April 21, 2024
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Lev Tahor Moves to Guatemala, Abuse Continues

Is Shlomo Helbrans, the leader of Lev Tahor, a con man who uses eve­ry trick in the book to support himself and bolster his role of spiritual lead­er for his followers? Or is he a self-de­lusional quack who has a charismatic gift for sharing his delusion with oth­ers? JLBC has already exposed this man for kidnapping a child from New Milford, NJ in 1992, for which he served jail time, and which also triggered sub­sequent events, putting young frum children at great risk. Yet, somehow, Helbrans and his trusted aides have managed to amass millions of dollars in property and funds from the big-hearted and unwary public, and also from such renowned organizations as the Davidowitz Family Foundation. The group presents a picture of desti­tution to the unwary and believes that its staged performances for the media of observance of secular laws are tak­en seriously. They are even support­ed by the editors of Ami Magazine in Brooklyn.

CBC reporter Gillian Findlay taped a woman claiming to be a teacher giv­ing a supposed geography lesson to four girls who looked to be aged 8 to 13. However, the “teacher” taught the children that the capital of Ontario was Ottawa. (Ottawa is the capital of Can­ada, the capital city of Ontario is To­ronto.) Why girls of obviously differing ages were being taught at the same and rather elementary level was not explained or questioned. The girls are taught to cook and clean and be per­fect mothers and wives. There is proof that 14-year-old girls are married off to men 25 to 30 years old.

Boys are taught to daven, and are hit with wire hangers, belts, or batons if they don’t measure up, claimed Mendi Marcus, who at age 11 was sent to Lev Tahor to attend school. Marcus said that he was told by Helbrans that he was brilliant, special, spiritual, better than the rest. Marcus said he soon real­ized those words were meant to make him compete to impress the rabbi.

Shulami Kaminiski accused Hel­brans of distributing mood-altering drugs from a room storing many bot­tles of pills that were given like candy to children and adults under orders of the rabbi. Helbrans claimed they were vitamins and prescribed medications, but Youth Protection Services testimo­ny in a Saint-Jerome, Quebec Youth Court said the children were medicat­ed to control their behavior.

After being granted refugee status in Canada, claiming Israel persecuted him for being an anti-Zionist, Helbrans and his followers settled in Sainte-Ag­athe-des-Monts, Quebec, for 12 years. Witnesses went to the authorities and reported that children lived in filth, with no medical or dental treatment by licensed professionals; they had fungal infections; the homeschooling was not compliant with the province’s standards; and the children were sub­ject to psychological abuse and under­age marriage.

Before a decision could be made in the Quebec courts, 200 members fled in the night to Chatham, Ontario in No­vember of 2013. Later than month, the Quebec court ordered 14 Lev Tahor children to be temporarily placed in foster care and receive medical exam­inations and psychological support. After a long legal battle, in February of this year, the children were sent to Quebec to be placed. Canadian Jewish News reported that seven of the chil­dren in foster care are with Orthodox/ Haredi Ontario families. Eluzor Mosco­wicz, foster father to five of them, said that when they arrived they were dirty, their feet and gait were affected by wearing shoes that were too small for them, and they were unfamiliar with scented soap or bathing. He also said that the children tattled on each other, as they had been taught to do at Lev Tahor.

In March, two adults and six chil­dren had fled to San Juan de Lagu­na in Guatemala and were joined by about 30 more adults, all of them liv­ing in a three-room shack with the chil­dren sleeping on the dirt floor. By April, members of Lev Tahor fled to Trini­dad and Tobago but were extradited to Canada. Those remaining in Guate­mala were granted up to 90 days tem­porary refugee status. By June, most of the community, including Helbrans, moved to Guatemala, beyond the reach of the Canadian courts. Reports from Guatemala say they were consid­ered an oddity and experienced anti- Semitism, and have been required to give the government all their names for their own protection.

Guatemalans find it strange to see Lev Tahor’s large and growing families while they work on limiting family size to deal with the extreme poverty in the country. If Guatemala is the Promised Land for Helbrans, that is yet to be dis­covered.

The list of accusations and rev­elations about the world-traveling 200-member sect, which Helbrans claims numbers in the thousands, keeps growing. His followers create a façade of congregations used to col­lect money. Each adult member of Lev Tahor must deliver $2,000 annually for Helbrans’s coffers. And while his mem­bership lives in squalor, Helbrans lives in comparative luxury, smiling benign­ly as members of his flock kiss his hand.

By Anne Phyllis Pinzow

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