Story-ideas-1011172

Confusion & silence reign over Rabbi & flock

In a most unaccustomed manner, the Joburg Shtetl area of Glenhazel became a tourist hotspot as Jews and Gentiles alike poured in to photograph… tourists! The 2,000-plus colourful tourists who seemed to have descended out of nowhere were easy to spot – they all dressed the same. They were Breslov Chareidim.
by ANT KATZ | Apr 23, 2014

More questions than answers

Over 2,000 followers of Rabbi-on-the-run Breslov Chasidic leader Rabbi Eliezer Berland were set to join him in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe for Pesach. As the pilgrims started arriving at Zimbabwe’s borders, they realised something was amiss. They raided a Buklawayo house in which Berland and many of what Israeli media are now saying were 71 followers, found they had overstayed their visas and promptly tossed them aboard a ‘sponsored’ airliner and packed them off to Joburg.

 Berlov Geoff2

RIGHT: The visitors added colour and curiosity to Glenhazel

Israeli daily ARUTZ SHEVA ran a story on Tuesday headlined “Fugitive Rabbi 'In Hiding' in South Africa, Sources Claim” and went on to say that “Despite warnings from local Jewish leaders,” Rabbi Eliezer Berland did not make an appearance in Joburg. “Has he gone into hiding?” asked Arutz Sheva.

Speculation is rife about the whereabouts of fugitive Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who was deported from Zimbabwe earlier this month on charges of overstaying his visa.

Berland is the leader of the Shavu Banim Chassidic sect and is wanted by Israeli police for questioning after being accused of committing indecent acts against several young female followers. R. Berland fled Israel before he could be arrested, however, to the US, Italy, Switzerland, Morocco and Cairo before coming to SA in December en route to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

 

Purim partying in Bulawayo

Initially the small, aging and conservative Jewish population of Bulawayo were concerned about the arrival of the Chareidim in their midst - and a deal was struck with local Jewry that the Chareidim would not daven at their Shul.

 

Breslov Zim Vid

LEFT: This image was lifted from a video that can be
VIEWED HERE

 

A member of the small Bulawayo Jewish community (who asked not to be named) told SAJR Online that “150 of them arrived at Bulawayo Shul erev Purim and over-ran the place. Our community was devastated,” said the source.

“Berland was surrounded by four heavily-armed guards at all times,” he said. The community had in particular complained about the schechting of a sheep on the pavement outside the Shul, calling local residents Ni***rs, and “urinating and defecating on the public pavement,” he said.

 

Confusion reigns in absence of info

Berland was expecting many hundreds of his followers to join him for Pesach in Bulawayo. But, on Monday 7 April, after Berland and 12 of his followers whose visas had expired were arrested, fined $200 and deported to SA on Wednesday, The Chareidim simply stayed here. 

Breslov - Tongue
 


 
RIGHT: All attempts
to engage the Breslov
community were met
by a show of tongues

 

“Jewish community leaders released a notice shortly before the holiday began, banning Berland from attending local synagogues for his alleged crimes” and putting the community on high alert, wrote Arutz Sheva.

“Ultimately, the Sephardic community reportedly accepted him - a move which sparked last-minute protesting,” they say.

“Sources told Arutz Sheva Tuesday that he may have "gone underground" in response to a search warrant issued against him over the past week.”

Retailers loved it, locals less so 

One area of confusion is about just how many followers of Berland were in the Shtetl over Pesach. Initial reports in Israeli media earlier this month referred to 200 supporters getting the boot by the Zimbabweans, clearly many more were on their way to join him. A fact that religious and secular local community leaders were just as clearly not aware!

READ THE MOST LIKELY STORY IN ANT KATZ’ OP-ED

The flock were a mix of very rich and very poor. The former stayed in hotels while the latter were accommodated by local families and several Shuls even laid on accommodation in halls and tents.

 

Berlov Geoff3
LEFT:  Retailers loving it – but Pesachdik products soon ran out

Numbers have been bandied about wildly, but anyone who lives in, or visited the Shtetl as tourists over Pesach will attest to the fact that they were on every street corner. The total may well have exceeded 1,000. Another question being asked is how did Berland get into SA in the first place? What was the Glenhazel police raid all about? SAPS says it was the Hawks, who are still getting back to SAJR Online.

READ THE MOST LIKELY STORY IN ANT KATZ’ OP-ED

9 Comments

  1. 9 Yeshaya 24 Apr
    I'm the one in the picture standing next to the pickles with my son. On behalf of all of us I'd like to extend our thanks for helping us out in our time of need. When we arrived here on a very long bus ride, tired and broken, but still in high spirits as Chassidim should, we has such a warm miraculous welcome from our hosts here. Our hearts and prayers go out for them with thanks. Unfortunately the same was not extended to our Rav which is devastating.
    A few came on the airplane with the Rav, and the rest of us on 3 buses, one got stranded for a full night of pitch darkness, followed by a morning with water running out and cellphone batteries all dead. At peak we were maybe 250 people, a few more came, but many more left. Most of us are scheduled to leave within the next few days.
    All we wanted is to spend time with our Rav, which is falsely prosecuted by people with much money and vital interests, too complicated to tell here. You can trust us very observing Jews that we thoroughly investigated all the accusations and found them as false as can be.
  2. 8 Israeli 24 Apr

    Yeshaya, If you are so pious you should know that there is no justification for you being outside of Eretrz Yisrael - unless of course you are in dire financial strates, looking for a shidduch or coming to teach/learn Torah.

    Since you are none of the above, I suggest you return home a.s,a.p.

  3. 7 Yossi 24 Apr
    Excuse me, Israeli, being with ones Rav for the Chagim is considered learning torah, and is a perfectly legitimate reason to leave Eretz Yisroel, as it is an accepted minhag in all Jewish religious sects. 

    What there absolutely is no justification for is accusing someone of wrongful acts and humiliating him for it, kicking him out of your community, based on mere accusations which the media turns into a fact (as you can see here he is called "Israeli sex-pest Rabbi") with no trial, no real witnesses, and there is not even a warrant for his arrest as is clear by the fact that he was legally allowed to leave Israel and legally allowed entrance into Johannesburg.

    But for the way some of your community acted towards him there is absolutely absolutely no justification. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

    The King of Morocco (who actually begged for the Rabbi to stay without his students) and the Priest of Zimbabwe (who came on Purim and was greatly inspired) showed more respect then the Jews of Johannesburg including the "chief" ashkenazi Rabbi. That there is absolutely no justification for! So get your priorities straight! 

    (As Yeshaya said is is too complicated to try to explain why people are out to get him so much and are spending hundreds and thousands of dollars to spread these lies and make his life miserable wherever he is. It is also too difficult to explain why he doesn't yet return to face the accusations.)
    We have a clear and strict law in our Torah "Judge every Jew favorably", and definitely don't talk bad about him unless you have sure facts and there is a good reason to do so. Maybe you haven't learned, and maybe they don't teach this in your Jewish schools in Johanesburg, but "Love your neighbor as yourself" doesn't apply only to your actual neighbor in your own community, rather it applies to every single Jew!
  4. 6 Gavriel 24 Apr
    While I do share the concerns expressed by many in our community, and while I do have many unanswered questions - my heart is breaking.
    The real story is so often the story behind the story.
    I met Yeshaya's family in the park over Yomtov. Something in them resonated within me and I could no longer ignore these strangers in a strange land. I invited them to meet my family.
    Yeshaya, behind the garb, has a beautiful and very human family. He studied mathematics for seven years at university and works as a software engineer, for a company that is designing a 'kosher' internet. 
    His elder son is about to join the Israeli Airforce.
    The family is close, warm, educated and contributes to society. 
    My family and I are so much richer for having met them, and I hope our relationship continues into the future.
    But they are not the only good and interesting people here, exercising the most precious principal of modern civilization, namely, freedom of choice and association.
    There are many others  like them with interesting stories to tell. Among them is one of the original founding members of Shlomo Carlebach's 'House of Love  and Prayer' in 1960's hippy America.
    Another, is an Israeli Fighter Pilot, indistinguishable from the rest of them, but clearly someone with something to offer.
    While I hold no brief for their rabbi, I hope and pray he exonerates himself to those beyond his immediate circle as soon as possible. I watch this space with breathless anticipation, as I have heard and read much of both sides of this story.
    My feeling is that much of our difficulty as a community, with regard to this issue, is a cultural one. Our community is predominantly anglo saxon, polite, quiet and very proper.  We would be out of place in many parts of modern day Israel anyway.
    Now, whether we like it or not, a segment of that society has instantly been transported right here into our comfortable midst. Notwithstanding everything else, that alone would put us into crises.   
    This has got to be one of the most intriguing Jewish stories of our times. 
    Reach out to these people if you can. Some of them are hot heads. Some of us are also. But many of them and many of us can find much common ground.
  5. 5 Susan B. 25 Apr
    With all due respect to the Rabbi and his followers, if he has broken the law, he should face the penalties and consequences thereof, he cannot hide behind his title and following. Expedite him back to Israel to face the music and what a joyful song it will be to have him behind bars instead of using religion when it suites him.
  6. 4 Israeli 25 Apr

    Yossi, Assuming your reason for being with your Rebbe to learn Torah in exile is correct, I fail to see how this group can justify their lengthy stay outside of Israel.

    According to comments of Gavriel there are some true 'heroes' amongst them.

    The bottom line on this whole issue , in my opinion, is that an Israeli who leaves his Land will never find true refuge in a foreign country. After nearly 2000 year of exile Hashem, in His mercy, has restored Jewish sovereignty to most of Eretz Yisrael. Just as there is no justification for Jews to remain in self-imposed exile, so is there no justification for Israelis to leave their Land. 

  7. 3 Uriel 25 Apr
    The main issue with Rabbi Berland is that he is requested for interrogation by Police in Israel. He knows that and his lawyers know it. Rather than submitting to the interrogation and clearing his name, he elected to criss-cross  the world in a clear attempt to avoid countries that has an extradition agreement with Israel. He also has the habit of inviting large groups of disciples, many of whom are poor and disrespectful of individuals outside their group, to accompany him and create a commune of worshipers around him. This habit resulted in public nuisance in both Morocco and Zimbabwe - leading to his expulsion from both countries. My estimate is that if he disappeared quietly to a small city in Morocco or to a town in Zimbabwe, no one would be interested in him. However when so much fuss is created he becomes a focal point for law-enforcement authorities who are concerned about the mayhem that he and his followers always create.
    Needless to say he needs to return to the country where he is needed for police investigation. At this stage no other course of action is likely to be successful, there is only that many countries who would allow him to hop like this from one airport to the next.    
  8. 2 Anon 07 May
    One simple question one must ask about this whole situation. If Innocent WHY flee your home? An innocent man has no reason to run.
  9. 1 Chaim 02 Jun
    BS"D

    Uriel and Anon:

    An innocent person needs not fear the autorities, insofar as these authorities are of good repute, fair, and unbiased. Authorities with a past history riddled with partiality and corruption cannot be expected to administer proper justice towards anyone "outside of their own camp" - particularly someone who is religiously opposed to their political alibis (i.e. "a hareidi Rabbi"). 

    If you will read the article: "Speaking for Breslov Rabbi Eliezer Berland" (dated May 22) you will find there your answers.

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