBC/Radio-Canada obtained a copy is dated Jan. 28 — the day before the search was conducted in Chatham.

    None of the allegations against Lev Tahor made in this affidavit have been tested in court, and no member of Lev Tahor has been charged in connection to them.

    Document details

    The SQ document lists items seized by the police during the searches conducted in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., the home of the Lev Tahor community before it fled to Chatham.

    Investigators seized two laptops, an external hard drive, various banking documents belonging to a company owned by Lev Tahor members, credit cards, marriage licences from Missouri, as well as Revenu Québec and Immigration Canada documents.

    Investigators also found several bottles of medication, namely ibuprofen, antibiotics, medication to treat seizure disorders and an antipsychotic.

    There have been allegations that Lev Tahor controlled children in the sect with medication.

    A CD containing other documents that was handed to the SQ in the spring of 2012. The CD had been given to a Quebec rabbi by a former member of Lev Tahor.

    The SQ in its affidavit alleged the CD contained documents primarily dating from 2010 and 2011, including a forged passport, power-of-attorney documents asserting control over members of Lev Tahor in case of incapacity, notarized real-estate sale documents and at least one other contract.

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  171. The SQ document alleged that most of the materials on the CD were tied to Mayer Rosner, one of the high-ranking members of Lev Tahor described by provincial police as leader Shlomo Helbrans's right-hand man.

    Offices seized various letters and documents, as well as hospital and health care cards, in the search on Jan. 29.

    SQ interviews reveal further details

    A witness and former member of the sect who was questioned by police made several serious allegations, according to the SQ affidavit. The so-far-unproven allegations include:

    · Children were beaten with a hanger in the community's synagogue.

    · The witness was forced to fabricate false Ministry of Education documents.

    · The children did not attend school.

    · Children were removed from their families and placed with other families if the parents did not conform to the leader's rules.

    The witness also alleged that leader Helbrans ordered members of Lev Tahor to go to the doctor with a list of specific symptoms and to request certain medications by name.

    Other testimony gathered by the SQ and outlined in the affidavit alleges physical and sexual violence, sequestration of girls and arranged marriages.

    The affidavit also alleged that the sect brought children destined for arranged marriages to the Lev Tahor community from other countries under false pretenses in order to fool immigration officials.

    Lev Tahor denies all allegations.

    Lev Tahor did not teach children Quebec curriculum

    Lev Tahor members have admitted in the past that they refused to teach the government-mandated curriculum to their children.

    This week, CBC Windsor met Lev Tahor member Nachman Helbrans at the former Lev Tahor compound in Chatham, Ont. He was there to collect items left behind by fellow members who moved to Guatemala.

    He said Lev Tahor families fled to Guatemala because they felt that their rights to religious freedom were not being respected in Canada.

    “We feel that our rights were violated because there is religious freedom in Canada, and we were relying on it when we came to Canada,” Helbrans said.

    He said that they left Quebec when local youth protection authorities moved to take some of the children away because they were not being educated according to the province's curriculum.

    "It was mainly about our education. We were seeing it as a religious issue. There is some particular part that we cannot teach our children, and we would not, because it is against our religion," he said.

    “As far as we understand there is no strict education rules in Guatemala.”

    With files from CBC Windsor and Andréanne Baribeau


  172. Lev Tahor girls who fled Canada were helped, family says


    MONTREAL — The teenage girl members of Lev Tahor who fled their foster home in Toronto earlier this month could not have managed the stunt on their own, says an advocate for their family in Israel.

    On Monday, The Gazette reported that the girls — age 15 and 17 — left their foster home on Sept. 12 and fled across the border to New York state. They were reunited with their father and have been staying in Borough Park, in Brooklyn, N.Y., at last report.

    They had been living in foster care since March after they were apprehended in Trinidad and Tobago, fleeing Canada on their way to Guatemala. They were sent back to Canada, but their mother was already in Guatemala, so she couldn’t take custody of them. The sect’s lawyer, Guidy Mamann, said the father returned to Canada to reclaim them, but he was not granted custody.

    George Berger — an advocate for the family of the girls in Israel — said he visited them in their foster family back in April. Berger, a Toronto resident, accompanied their grandmother when she visited them on her trip to Toronto from Israel. The family in Israel had wanted to adopt the girls and their six siblings.

    Berger said there was a security guard stationed outside the house in North York 24 hours a day, and whenever the girls left the house, they did so with an escort.

    “It has to have been arranged,” he said of the girls’ flight. “There are guards, and there are high fences in the back. The street is out of the way. There’s no way a cab goes there.

    “Somebody had to have paid off someone else. That’s the only way I can see it.”

    He said the girls, who speak primarily Yiddish and grew up in an isolated community, would not have been able to negotiate a big city and figure out how to arrange transport to the U.S.

    “There is no way they knew how to take a taxi,” he said. “I don’t even think they knew that taxis existed.”

    Mamann said the girls must have done the research on their own, motivated by their desire to return to their family.

    “I don’t think it takes much research to do that,” he said. “The fact is, they arrived at the port of entry. There was no indication of any abduction or coercion. These kids want to go back home.”

    If the children had been helped across the border, that would have been a criminal act, explained Howard Barza, a family lawyer in Montreal.

    He said the foster family has an obligation to keep the children they are caring for safe, and to prevent them from running off.

    “Someone was either grossly negligent or criminally complicit,” he said. “Because if someone orchestrated this, it would undermine the legal system, which is obstruction of justice (which is a crime).”

    Berger said he doesn’t believe the girls were unhappy in foster care.

    “I was surprised by how comfortable they seemed with their foster family,” he said. “They had girls the same age, and they spoke Yiddish to them.”

    In the meantime, the Sûreté du Québec is continuing its investigation into criminal activity by the group. Search warrant applications submitted by the SQ to a judge earlier this year and made public in recent weeks allege that the group engaged in human trafficking, forged documents and child abuse.

    SQ Sgt. Benoît Richard said the police force is continuing its investigation, working alongside Ontario Provincial Police. He said there could still be charges laid against some Lev Tahor members. If that were to happen, they would have to be extradited back to Canada. According to the website for Foreign Affairs Canada, there is an extradition agreement between Canada and Guatemala.


  173. Police learned of underage marriage, sex abuse allegations before Lev Tahor fled

    New court documents show police has list of young girls in radical Jewish group who’d been married and impregnated by older men days before they fled to Ontario

    By Allan Woods, Toronto Star Quebec Bureau September 26 2014

    MONTREAL—Just days before members of the radical Jewish group Lev Tahor fled Quebec for Ontario, child protection authorities received a list containing the names of underaged girls in the community said to have given birth to children fathered by much older men.

    It was the second time in the same week that officials responsible for child welfare in Quebec had heard detailed allegations of underaged marriages and possible sexual misconduct within the isolated religious community of about 200 people.

    It is not clear what came of the allegations, whether they were fully investigated and if they were eventually verified or debunked.

    But just 10 days later, on Nov. 18, 2012, the vast majority of the group boarded buses in the Quebec town of Ste-Agathe-des-Monts in the middle of the night and fled across the Ontario-Quebec border to new accommodations in Chatham-Kent.

    Their actions allowed them to evade a massive child-welfare investigation and criminal probe that is unresolved nearly two years later, with the bulk of the group now having resettled in Central America.

    A few days after their initial midnight flight, a Quebec youth court judge ordered 14 Lev Tahor children into foster care, but that order was stymied by jurisdictional wrangling between Ontario and Quebec and strict legal boundaries that effectively prevented authorities in Quebec from following up on the group.

    More than a year later, when Ontario courts sorted out who had jurisdiction to deal with the problematic group that some have labelled a religious cult, and when Chatham-Kent children’s aid workers stepped up its surveillance of Lev Tahor, they fled the country for Guatemala.

    The information about possible underage pregnancies and sexual abuse was contained in a new batch of court documents released to media Friday.

    The documents contain information about a police investigation into kidnapping and human trafficking charges against the group and were used to obtain a search warrant for Lev Tahor properties in Quebec in November 2013, nearly one year after they had fled to Ontario. None of the allegations about Lev Tahor in the documents have been proven in court.

    But the police state that on Nov. 8, 2012, three months after child-protection officials began investigating their concerns about the group, they came into possession of a list of names purported to be underage girls who had given birth to children with men over the age of 18 years old, which, if true, could be a violation of the Criminal Code.

    Lev Tahor’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, allegedly advocates marriage between children as young as 13 years old according to his interpretation of Jewish law. Helbrans’ son, Nachman Helbrans, has repeatedly insisted that Lev Tahor marriages that occurred in Canada were conducted in accordance with the law, which sets 16 as the minimum age.

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  174. The document states that child protection investigators had intended to check the list of names they had received against local hospital records, but it is not clear what follow up was done and what findings were made. Sections of the document have been redacted by the court to protect sensitive details of the police probe.

    A spokesperson for the Directorate of Youth Protection for the Laurentians, a region just north of Montreal, would not respond to questions about what came of their investigation of the list.

    “The Centre jeunesse des Laurentides no longer comments on the situation of Lev Tahor. We will provide no interviews or reactions,” Julie-Lemieux-Côté wrote in an email.

    A few weeks later, on December 11, 2012, another troubling incident emerged when a pregnant 17-year-old girl was rushed to the hospital with an unknown condition apparently serious enough that she was transferred to a children’s hospital in Montreal.

    “She told hospital personnel of having been beaten by her brother, sexually abused by her father and being married at the age of 15 to a 30-year-old man,” police wrote in the document used to obtain a search warrant.

    Police were unable to meet with the girl and interview her because she was in a severely agitated state, but the hospital personal took photos of her injuries and police opened an assault investigation into the incident.

    When police were finally able to meet with the girl a week later, on Dec. 18, 2012, she made no mention of having been assaulted.

    The police investigation into Lev Tahor continued with the help of allegations from Israeli residents whose family members were living with Lev Tahor as well as Adam Brudzewsky, a former member of Lev Tahor who fled the community with his wife and unborn child as well as a memory stick he said contained internal documents proving the leadership of Lev Tahor engaged in document fraud.

    Sûreté du Québec investigators also obtained search warrants to search Lev Tahor properties in Chatham-Kent, an operation in which they seized computers and other files to support their investigation.

    No charges have ever been laid against any member of the group. The likelihood of future charges seems slim after the vast majority of the group fled Canada for Guatemela earlier this year. Last month, Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, which was supervising a number of Lev Tahor children who had been placed with foster families in Ontario, said the families who had stayed behind to keep contact with the children had also disappeared sometime on the evening of Aug. 27. They have not been located.

    In addition to that, two young girls from Lev Tahor who had been placed in foster care with a family in Toronto were also able to flee to the United States despite a guard who had been assigned to ensure their whereabouts.


  175. Lev Tahors finances questioned as ultra-Orthodox sect moves from place to place, paying in cash


    With cramped homes, many children in each family, and the fact that few of its members work (because they speak neither English nor French), you wouldn’t expect the 250-member ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect of Lev Tahor to be awash in cash.

    Yet last November, when three buses pulled in to Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, community leader Mayer Rosner paid for the $9,650 trip to southern Ontario in cash, according to testimony related to police, and released to the public last month. The community left the neighbourhood it called home for more than a decade ahead of a date in St-Jérôme youth court to address allegations of extreme neglect, child abuse and not providing the children with proper education. The sect was, and continues to be, the subject of a Sûreté du Québec investigation on allegations of human trafficking, producing false documents and kidnapping.

    Documents issued in court by police to obtain warrants allege girls as young as 13 and 14 are routinely married off to men who are much older. The minimum legal age for marriage in Canada is 16. The documents also allege sexual and physical abuse of children within the sect. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

    The community lives in extreme isolation, and men and women are not permitted to see each other, except for immediate family. Women are dressed in full chador-type black robes, with their faces covered, hair shaved, and they are always wearing socks, stockings and shoes, even when indoors. Men have shaved heads, and extra-long sideburns and beards. Children are home-schooled, and only taught in Hebrew and Yiddish in order to understand the teachings of the group’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans. Helbrans has said he encourages children to marry at a young age, but has denied allegations that he married children who were under the legal age.

    After leaving Ste-Agathe, the community shelled out money for temporary accommodations in a motel, and then spent more money to relocate in a number of townhouses in Chatham-Kent, Ont., near Windsor. The community also paid lawyers to attend several custody hearings. When it seemed the community’s finances might have been stretched to the limit, most members inexplicably flew off and relocated once again to Guatemala, where the bulk of the community has been since June. In Guatemala, the sect has already moved once. After a clash with the local tribe in the village of San Juan La Laguna, they boarded buses and headed to Guatemala City in August.

    The community is said to be planning another move from the converted office tower it currently occupies, to a nearby town, where they intend to settle around an abandoned school.

    With four cities to call home in the span of a year, and legal expenses piling up, Lev Tahor should logically be running out of cash, so where does all its money come from?

    Partly from its members, say sources close to the sect.

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  176. The search warrants detail testimony from former members of the community who said they were forced to turn over much of their savings to the community when they joined. Members who have children turn over their child support payments to the community’s leaders. The police documents say members turn over all sources of revenue to Rosner, said to be the group’s treasurer, as members are told they don’t have the wherewithal to manage their finances.

    The community’s food needs are provided by its leaders, but not for free. One member told youth protection workers that the community’s leader, Helbrans, provides coupons that community members use to purchase their necessities.

    A Toronto-based advocate for one of the families in Israel, George Berger, said he has heard that the rabbi convinced a couple who were new members of the community to sign over their apartment in Jerusalem and their factory to the sect. The properties were sold and the sect pocketed the money. Helbrans had apparently been asking this family for donations for many years, and then finally convinced the couple and their three children to leave Israel and join the sect in Ste-Agathe.

    A source close to that family (who can’t be identified because of youth protection laws) said the husband was taking psychotropic drugs while living in the sect. They stayed only for six months, and then the woman and her three children returned to Israel homeless and broke. The man was in a terrible psychological state for several years after he left the sect, the source said.


    Berger said Lev Tahor advocates are collecting money all around the world going around to ultra-Orthodox synagogues during prayer services, and relating false stories about children suffering cancer, or other terrible afflictions to solicit donations. He said one Lev Tahor member had been heard bragging that he raises $3,000 per day for the sect in this fashion.

    The former member confirmed that this is how the community collects some of its money.

    “They went to synagogues, they went to houses. They even came to my house, collecting $1, or 50 cents,” said Alex Werzberger, a spokesperson for the Hassidic Community in Montreal. “It adds up, but it can’t be all that group has. They seem to have millions.”

    He said most of the people collecting money for the group were not members of Lev Tahor, but were recruited by the community’s leadership.

    Werzberger, who said he gave some small amounts to Lev Tahor collectors on a few occasions, explained that most ultra-Orthodox Jews will give money to people who ask for help feeding their families, because they believe there is a religious obligation to help out people in need.

    “When it comes to (a request for food), we don’t check (if the claim is valid),” he said.

    Meyer Feig, another member of Montreal’s Hassidic community, said he didn’t give money to Lev Tahor collectors when he saw them in synagogue.

    “There are people collecting money every day for different charities,” he said. “We’re a very generous and charitable community.”

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    Both Werzberger and Feig are concerned that Lev Tahor is giving other ultra-Orthodox communities a bad name, and they disagree vehemently with many of the sect’s guiding principles, including young marriage and extreme isolation.

    “A lot of people are concerned that people will generalize and think that this is how we live our own life,” Feig said. “We don’t want to be associated with them. There should be a differentiation between them and us. It’s like heaven and earth.”

    Aside from paying for plane trips, lawyers and relocation costs, Lev Tahor has also used its money to buy new members.

    Search warrant information mentions that a 14-year-old girl had been bought, and further details were redacted by a court order.

    The brother of a Lev Tahor member — whose children are currently the subject of a youth court battle, so they can’t be identified — said his sister was sold into the group by a matchmaker.

    As a newly religious member of the ultra-Orthodox community, she was hired as an au pair by another ultra-Orthodox family in Brooklyn. She was encouraged by that family to marry a man who was part of the Lev Tahor sect. Her brother said he found out recently the marriage had been arranged by a matchmaker hired by the sect because there was a shortage of women. The family that encouraged his sister to marry was given $5,000 by the matchmaker to help assure the match. The matchmaker was also paid.

    The man added that after she joined the sect, she would routinely ask her family for money.

    The man said the family stopped sending money recently because they realized it all went straight to Lev Tahor leadership, and that it was the community leaders that were telling his sister to ask for money.

    “Most of the families in Israel have stopped giving money, especially since the group relocated to Guatemala,” he said. “They know it goes directly to (community leader Mayer) Rosner.”

    However, some families in Israel continue to funnel money to the sect. One family recently gave $3,000, he said.


    While in Canada, the group appears to have amassed millions. Reports from the Canadian Revenue Agency show one tax-exempt religious charity registered to Lev Tahor, Congregation Riminov, claimed assets of $5.6 million in 2007. Lev Tahor also received a $4.3 million donation in 2011. Rosner, whose name is registered as one of the officers of Congregation Riminov, explained to the Toronto Star last year the money was for a real estate development that didn’t work out.

    Now in Guatemala City, the group is living in a converted office building. Family members in Israel have heard of squalid conditions, with no access to running water, a makeshift kitchen in a parking lot, cramped quarters and an outbreak of typhus. The community is said to be looking into building showers and kitchenettes in its current quarters.

    With no Jewish community nearby, and without access to their Canadian child support payments, some have suggested Lev Tahor’s funding will probably dry up the longer the community stays in Guatemala. The family member in Israel, however, believes the community still has deep pockets, and enough financial means to survive for at least a decade or two.


  178. Decades of Yeshiva Rapes Shock Aussies

    by Emily Shire, The Daily Beast February 12, 2015

    Aided by a communal pressure not to go to secular authorities, some Orthodox Jewish boys in Australia say their sexual abuse has gone unpunished for years.

    It is as disgusting as it is ironic that the mikveh—the ritual baths where Jews and converts to Judaism immerse to purify themselves—was one of the places Manny Waks says he was sexually abused as an Orthodox Jewish teenager in Melbourne. According to him, Shmuel David Cyprys, the head of security at Yeshivah Centre—the school Waks attended—instructed him to go to the mikveh with him in 1990.

    “During the abuse I became very dizzy and told him that I needed to get out of the water. I went over to the drying area and sat down on the floor. Cyprys came over to me and continued what he had been doing in the bath,” Waks remembered. “I remember feeling very dizzy to the point where I blacked out briefly. Soon after I got up, dressed myself and walked home.”

    Waks shared this account last week at the start of the Australia Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse. The Jewish community is hardly the only group that the Australian government is probing. It has, however, warranted two weeks of specific scrutiny as more people like Waks, who kept their abuse hidden for decades after their rabbis allegedly failed to respond, have decided to go public for the entire Jewish community and the country to hear their stories.

    According to Waks, this chilling incident was hardly the first abuse he suffered at the hands of Cyprys—or, for that matter, an adult male in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Australia. Waks alleged in testimony before the commission that, from the age of 11 in 1987 through 1990, he was sexually assaulted by not only Cyprys but Zev (Velvel) Serebryanski, a man in his twenties who was the son of a respected rabbi affiliated with Chabad, an international organization of Orthodox Hasidic Jews.

    The details of the alleged abuse are horrifying, but the reactions from the yeshivahs and the Chabad community in Melbourne are just as—if not more—disturbing. In fact, it is the response—or more accurately, the lack of one—from Jewish communal leaders that has warranted the commission’s investigation.

    At the time that Cyprys allegedly abused Waks, he had full, unfettered access to all of the classrooms at the Jewish day school. According to Waks, Cyprys had this privilege despite the fact that a student had told the man in charge of the yeshiva, Rabbi Yitschok Dovid Groner, about his abuse experiences with Cyprys in 1984. “It should have been preventable,” Waks told The Daily Beast.

    Waks himself told both Rabbi Groner, who passed away in 2008, and St. Kilda police about the abuse toward the end of 1996. Neither religious nor law-enforcement authorities, he claims, responded particularly vigilantly. “The police said at the time ‘It’s your word against his, and we’ll keep it on file until other information comes to light,’” Waks said.

    In fact, the police did have other information against Cyprys: Another child came forward with sexual abuse claims in 1991, but when Cyprys pleaded guilty a year later to a sexual offense against another child, he received only a fine—and the Yeshivah Centre continued to employ him, in a security capacity no less.

    “It was very clear when I went to the late Rabbi Groner that they weren’t going to do anything about it,” Waks told me. “They claimed he [Cyprys] was seeking help and that was it.”

    According to Waks’ testimony before the Royal Commission, Cyprys was employed in various security capacities at the school through the middle of the 2000s, despite the decades of complaints made against him.

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  179. In the case of Cyprys, justice was ultimately served. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in December 2013 after a jury found him guilty of five charges of rape against one student. He pleaded guilty to 12 charges of assaulting eight others, including Waks, who was the only one of the victims to go public. Cyprys is in prison, although he will likely only serve five-and-half years before he is up for parole.

    Serebryanski, on the other hand, is living as a free man in the U.S. The man that Waks says was the first to molest him was safely shuttled off to the States, specifically to Brooklyn. Paul Berger of The Jewish Daily Forward tracked him down in 2012. According to Berger’s report, Serebryanski, who goes by Zev Sero, did not deny the sexual-abuse allegations, though he would also not speak to Berger on the record. Waks admits that at this point, in the case against Serebryanski “it’s my word against his.”

    The Australian Chabad community has faced accusations of letting—or even helping—child-molestation suspects get out of the country and into Israel or the U.S. instead of turning them over to law-enforcement authorities. Not only do these men escape punishment, but they are then capable of abusing new victims.

    David Kramer at Yeshivah College, a Jewish all-boys secondary school in Melbourne, left Australia after being accused of sexually assaulting students. Manny’s father, Zephaniah Waks, spoke before the Royal Commission about how two of his other sons were abused by Kramer. When families went to the rabbis who oversaw the school and threatened to go to the police, Kramer was given assistance to move to Israel, according to reports about testimony given at the Royal Commission.

    Kramer relocated to St. Louis, where he began volunteering as a youth leader at Nusach Hari B’nai Zion, an Orthodox synagogue. In 2007, St. Louis County prosecutors charged Kramer with sexual misconduct and statutory sodomy for fondling a 12-year-old boy and mastubrating in front of him in a University City apartment. He was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty and was subsequently extradited to Australia. He pleaded guilty to five counts of indecent assault and one count of an indecent act with a minor.

    Chabad operates in the U.S., and for that matter all over the world, but it forms a nearly inescapable network in Australian Jewish life, according to Waks. As hard as it is for victims of sexual abuse to ever come forward, Waks believes it is even harder for Australian Jews because of Chabad’s strength.

    “In Australia, the Chabad community dominates the rabbinic scene. The vast majority of rabbis serving the country are from Chabad. The yeshivas are connected through Chabad. If you go up against an individual rabbi, you’re up against the entire system,” Waks said.

    In his own experiences in coming forward with abuse, Waks said he often felt “it was me against Chabad,” which is not the message he intended to convey.

    “I admire and respect certain aspects of Chabad, but it happened at a yeshiva that was part of the Chabad institutions,” he said.

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  180. The problems examined in the Royal Commission are also not limited to Australia. There is a well-documented history of ultra-Orthodox rabbis not responding adequately to abuse and—even more problematically—district attorneys doing in kind in the U.S.

    Both Australia and the U.S. ultra-Orthodox Jewish community share a culture of concealment that can be just as damaging to abuse victims.

    “The first time, they are traumatized by the abuser. The second is by the community leadership,” said Waks. Recalling his own abuse at the hands of his school faculty, Waks says he absolutely believes adults knew what was going on at the time. “People deliberately chose to turn a blind eye. Many people knew of at least some of the allegations, but no one acted—and that is astounding,” said Waks.

    Both communities are also filled with congregants who are only beginning to consider going to police, rather than their rabbis, when they suspect abuse. It has long been considered an affront to the community to go to secular law enforcement due to the tradition of mesirah, not turning a fellow Jew into secular authorities.

    This tradition has been codified in some religious institutions. Agudath Israel of America, the leading ultra-Orthodox institution in the U.S., instructed parents to gain permission from rabbis before going to the police as late as 2012.

    Unsurprisingly, adherence to this tradition has created massive problems for adequately responding to the needs of sexual-abuse victims. Testimony during the Royal Commission has revealed some rabbis in power to be anywhere from inept to sinister in their response to sexual-abuse allegations.

    Rabbi Yosef Feldman, the rabbinical administrator at the Yeshivah Centre in Sydney, testified last week that he did not notify police when a mother told him a teacher had massaged her son’s genitals. This was his defense during testimony at the Royal Commission: “I didn’t know it could have been a crime. I didn’t see that as necessarily being sexual… (but) it could potentially be something which is highly inappropriate. I don’t know what the criminal code is and what’s a crime and what’s not a crime. A lot of things could be a crime (when) I don’t think it is.”

    Whether Feldman was pleading ignorance or trying to cover for his behavior is unclear, but other comments he has made during the testimony reveal an egregious level of insensitivity. “I was worried the publicity would bring about fake victims,” he said to the Royal Commission about his decision to discourage other rabbis from making public statements about sexual abuse. “The reality is they make a whole issue of child abuse and it encourages people to accuse people of abuse when… they are really innocent.”

    While much of the Royal Commission’s probe centers on the Chabad community, advocates stress that the problems are not exclusive to the ultra-Orthodox or Jewish world. Prior to the testimony devoted to the Jewish community, the Royal Commission was investigating the Catholic Church and other institutions plagued with sexual-abuse problems.

    “Chabad is not unique,” said Shmarya Rosenberg, a blogger who documents the abuse problems within the ultra-Orthodox community at Failed Messiah. “There’s sex abuse everywhere—public schools, private schools, religious schools. Wherever you go this exists. The question is: What do you do to prevent it and what do you do to punish it?”

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  181. Still while the Royal Commission is examining sexual abuse in a number of institutions, Waks has received criticism from fellow Jews who are fearful that the probe will spark anti-Semitism. It is well-documented that anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world. Last month’s attack on a kosher supermarket in France—which a spokeswoman at the U.S. State Department Tuesday falsely claimed did not target Jews, before taking back that statement—and Germany’s recent court decision that firebombing a synagogue is not considered anti-Semitic only make Jews understandably feel more threatened.

    Waks empathizes with this concern, but refuses to cower to it.

    “There are some people who think I’m doing the Jewish community a disservice. There are some people who think that airing the Jewish community’s dirty laundry in public is something that needs to be stopped at any cost and feel that by doing so contributes to anti-Semitism,” said Waks. “They feel this issue could have been dealt with quietly, but no one did anything.”

    His unwillingness to back down has cost him stability and his personal homeland. Because of the backlash he faced for speaking out, Waks and his family have decided to relocate to Europe, where they will remain for the foreseeable future. Waks feels his family is more secure there.

    “At this stage, it’s too difficult after the years of challenges we faced. I wouldn’t want to put my wife and kids through it again,” he said.

    He says he was still hesitant to leave Australia.

    “For me, personally, Melbourne is home.”

    Waks, however, is hopeful. While not a solution, the Royal Commission is hopefully “a catalyst for other changes,” he said.

    In fact, there has already been a noted shift in attitudes in the Australian Jewish community since the start of the Royal Commission’s probe. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry released a statement denouncing Feldman’s comments and his leadership last week:

    “Yossi Feldman’s statements are repugnant to Jewish values and to Judaism, which is centered on the sanctity and dignity of individual life, especially the life of a child. We believe his position as a religious leader has become untenable.”

    As of Wednesday, Feldman had officially resigned from his post as director on the board of management at the Sydney Yeshivah Centre, a move that appears to be a direct response to his comments at the Royal Commission and the outrage they sparked.

    “I apologize to anyone in the Rabbinate, the Jewish community, and the wider Australian community who may have been embarrassed or ashamed by my views, words, understandings, recordings, or emails about child sexual abuse or any other matter,” stated Feldman’s official resignation.

    The change occurred so quickly following his Royal Commission testimony that it offers hope for concrete improvements in the reporting and response to child sex abuse in the Australian Jewish community.

    While Waks has personally paid for his advocacy, he believes speaking out has been a wake-up call that is finally starting to effect change, while providing the needed support for other victims. “No one stood up for us. The victims had no voice in this country. Thankfully, now I know many feel they do,” Waks said. “The tide has changed.”

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  182. Rabbis absolute power How sex abuse tore apart Australia's Orthodox Jewish community

    Yeshivah leaders in Sydney and Melbourne chose to preserve the prestige of their faith over the safety of children. A national inquiry that reverberated around the world painted a devastating picture of how individuals were abandoned and ostracised as they fought to end the code of silence

    by David Marr, THE GUARDIAN February 19, 2015

    Orthodox Judaism has never been exposed to such scrutiny. From a Melbourne courtroom, the torment of the Chabad rabbis was streamed live to the world as the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse probed the city’s secretive and powerful Yeshivah community.

    Sharp divisions in the Jewish world have been exposed. Two rabbis, including one of the nation’s most prominent, have been forced from their posts. Whistleblowers, humiliated and ostracised for years by Yeshivah, have been dramatically vindicated. More victims have come forward. More criminal charges may follow. Yeshivah schools face a nightmare of civil litigation.

    The cast is Jewish, yet the bones of this story are familiar to anyone who has followed the scandal of child abuse in Christian schools and parishes. Rabbis and bishops have shown over the years much the same failings when faced with a choice between guarding the prestige of their faiths and the safety of children. This story is about the dangers in any cult of blind obedience to holy men.

    Rabbi Yitzchok Groner died just in time. He was a dominating figure in Melbourne’s Jewish world, a mountain of a man with inexhaustible energy, deep religious learning and a stare that stopped grown men in their tracks.

    As the Melbourne emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Groner’s authority was absolute. He spent 50 years building the Yeshivah sect into a wealthy, powerful and very private community of several hundred families living around a busy synagogue and thriving schools at a campus on Hotham Street, East St Kilda.

    Yeshivah is ultra Orthodox: fundamentalist, intellectual and charismatic. God created the world in six days. Families are big. Sex is never discussed. Modesty is everything. Men and women mark their days with prayer and ritual. Instead of dying in the face of the modern world, old-fashioned, rule-bound Chabad-Lubavitch Judaism flourished.

    Groner died in the winter of 2008, but his power didn’t die with him. To question his authority – indeed his saintliness – after his death, was considered a particularly grave sin among the Chabad. Protecting his memory were the rabbis he had trained and sent out into the wider Jewish world, and the interlocking mesh of Chabad families that seemed to make everyone at Yeshivah the son-in-law, nephew or sister of everyone else.

    A couple of months after Groner’s death, news broke that David Kramer had been sentenced to seven years in prison in St Louis, Missouri, for molesting children at a youth camp where he was supposed to be teaching “Hot topics for Jewish teens”. The story died in Australia for the time being, but from this point, a number of Chabad leaders, teachers and parents knew an appalling scandal threatened Yeshivah.

    Kramer had taught at the Yeshivah primary school in late 1989. The young American rabbi was immediately popular and immediately began molesting children. The number of his victims is not known, perhaps dozens, including two of the sons of Zephaniah Waks.

    Waks was a most unwise man to cross. The Waks name is all through this story. Tenacity runs in the family. Half measures aren’t in their DNA. Their sense of right and wrong is strong and personal. As the father of 17 children, Zephaniah Waks had more than proved his dedication to Chabad. But in the end those children would mean more to him than any obligations to the sect.

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  183. Waks discovered the abuse in 1992. He says he complained to the principal of the Yeshivah school, Rabbi Abraham Glick. Within hours, Waks learned that Kramer had admitted the abuse. When he wasn’t fired, Waks says, he confronted Glick again, only to be told: “There is a danger of self-harm. So we can’t fire him.”

    Glick doesn’t deny learning about Kramer at this point, but can’t recall discussing the teacher’s fate with Waks. He told the royal commission: “I think he had that conversation or a similar conversation most probably with someone else.”

    Waks was outraged by the failure to act. He didn’t call the police because at this time he had no doubt that doing so “would be in breach of the Jewish principle of mesirah”. This ancient rule, still alive among the followers of many faiths including Judaism, threatens believers with expulsion if they take crimes within the faith to the civil authorities.

    Waks called a meeting of parents hoping to pressure the school to sack Kramer. Hours before it was due to begin, he was told Kramer had been dismissed. What he did not discover until years later was that Groner had given Kramer an air ticket to Israel, on condition he leave Australia immediately.

    Another threat was looming at Yeshivah in those weeks. Police had discovered another paedophile active on the campus, a man whose abuse of Chabad children Groner appears to have known about for nearly a decade.

    David Cyprys had been to school at St Kilda and never left. He hung around Yeshivah in various guises: as a helper at youth camps, security guard, locksmith and martial arts instructor. He had keys to the ritual bath, the mikveh, where he abused boys. He abused them in one-on-one kung fu lessons. He abused them at youth camps. He raped them in his van.

    The earliest known complaint about Cyprys was in 1984. One victim and the father of another complained to the head of Chabad Youth. The father also confronted Groner, who promised to look after the matter and assured him his son was so young he wouldn’t need counselling. Years later the father would give evidence that from that time he didn’t hear another word from Groner.

    Complaints about Cyprys kept coming. In 1986 Groner told a 30-year-old mother whose son was being abused: “Oh, no, I thought we cured him [Cyprys].” She trusted the rabbi’s assurances that all would now be well. A long time later she discovered the abuse of her son continued for another two years.

    At the start of the summer holidays in late 1990, a scholarship boy with ambitions to be a rabbi arrived at St Kilda from interstate. He was 15 and very vulnerable. His mother was dying of leukaemia. There was no father in his life. This lonely kid, known at the royal commission as AVR, welcomed attention from Cyprys. “I thought he was a really cool guy,” he said. “He seemed genuinely interested in me.”

    Cyprys repeatedly abused the boy for nine months. Found crying one day in the playground, AVR was taken home by a kindly family. His mother flew immediately to Melbourne. The boy told her something of the abuse but couldn’t mention the rapes. “She was quite sick and I thought that would push her over the edge.”

    She rang Groner. AVR remembers them seeing the headmaster, Glick, next day and also telling him about Cyprys. But Glick would assure the royal commission he had no memory of the boy at the school at all; no memory of this exchange with him and his mother; and no knowledge of the allegations against Cyprys for something like a decade.

    AVR was expelled from the school that day. “They did not want me there any more,” he told the commission. “They did not offer to help me or provide me with any counselling. From the time of the disclosure, no one associated with Yeshivah would speak to us or help us. Even our family members would not help us and we had a lot of trouble getting back to the airport and getting home.”

  184. AVR and his mother went to the police. The case was looming over the St Kilda community as Kramer was given his air ticket to Israel. Cyprys was charged only with indecent assault, for the boy was still unable to talk about the rapes. Cyprys pleaded guilty in September 1992 and was fined $1,500. No conviction was recorded. Newspapers carried no reports of the case. Cyprys returned to his old stamping ground and his old ways.

    The wall of secrecy around the St Kilda community would not be breached for nearly 20 years. But witnesses told the royal commission that within the walls Cyprys’s brush with the law was common knowledge at the time.

    Even so, no surviving Chabad leader has admitted knowing in the 1990s that the man they still trusted to help out at youth camps and give private kung fu lessons to 12-year-olds, had confessed to sexual assaults in a Melbourne court. This was despite Yeshivah being, in the words of Rabbi Glick, “so small that you can’t sneeze without everyone knowing it”.

    The royal commission discovered another peculiarity: not a scrap of paper survived at the Yeshivah centre recording the allegations against Kramer, or his flight to Israel, or the multiple complaints against Cyprys which continued to land on Groner’s desk.

    In 1996, Zephaniah Waks was appalled to discover another of his sons had been abused. Back from Israel for his sister’s wedding, Manny Waks had heard about Operation Paradox, the hotline for abuse victims run each year by Victoria police. In the history of combating abuse in many institutions and many faiths, Operation Paradox was to play an honoured role.

    Manny told his father he had been abused for many years at Yeshivah, first by the son of a senior Chabad rabbi and then by Cyprys. He believes the abuse ruined his childhood. It was known in the playground, and he was mocked for being gay. He became wild and alienated from his schooling and his family. By the time of his Bar Mitzvah he had come to loathe the Chabad way of life. “I was lost,” he told the commission, “in the only world I knew.”

    The police were called. Cyprys denied everything.

    With the pluck so typical of his family, Manny confronted Groner in the street and told him of his abuse. “The conversation was a brief one,” he told the royal commission. “It seemed clear to me that Rabbi Groner was aware of the circumstances so there was very little I had to say. He said that Yeshivah was dealing with Cyprys and that I should not do anything of my own accord.”

    Having finished his military service in Israel, Manny brought his wife home with him to Melbourne in 2000. They lived apart from the Chabad community but visits to his parents’ house for Sabbath took him past the Yeshivah centre, where it infuriated him to see Cyprys still on duty as a security officer.

    “I recall many occasions when our eyes met while I was walking past,” he told the commission. “He seemed to deliberately smirk at me. Often he fixed his eyes on me and continued to smirk until I was forced to look away. To me his facial expression said: ‘We both know what I did, and I got away with it.’ ”

    Once again, the young man confronted Groner. “How can you have this person here providing him access to children when you know what you know?” he asked the rabbi. In his evidence to the commission, Waks recalled Groner pleading with him not to pursue the matter.

    “He said that he was taking care of it; Cyprys was getting professional help and, according to these professionals, was making improvements. My final question to Rabbi Groner was: ‘Can you assure me that Cyprys is not currently reoffending or that he will not reoffend in the future?’ To which Rabbi Groner responded: ‘No’. At this point I said I had to go, and I left.”

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  185. How many complaints Groner received about Cyprys will never be known. The last the commission examined was particularly heartbreaking. It came from the mother who first complained to the rabbi in 1986. Her son, now 30, had just told her his abuse continued for years after her meeting with Groner.

    “You promised me you would take care of the matter and you didn’t and my son is suicidal,” she told the rabbi on the phone in 2002. According to the evidence she gave at the royal commission, Groner asked if her son was planning to go police. “I said: ‘Probably.’ And Rabbi Groner then said: ‘Well, what do you need me for?’ And I think we both hung up. I don’t recall who hung up first.”

    Her son did go to the police, but his allegations were vague. He was coming down from years of heavy marijuana use and was, by his own account, all over the shop. The police case against Cyprys wasn’t closed but by 2003 it seemed to be getting nowhere.

    That was the year Yeshivah says it cut its formal links with Cyprys. His security licence would say he was still employed there for many years, but Yeshivah says his services were terminated in 2003, not because of allegations of abuse, but late bills, illegible invoices and high prices. He was not shunned in the Orthodox community. On the contrary: he remained on the board of the Elwood synagogue and in 2006 became a director of the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria.

    Groner was, by this time, very old but his immense authority in the Chabad community was unchallenged. He had determined that his successor would be his son-in-law, Zvi Telsner. When Groner died in 2008, honoured in the secular and religious press, Telsner inherited the post of chief rabbi.

    He could not be sacked or directed or disciplined. He was in charge because Groner had put him there. His authority depended on the continued and unquestioned dedication of the sect to the memory of a man whose achievement would be questioned over the following years in the most mortifying way.

    Not that Telsner, even today, has any doubts about the fundamental goodness of Rabbi Yitzchok Groner. “His sensitivity to every child was something which cannot be described,” he told the royal commission. “His whole life was taking care of children. Anyone who could think that he would want to harm any child in my estimation would be not only erroneous but just not acceptable, totally.”

    With David Kramer due to be released from his St Louis prison in 2012, someone in Melbourne kept reminding the police about Yeshivah’s role in spiriting this paedophile out of the country years before.

    For the first time, Victorian police began investigating Kramer and turned to Yeshivah for help. The school provided police with names and addresses of students at the school in Kramer’s time, and in the middle of June 2011, Telsner put a brief notice up on the wall of the synagogue urging parents to co-operate with the investigation.

    The Chabad community was in an uncomfortable position. Only months before, the Orthodox rabbis of Victoria had made it clear that the old prohibition of mesirah did not apply to child abuse. Jews were not only free to take allegations of abuse to the police but the Rabbinical Council of Victoria declared that as a matter of Jewish law it was “obligatory to make such reports”.

    Events would prove the Chabad community deeply divided over this fresh development. Some simply could not accept the right of the secular world to interfere in the affairs of the community. Others saw it was impossible to keep the police out but had little appetite for helping them. Widely felt in this private world was a loathing for the public exposure that investigation might bring.

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  186. For a time it was not known in the community that one of their own was helping the police. AVB finished his schooling in St Kilda, but had grown up in the sister Yeshivah community in Bondi. There as a boy in the 1980s he was abused by Daniel “Gug” Hayman, a major donor to that community. But AVB had also been abused by a youth leader who brought a party of Yeshivah students up from Melbourne, David Cyprys.

    AVB was puzzled by the list of students Yeshivah had given the police. “My name and address, my brothers’ names and addresses, and the names and addresses of many of my friends and classmates was not on it.” So he emailed his contacts within the Melbourne Chabad community, urging them to encourage and support victims who might be willing to speak to the police.

    “Many in the community have been aware of these allegations for an extended period of time,” he wrote. “As parents and community members, we have a duty to confront sexual abuse in our community. Only this way, can we ensure that it never happens again.” He ended: “Ongoing silence is NOT an option.”

    Retribution was swift. The day after the email went out, Telsner delivered a fiery sermon reminding his congregation of the false spies who condemned the people of Israel to wander 40 years in the wilderness. AVB was not there. He soon heard about it. He assumed, and many in the community assumed, that Telsner was attacking him.

    A few days later, Manny Waks was shocked to read in the Age a story that began: “Police are trying to breach a wall of secrecy at a private boys school in St Kilda East over allegations of sex crimes by a former teacher who is now in jail in the United States.”

    The paper’s education editor, Jewel Topsfield, wrote of a community afraid to speak. One former student told her: “If you are labelled an informer it gives the family a bad name and makes it hard for children to get married … the issue is not just about the sexual abuse investigation, it is about the culture that enables it.”

    Waks had his life back under control. At the age of 35 he was married, working in Canberra and a vice-president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. He rang Topsfield. He knew this could be very difficult for his family. But he felt he had no choice but to take a leadership role in bringing this impasse to an end. He detailed Groner’s failures to act. He identified himself as a victim.

    This blew the lid off the story and Chabad’s response was everything Waks feared. Zephaniah was attacked in the street. He and his father were denounced around the world in blogs and on Facebook. The terrible accusation moser – betrayer – was levelled against them. Documents that emerged at the royal commission suggest the accusation was also being made in email exchanges between rabbis and at meetings of the Yeshivah centre’s committee of management.

    Zephaniah begged the Chabad leadership for help. He supported his son. He wanted a statement from them that neither Manny nor his family was to be blamed for him going public. “I am sick of being smeared, along with my family,” he wrote. “I attribute a lot of the problem to Yeshivah’s inaction, or worse, in this matter.”

    No protection was offered.

    Zephaniah sat in the synagogue as Telsner delivered another slashing sermon. “Who gave you permission to talk to anyone, which rabbi gave you permission?” Telsner asked. It was a week after Manny’s revelations in the Age. Victims must go to the police, said the rabbi, but the congregation must cease spreading loshen horah – false rumours – that Yeshivah and his father-in-law had failed to act. Accusations, he said, should first be brought to him, the rabbi.

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  187. Telsner named no names but Zephaniah Waks had no doubt the rabbi was attacking his son. He and his wife, supported by a few friends, walked out of the synagogue. He then made notes of what he had just heard Telsner preaching: “The rabbis have the power to excommunicate people when they disobey the rabbis … the worst sin is besmirching the name of Rabbi Groner.” And: “In the last few weeks, people have argued about who I meant in my sermons. Now I am saying clearly: if you think it refers to you, it does. Don’t think it means someone else ... “

    Telsner would admit in the witness box of the royal commission that he delivered this sermon at a time when many members of the Chabad community were reluctant to talk to the police. He would deny mentioning his father-in-law. He denied using the word excommunication. Above all, he denied his sermon was a personal attack on Manny Waks.

    Honours previously shown to Zephaniah in the synagogue were withdrawn. He and the rabbi would sit there side by side for years, but Telsner never said anything that might reassure Waks that he and his family were not the target of that attack. “We had a very, shall we say, cool relationship,” the rabbi told the royal commission. “Therefore I didn’t think that actually speaking to him would clear up matters.”

    As the shunning intensified, AVB and the Waks father and son made futile appeals to a number of Jewish organisations for support. Years later, senior Orthodox rabbis would say what AVB and Manny Waks had done was correct, even admirable. But at the time, none spoke out on their behalf. There was no one to condemn loshen horah when the targets were victims of abuse who had defied Chabad’s old code of silence.

    The grip of that code still seemed strong in Sydney, where the Bondi Yeshivah was grappling with its parallel scandal: the failure to act on old allegations about the activities of Gug Hayman and a rabbinical student known at the commission as AVL.

    One of Hayman’s many friends was the Sydney rabbi Yosef Feldman, son of Pinchus, the chief rabbi at Bondi, and Pnina, sister of both the legendary diamond explorer Joe Gutnick and one of the heroes of this story, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick.

    Yosef emailed colleagues: “I really don’t understand why as soon as something of serious loshen horah is heard about someone of even child molestation should we immediately go to the secular authorities.”

    When those emails were leaked to the Australian Jewish News, Feldman issued a statement that he did, indeed, support the official ruling that abuse must be reported to the police, and then stepped down as president of the Rabbinical Council of New South Wales.

    He was furious with the paper. After meeting executives of the Jewish News, Feldman emailed a number of fellow rabbis to explain why the public attention being given to the troubles in Chabad caused him such disquiet: “I felt that the hype has been causing phoney attention seekers to come forward like Manny Waks and this should be stopped.”

    Drowning in the witness box as he tried to explain that email, Feldman assured the commissioners he didn’t doubt Waks had been abused. “Phoney didn’t mean he’s not a genuine article.” The thing was, he hadn’t been raped. Before he left the box, the rabbi said: “This was very wrong of me.”

    Cyprys was charged a mere seven weeks after Waks went to the Age. He faced 16 counts of indecent assault and 13 counts of gross indecency involving 12 victims. At his bail hearing, Detective Senior Constable Lisa Metcher spoke of lies and cover-ups. She accused “high-standing members of the Jewish community” of protecting the accused paedophile. Police feared Cyprys’s supporters would help him flee the country.

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  188. AVB was there in court. He was seen talking to the police. The attacks on him in Chabad blogs redoubled. He was accused of lying, of inventing his abuse, of welcoming his abuse, of setting out to destroy the Yeshivah community. There were calls for his wife to be burnt as a witch.

    “I was gut wrenched,” he told the royal commission. His boss was told. He feared losing his job. He heard that Cyprys’s lawyer at the bail hearing, Alex Lewenberg, was complaining about the help he was giving police. AVB rang the man and an authorised recording was made of a conversation in which Lewenberg accused AVB of being a moser.

    “I am not exactly delighted,” said the lawyer, “that another Yid would assist police against an accused no matter whatever he is accused of. That is the reason why I was very disappointed, because there is a tradition, if not a religious requirement, that you do not assist against Abraham.”

    The charge list against Cyprys kept growing. He was eventually committed for trial on 41 charges – including rape – committed between 1982 and 1991. The magistrate took the opportunity to say the claim by the school’s headmaster, Rabbi Glick, that he had not known sexual abuse was occurring in his school in the 1980s was “unfathomable”.

    Cyprys compelled his victims to give evidence of their rapes before a jury. He was found guilty of rape and subsequently pleaded guilty to 12 further charges and was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. Manny Waks was granted permission by the court to identify himself as a victim.

    The Australian Jewish News carried a full page ad demanding Glick be stood down by Yeshivah. It didn’t happen. On advice from senior counsel, Yeshivah issued a very carefully worded apology: “We understand and appreciate that there are victims who feel aggrieved and we sincerely and unreservedly apologise for any historical wrongs that may have occurred.”

    That’s as far as they were willing to go at that point: “May have occurred …”

    Kramer was extradited from the US and pleaded guilty in July 2013 to molesting four boys at Yeshivah back in the early 1990s. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. His own lawyer accused the school of covering up these crimes and helping his client flee the country. Yeshivah issued an unreserved apology “for not informing the police at the time the allegations arose”.

    The parents of one of Kramer’s American victims alerted to Kramer’s fate by the Melbourne Herald Sun, were not impressed. They told the paper: “We arrive at the inescapable conclusion that the blood of our child . . . rests upon the head of those complicit in Kramer’s escape from justice.

    “We call upon the Yeshivah centre to do the right thing: not by offering hollow, meaningless platitudes of ‘we’re sorry’, but to take concrete action by releasing from its employ all who were responsible for Kramer’s escape from justice.”

    The witness stand of a royal commission is a cruel place for men of any faith. Cardinals and preachers are not used to being held to account. In their world, facts don’t necessarily matter. Belief is everything. Up against the law, compelled to answer, they find themselves trapped in daylight.

    Over 10 long days of hearings in Melbourne, rabbi after rabbi apologised for the failings of the Chabad-Lubavitcher communities of St Kilda and Bondi. Some did so bluntly. Some only when they were cornered by tough questioning. Only Rabbi Moshe Gutnick seized the opportunity with gusto.

    “I and many of my so-called ultra-Orthodox friends and colleagues share the outrage as to what has gone on here,” he told the commissioners. “I believe that the true tenets of Chabad, Judaism and Orthodoxy require that I and all Jews stand proudly shoulder to shoulder with, and in absolute full support of, the victims.”

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  189. He called those who went to the police heroes. Demands that dealing with child abuse should be left to rabbis he rejected as “a gross misuse of rabbinical power”. He condemned mesirah as a mechanism for maintaining control. “You threaten people with mesirah and they become intimidated and they stay underfoot.”

    When he left the box, he embraced Manny Waks.

    Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant made smooth headway in the witness stand until almost the end. The most senior rabbi in Australia said all the right things. His downfall came when he was read a message he had sent while watching online as Zephaniah Waks gave evidence a few days earlier.

    “Zephaniah is killing us,” he messaged the editor of the Australian Jewish News. “Zephaniah is attacking Chabad. He is a lunatic on the fringe, guilty of neglect of his own children. Where was he when all this was happening?”

    Kluwgant resigned three days later as president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia. He is also no longer chaplain to the Victorian police.

    Gutnick’s nephew, Yosef Feldman, made such a hash of his appearance in the witness box that he lost yet another post. At one point he said he didn’t “have a clue” if an adult touching a child’s genitals might be a crime. His attempts to square the old prerogatives of the rabbis with modern demands for reporting to police were condemned by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry as repugnant. He resigned next day as a director of Yeshivah Sydney.

    Feldman’s mother, Pnina, emailed Manny Waks last October: “Why do you keep highlighting Yeshiva?! … You need counselling! I haven’t met a person yet with one nice word to say about you. Most people consider you a lowlife – not because of any molestation, which wasn’t your fault, but because of your malicious blame game, which is unjust, unwarranted, undeserved and wicked.” She was not called to the commission to give evidence.

    This week, Rabbi Glick resigned from his positions at Yeshivah College. He told the Age he felt the victims would want him to break all his links with his old school. “That’s where the abuse took place and it was under my leadership. I haven’t taken this lightly.”

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  190. But Zvi Telsner is still the spiritual leader of Melbourne’s Chabad community in St Kilda despite calls from many quarters in the Jewish community that he resign. To the end, he manfully claimed those famous sermons were not attacks on AVB and Manny Waks. It was all a misapprehension. Yes, he could have corrected that any time in the past three years in a heartbeat. No, he didn’t. For that failure and for any pain it caused, he wished to apologise.

    Counsel for the Waks family, Melinda Richards, finished her withering examination of Telsner with a long question: “Rabbi, if the evidence of Zephaniah Waks and AVB is accepted in relation to the shunning, even if you didn’t do the shunning but you stood by whilst it was occurring, do you accept that you were complicit in the process of shunning that was undertaken by other members of your community?” Telsner replied: “I do.”

    AVB remains, despite everything, a member of Telsner’s St Kilda community. He holds to his faith. He will not be budged.

    Alex Lewenberg is practising law in Melbourne. The legal services commissioner, Michael McGarvie, will not comment on any disciplinary proceedings a lawyer may or may not be facing. He told Guardian Australia: “It is impermissible for lawyers to intimidate witnesses. That goes to the heart of the justice system and the role a lawyer plays as an officer of the court.”

    Zephaniah Waks has broken with Chabad, trimmed his beard and put the St Kilda family home on the market. But how many Melbourne families need a house with 13 bedrooms and six kitchens? The target market is Yeshivah, directly over the road. They aren’t buying. Zephaniah and his wife are dividing their time between Israel and Australia, living outside the sect that was their shelter, their world for most of their lives.

    Once the hearings were done, Manny Waks flew to his new home in France. “If it was up to my wife,” he told the commissioners as he fought his tears, “we would have left a long time ago.” Before he flew out he met, at their invitation, five of Rabbi Groner’s children who wished to apologise to him for the abuse and the cover-ups in their father’s time at Yeshivah.

    That last meeting capped a fortnight of remarkable victories that have left Waks feeling profoundly vindicated. But he does not believe the saga is over. He is calling for the complete renewal of the leadership of Yeshivah in St Kilda and Bondi – starting with Telsner: “For the pain and suffering he has caused to so many people over the years he must resign. He has brought the entire Jewish community into disrepute.”

    And Waks is still waiting for an apology from the peak Jewish bodies which did not stand up for him and the other victims. “They must apologise not just for the abuse, not just for the cover-ups. They left us out to dry.”






    Shulem Deen swipes through photos of his eldest daughter’s wedding with a look of pride on his face. He points to a modestly-dressed bride sitting stiffly next to her husband. “I know how nervous they felt,” he says.

    Deen is only guessing; he wasn’t invited to his daughter’s wedding. These are not official photos – they were taken clandestinely by people he asked to infiltrate the ceremony.

    Deen, 40, left the cloistered ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclave of New Square, a village in Rockland County, New York, seven years ago. He is one of a minority that has stepped off the derech, the devout and religious path.

    Like others who have turned their back on the Hasidic way of life, Deen has lost contact with his five children and has been ostracized from the community for being a heretic. At the same time, he has found it difficult to assimilate to non-Hasidic culture and worries he comes across as strange to New Yorkers.

    “It was an incredibly bad night for me,” Deen says in a tired voice, sitting in the modest apartment he shares with roommates. “I was weeping.” He hadn’t seen his daughter for four years, so the photos taken by four friends at the ceremony came as a shock. His eyes lingered on the image of his 20-year-old daughter wearing a high-collared, long-sleeved white dress.

    It’s a feeling that is familiar for the defectors who decide to leave the ultra-Orthodox way of life. A growing number of men and women are breaking away from their insular lives because of a frustration with their gender-defined roles, the lack of access to wider education or out of unhappiness with how serious issues, such as abuse or divorce, are handled by their leaders.

    Yet in the last two decades, the number of Orthodox Jews dotted across towns in America has boomed unexpectedly, particularly within the Hasidic sects, who have the highest birthrate of all. In fact, more than one-quarter of American Jews younger than 18 live in Orthodox households, a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center found, with this number expected to grow.

    Many Hasidim, in the face of pressure from the rise of communism in the Soviet Union and the tragedies of the Holocaust, were intent on preserving their original way of life in the US. Yiddish is the common language in schools and at home, while the dress, modest and simple for both men and women, is strict. Women wear wigs, unless they are of the highly insular Satmar congregation, in which women shave their heads and cover them with scarves. Men wear beards, broad-brimmed felt or round fur hats, and long side curls called payos that are sometimes gelled with a popular wax called Dippity-Do.

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  192. For many the Hasidic way of life and its all encompassing support net are a source of comfort. Not only do Hasidim have their own volunteer ambulance service, called a Hatzalah, but they run their own police and control insurance brokers, real estate companies and retail stores that run the length of the main streets in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Williamsburg, a central home for the Satmar sect.

    Yet stories of poverty-stricken homes, where incomes barely touch $30,000 for a family of eight, as well as circles of abuse shine a light on the fractures within these cloistered communities and those who are not welcome.

    The rabbis made it clear there was no room for 32-year-old Leah, whose name has been changed to protect her identity. “At first it was just this thing that didn’t have a name, ‘I don’t like my husband’. Then I learned the name of it: I was a lesbian,” she tells me.

    In the hopes of a sympathetic ear, she met a rabbi “who seemed cool and liberal”, believing he would be more accepting than someone from the right wing of Orthodoxy – but it made no difference. “He told me I can identify as a lesbian but not actually act on it. He wanted me to be celibate for the rest of my life,” she said. Leah now has trouble trusting people after experiencing what she described as “rape by the community” after her husband forced himself on her because his rabbis told him “that was the right thing to do”.

    The Torah does not forbid homosexuality, but it bans any homosexual acts. Although the role of sex is emphasized to strengthen marital bonds and growing families, many young Hasidic Jews are not well educated when it comes to sexuality.

    Leah is now in the middle of a bruising two-year battle against her husband to get the custody of her three children. Her husband is fighting on religious grounds, claiming she is an unfit mother because of her sexual orientation. These cases are often difficult to litigate because the ultra-Orthodox community has access to financial resources, money for attorney fees and witnesses who are willing to testify.

    Footsteps, an organization whose name is uttered only in whispers, is at the heart of the former ultra-Orthodox community and has partnered with the New York Legal Assistance Group to take on family cases like Leah’s. Founded by Malkie Schwartz, who left the Chabad Lubavitch sect in 2000, Footsteps has grown from holding impromptu meetings with 20 people huddled round a bare room to more than 1,000 members today.

    The location, which is secret to protect its members and has recently moved to larger premises, is not signposted and is bare, aside from Footsteps members’ artwork. “Freedom to Selfie”, announces one collage, while a pair of knitted baby socks hang on the opposite wall with a caption that reads: “Baby footsteps are for freedom one step at a time.”

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  193. It takes time for defectors to find their feet on the other side. Children from divorced families are often in limbo, confused by the mixed messages of a sudden exposure to the secular world.

    Frieda Vizel’s son, Seth, has forgotten all his Yiddish since leaving the upstate New York town of Kiryas Joel with his mother five years ago. He struggles to fit in between his father’s conservative household and his mother’s secular life, often filled with the toys and technology children have no access to in traditional Orthodoxy.

    Vizel, 30, who anglicized her name from the Yiddish Freidy, still considers herself very much Jewish. She wears a silver Star of David necklace and sends her son to a religious school; she gives tours of Hasidic Williamsburg to tourists every week. She also struggles with living a secular life, where the emphasis is on material gain. “I would love to preserve some of the innocence and the reverence found in the Hasidic community,” she said. “You don’t live through this hunger for everything. It’s insatiable.” In place of flashy cars or technology, an ultra-Orthodox Jew may prize family silver or an illustrated religious text, carried in a child’s pram wherever the family goes.

    On Lee Avenue, the main thoroughfare for Williamsburg’s Satmar community, preparations for the Jewish festival of Passover are underway, and the road is buzzing with activity. Special temporary food courts have been set up in metal containers to avoid unwanted crumbs dirtying the homes that are being cleaned from top to bottom in observance of the holiday.

    But there are also stark reminders of a place that doesn’t allow much room for individuality outside of the confines of religion. Posters written in Yiddish denounce the occurrence of theatrical plays put on by locals that are a “place of mockery” and are forbidden.

    The Satmar is considered one of the most insular of the approximately 30 sects, but generally, Orthodoxy is “not a clash of east versus west”, says Rabbi Levi Shmotkin, a Chabad Jew. “It’s about how to harness religion and the relationship with God and reconcile it with the world.” People often decide to leave because of a “negative personal interaction of experience, and not due to a theological conflict”, he said.

    On this day in Williamsburg, Vizel, who is giving a tour, is also being surreptitiously followed by a Hasidic man, who pretends to be on the phone, except he doesn’t speak into the phone at any time. “He follows me around sometimes,” she said. “He emails me after, saying it sounded interesting.” She first met him many years ago, before she left. He had been thinking of leaving as well, she says, but he has a family, and once you’re married with children, it is a huge responsibility to abandon this life.

    It is one that Deen, who has just released a memoir about his life, All Who Go Do Not Return, knows too well. He holds an unopened, undelivered letter he tried to send to one of his children three times. “The mailman needed a signature, so they [his family] couldn’t trash it.”

    He says he will try to send it again, but he looks defeated after years of trying to make contact with his estranged children. “If I knew I was going to lose them, I would not have left. It’s like saying you would be prepared to take a step to cause a death in the family; there’s no way you’d do that.”


  194. Israeli youths shun Orthodoxy over dogma

    By Daphne Rousseau, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE APRIL 21, 2015

    · Jerusalem (AFP) - They were already in their 20s the first time they ever heard about dinosaurs, learned algebra or even began understanding basic English.

    Now a group of young Israelis who left the closed world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism are demanding answers from the state which funded their strictly religious education in Jewish seminaries, known as yeshivas.

    Despite years of studying, all they were exposed to was religious texts and their interpretation, leaving them clueless about the basics of the national curriculum.

    "I once heard them talk about the theory of evolution, very furtively, in the yeshiva when someone said certain people think they are descended from the apes," said 26-year-old Yaakov Fink, a former religious scholar.

    "It triggered a gale of laughter and the rabbi said that anyone who believed that must be a monkey," said Fink, who now studies psychology.

    In place of the trademark ultra-Orthodox attire of sidelocks, skullcaps and long black coats, he is now dressed in sporty casual wear.

    Nothing in his appearance or speech gives a clue that this computer enthusiast who loves to have a beer with his friends spent the first 21 years of his life as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, cut off from modern thought and learning.

    In the yeshiva world, he says, everything is designed "to ensure that no doubt, however small, can sneak in" that could challenge blind faith.

    - No room for doubt -

    Yet nagging doubts did crop up for this young seminarian -- and they never went away.

    "It happened that one Saturday night after the end of shabbat I simply couldn't bring myself to go back to the yeshiva -- and I never did understand why," he told AFP.

    Although leaving the ultra-Orthodox world was hard, there was worse to come as Fink struggled to integrate into the secular -- and elitist -- university system with extremely limited skills.

    In maths, he had the ability of a 10-year-old, his English went no further than the alphabet and he had absolutely no idea about history, geography or science.

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  195. What helped him was getting involved with a group called "Out for Change", which counts around 300 members -- all of them former ultra-Orthodox.

    Formed with the express aim of taking legal action against the state, the organisation also runs courses for people who want to integrate into modern society.

    But its members are mainly engaged in a lawsuit seeking damages from the state, which provides 75 percent of the funds for ultra-Orthodox education without demanding any supervision over what its 400,000 students learn.

    "What did we study in the yeshiva? The Torah and its commentaries and that's about all," Fink said, referring to the first five books of the Bible.

    Ultra-Orthodox girls have their own single-sex schools, and do learn lay subjects such as maths, history, sciences and languages, but not to a sufficiently high level to qualify for universities -- coeducational institutions which contravene the ultra-Orthodox requirement for female "modesty".

    Keeping young women out of such an environment is a deliberate policy of the pious, say those who have left.

    - 200-year-old education -

    "Yeshiva education has nothing in common with Western education. It's like what you would have found in eastern Europe more than 200 years ago," Yossi David told AFP.

    "Its ultimate goal is to not evolve," said David, who finally graduated from high school-level studies at the age of 25 thanks to evening classes he paid for by working around the clock.

    "I was deprived of knowledge in all areas: critical thinking; reasoning ability; writing and creativity."

    He did the same to prepare for his entrance exams for Jerusalem's prestigious Hebrew University.

    Now 32, he teaches and researches in the field of political communications.

    His journey to enlightenment was punctuated by major revelations -- like the day it dawned on him that the biblical Hebrew he had grown up speaking was not the same as modern Hebrew used by other Israelis.

    If today such recollections make him smile, the thought that tens of thousands of children -- with the complicity of the state -- are denied a basic education really "hurts," he says.

    "We know it will be very difficult to get real justice for all the children," David said.

    "But at least we want to try."


  196. The Journey Out

    Peril And Promise In Leaving The Ultra-Orthodox Jewish World

    by Talia Lavin, THE HUFFINGTON POST May 21, 2015

    Shulem Deen’s first steps away from Hasidic Judaism were in the direction of a radio.

    Defying his community's express prohibitions against secular media, Deen waited until his wife and children were sleeping. Then he leaned in close to the small tape player in his home -- the one whose radio he hadn't had the heart to disable. He turned it on and began to listen.

    “I switched the dial from one station to another, commercials for medical malpractice attorneys, car dealerships and department store blowout sales filling me with forbidden pleasure,” Deen wrote in his recently released memoir, All Who Go Do Not Return. “I was like a visitor from a different era encountering our modern one, captivated by its very mundaneness.”

    Indeed, leaving his home -- and Hasidism -- might as well have been time travel. Deen was born into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn, and lived from adolescence in New Square, New York. The Rockland County hamlet is made up entirely of Hasidim from the Skver sect, which originated in Skvyra, Ukraine. The society Deen inhabited for much of his adult life is deeply isolated from the modern world: The Skverer Hasidim, like most ultra-Orthodox Jews, eschew the Internet, television and non-Jewish music, and adhere to strict limitations on diet and dress.

    For Hasidim, life orbits around service to God. In communities scattered throughout the northeastern U.S., hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews have created insular, inward-facing worlds, islands of radical piety in the midst of America’s bustling secular life. Hasidic men lead their lives immersed in the Talmud, one of Judaism’s holiest texts. Yiddish, not English, is the language spoken on the streets. And everything, from birth to marriage to death, is supervised by tight-knit communities committed to enforcing pious norms for themselves and their neighbors. People are born, live, and die within the confines of family and faith. No one leaves.

    Except the ones who do. For people who exit Hasidic communities, it can mean total rupture: Leaving Hasidism means leaving behind family, community and the only way of life they have ever known, in favor of a secular world whose realities they are ill-prepared for. These individuals call themselves OTD, or “off the derech,” the Hebrew word for “path.” The new roads they take are often fraught with difficulty. But OTD individuals have begun to find one another -- sharing the challenges, and triumphs, of the journey out.

    After leaving Hasidism, Deen endured a divorce, struggled to find a job and became estranged from his five children. He found himself deeply depressed in his newfound isolation.

    “I was cut off completely from my previous community, and I had no connections in the outside world,” he told The Huffington Post. “I had no friends who were not religious.”

    That’s when Deen reached out to Footsteps, an organization that works to support individuals making the transition out of the ultra-Orthodox world.

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  197. Founded in 2004 by a formerly Hasidic woman, Footsteps has aided 1,000 people to date, according to Lani Santo, the current director. The organization offers a number of programs ranging from educational services to peer support groups.

    "Footsteps provides absolutely crucial services -- sometimes lifesaving services," said Deen. "Without Footsteps -- I’ve had some serious episodes of depression –- without Footsteps I don’t know if I would be alive now. It was really that crucial. It was lifesaving to me, and I know it was lifesaving to many others."

    The educational services that Footsteps offers teach skills most of us take for granted: talking to someone of the opposite gender; reading a restaurant menu; writing a resume.

    Men leaving the Hasidic community have an extra hurdle to clear: Hasidic boys’ schools often sidestep state educational requirements, eschewing subjects like science and math to immerse students in a rigorous curriculum of Talmud study. Many adult male Hasidim read English at only a fourth- or fifth-grade level, Santo told HuffPost.

    “They need a GED en route to college if that’s what they want,” she explained, adding that finding employment in the Hasidic world is facilitated by a vibrant, informal network within the religious community. "The risks are great, and the courage it takes [to leave] is pretty astounding.”

    Women face a different, if no less profound, set of challenges. Deen calls the Hasidic world a “deeply chauvinistic” society -- one in which women are categorically barred from community leadership roles and their lives shaped by stringent conceptions of modesty. But because girls are prevented from studying the Talmud, secular education is more widespread in girls’ schools.

    “Girls, because what they do with their time is considered less important, there’s more laxity about what they read,” Leah Vincent, a board member of Footsteps who left the ultra-Orthodox world in her teens, told HuffPost.

    But despite comparatively better access to education, women who leave the Hasidic world can find themselves deeply vulnerable due to the sex segregation and rigidly enforced gender roles they've encountered from an early age.

    In her haunting memoir, Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood, Vincent wrote about how her sheltered upbringing left her ill-prepared to break with her faith. In her late teens, during her first intimate relationship with a man, she found herself unable to refuse his advances -- and ultimately experienced a traumatic rape.

    "No one should have to pay the price for freedom that I had to pay," Vincent said. “I had to recognize that I had a right to my own opinion, that my entire self didn’t have to make the man in front of me feel good. My mom defined herself as an enabler -- she enabled my father to study. Women enable men and children. That was part of my identity. That’s something I’m still working on.”

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  198. For Vincent and many others who have made the perilous transition out of the Hasidic world, Footsteps is a crucial resource -- not just for its career resources and legal aid, but for the community it provides. Vincent said that through her involvement with the organization, she hopes to prevent others from enduring what she did.

    "I only found out about Footsteps after the worst of my journey -- the story I tell in my memoir -- happened, but there I found and connected with people with similar experiences," Vincent said. "I realized I wasn’t alone; other people had faced these issues."

    Melissa Weisz, an actress in her late 20s who left the Satmar Hasidic community soon after her marriage at 19, told HuffPost that Footsteps helped her build a brand-new life -- from her identity to her wardrobe.

    When she left her old life, Weisz said, “I was putting myself through school, working overnight at group homes. I was going to do anything I had to do to make sure I was going to live.”

    "I looked to Footsteps because I felt like an outsider,” she continued. “I remember looking at myself in the mirror -- I saw myself in jeans, but on the inside I felt the mirror was lying to me. I was convinced that everyone could see that I was supposed to be in a skirt, everyone could see through me."

    And the cohort of those who seek support at Footsteps is growing.

    “We’ve entered a network of at least 3,000 or 4,000 people,” Santo said. “New members have increased each year significantly. In 2010, the number of new-member intake interviews was 46. Last year, in 2014, it was 142 -- a 150 percent increase.”

    The ultra-Orthodox population itself is growing by leaps and bounds, in large part due to a community culture that encourages having as many children as possible. According to the Pew Research Center, Orthodox family size is nearly double that of the national average.

    Recently, Santos said, Footsteps affiliates organized a Mother’s Day barbecue in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Many attendees’ mothers were no longer speaking to them. Others were mothers themselves, locked in custody battles for children they might never be able to speak to again.

    But thanks to Footsteps, Facebook groups and other websites, those who have left the ultra-Orthodox world are starting to find each other -- and face their struggles together. On a path that diverges from the unbending arc of life prescribed by tradition, they've begun recognizing each other on the road.

    And freedom itself is its own kind of revelation, says Weisz. She recounted a shining moment from her early twenties: going to the beach.

    “It was so freeing that I got to feel the water on my skin. We had that in pools growing up, but we had to be totally covered up,” she said. “It was the first time that I was actually in the open -- immersed. It felt like I was part of the world, that I was free.”



    "Child protection policies improving in some Orthodox Jewish communities, but not in ultra-Orthodox ones"