Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sect members migrating to Guatemala, sources say 

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. The family's two eldest daughters are living with a foster family in Toronto. They were apprehended with another group that tried to leave 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 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 said 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.

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.

K's sister had been contacting the family regularly when she was living in Canada, but her cellphone was taken away by the sect's leadership when she left the country, he said.

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 would have to leave soon anyway.

Quebec's Department of Youth Protection conducted an 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. None of the allegations have been proven in court. Last year, the Quebec Court issued an order for 14 children to be removed and placed into foster care.

About 200 members relocated to Chatham-Kent, Ont., last year ahead of a Quebec youth court hearing Youth protection authorities in Chatham-Kent and in Quebec declined to comment on the case Friday.


Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Chaptzem! Blog