Thursday, December 20, 2018
Mother of six escapes Jewish 'cult' in Guatemala fleeing to Brooklyn after being told her 13-year-old daughter would be forced to marry one of the leader's sons
A woman who escaped from an ultra-orthodox Jewish cult in Guatemala has arrived in Brooklyn and blown the whistle on some of its most alleged 'barbaric and abusive' customs.
Sara Helbrans, 32, didn't start making waves until earlier this year, when she was told her 13-year-old daughter would be forced to marry the son of a community leader.
Sara left the sect know as Lev Tahor or 'Pure Heart' in Hebrew along with her six children, setting off a chain of deeply disturbing events.
It has led to the start of numerous custody battles and the arrest of five former community leaders, including her brother.
Sara alleges the group from which she escaped, is a cult — and she and her six kids are in desperate need of protection.
'I am very imminently afraid from the cult and what the children's father and other cult members may do now that we are no longer under their power and manipulation,' according to filings she submitted to a Brooklyn court.
Before Sara fled, Helbrans had been a part of the cult her entire life.
Her father, Shlomo Helbrans, founded the group in Jerusalem in 1987. He drowned in a river on a trip to Mexico in 2017 according to the New York Post.
The cult is believed to have continually abused and tortured its members.
It is accused of kidnapping, having connections to anti-Zionist Islamic groups, torturing children, and severely restrict the lives and wellbeing of its followers.
Schlomo's son, Sara's brother, Nachman Helbrans, took over the leadership role along with a group of associates and by all account has made the cult even stricter.
Despite being siblings with the new leader, when she complained about plans for her 13-year-old daughter being married-off, her complaints were not well received.
Court papers allege Sara was ostracized by her community, separated from her husband and children and ordered to perform the menial of tasks.
'They tortured her. She was forced to clean toilets. She wasn't allowed to talk to anyone,' said a source to the Post.
Sara was finally told to leave the sect and renounce custody of her kids, according to court filings.
After refusing, she then tried to gather all of her kids together in order to escape.
The children had been separated and were living with different families.
Sara only managed to find three of the kids, taking her 10, 8-and 5-year-old children with her - before 'running for her life'.
Her three other children were initially left behind - 13-year-old Yante and two of her brothers, 12-year-old Chaim and six-year-old Duvid.
The children were later located and found to be living in Mexico with their father who was detained by the authorities.
All six children then made it to Brooklyn with their mother, however Sara is still in turmoil after the two eldest kids were later 'kidnapped' by the cult.
'I am very worried, afraid and concerned that the father and his fellow members of the cult will try to kidnap the children and compel the children to return to the cult, where they are in danger of malnourishment, corporal punishment and forced to marry persons much older than them,' she wrote in her November 14 filing in Brooklyn Family Court.
Sara is now seeking custody of her children and an order of protection against her husband.
Just as she had filed the order to obtain custody of her own children, one of Lev Tahor's leaders, Shmiel Weingarten, arrived in Brooklyn from Guatemala to file a petition on behalf of the 13-year-old girl, Yante.
The order from the teen requests that she lives with her father or return to Guatemala.
The order also contained allegations of abuse against Sara.
'She would beat the children much more because of anger, and the house became a nightmare, until my father had no other choice but to send the children to other families from time to time,' says the petition filed in Yante's name.
The father, meanwhile, denies all claims of abuse and mistreatment of children in Lev Tahor and considers the children kidnapped from their dad.
One of Sara's supporters has dismissed the allegations saying the group often makes counterclaims against escapees.
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