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‘Jewish Taliban’ sect flee in Canada

Sect known as ‘Jewish Taliban’ flees Quebec for Ontario amid child neglect investigation – children found to be suffering from poor hygiene, inadequate housing and unsatisfactory schooling.

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ANT KATZ

Graeme Hamilton, reporting in the Canadian NATIONALPOST.com, says that Lev Tahor sect director Mayer Rosner (pictured) says that being forced to teach Montreal’s public school curriculum was behind their decision to flee the province.

But, when Canadian child-protection workers arrived last Monday to check on children in what has been described as the “cult-like Jewish community” in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Montreal, the streets were deserted and nobody answered the doors.

Neighbours informed them that three buses had arrived in the middle of the night. With some families facing court dates this week under Quebec’s Youth Protection Act, almost the entire community — including all of the 120 children — had abruptly decamped for Chatham, Ontario.

“For sure we are worried by the fact that they fled Quebec to go to Ontario,” Denis Baraby, director of youth protection for the Laurentians region, said on Friday. His workers have been actively involved in the community since August, trying to help children suffering from poor hygiene, inadequate housing and unsatisfactory schooling.

“We gathered evidence that there was important child neglect within the community and there was also psychological violence made toward the children in many ways,” Baraby said. “The basic needs of the children were not necessarily well provided for.”

Files handed to Ontario

Last month, six children were removed from the community after their father, who had abandoned the sect to move to Israel, reported they were suffering neglect.

Baraby said he has shared all of his files, including photos of many of the children, with Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, which has begun its own investigation. The families are staying at a motel, but a representative said they intend to settle in the region.

What is ‘Lev Tahor’ Pure Heart ?

Lev Tahor leader Shlomo Helbrans (also known as Elbarnes) was convicted in 1994 of kidnapping a teenaged boy who had been brought to his Brooklyn yeshiva for bar mitzvah instruction. In 2000, he was deported to Israel after serving his prison sentence. A year later he arrived in Sainte-Agathe on a temporary visa and soon his followers joined him.

In Israel, critics refer to Lev Tahor — which means Pure Heart — as the Jewish Taliban because women wear burqa-like robes and are confined to household tasks. Sainte-Agathe Mayor Denis Chalifoux said the women from the community never ventured downtown to the shops.

In 2004, Helbrans was granted refugee status in Canada on the grounds that he would face persecution in Israel for his anti-Zionist views. The federal Minister of Citizenship appealed but lost. The judge in that case noted that Helbrans teaches that the existence of Israel is an insult to the Bible, that Israel should cease to exist and that Jews must accept Arab domination of the land.


Lev Tahor

“They are a sect,” he said. “They are not reflective of Judaic values or any stream of Judaism. They are completely out of the norm.”

In Canada, the sect managed to remain mostly below the radar until 2011 when authorities intercepted two teenaged girls sent from Israel to join Lev Tahor. An uncle in Israel had obtained a court order to have the girls returned based on fears they would be harmed by Lev Tahor and forced to marry.

Denis Baraby said his office began paying closer attention to the group after that incident. But it was a specific complaint channelled through a Jewish community social services agency in Montreal this year that prompted intervention in August.

Children were suffering

The 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. Concerns about forced marriages and teen pregnancies were passed along to provincial police, Baraby said.

He said community members were cooperating and slow progress was being made, but three families representing 14 children were facing court hearings this week. He said the hearings were not to remove the children from custody but to ensure continued child-protection access.

The mass departure came as a surprise, he said. During visits last week, his workers saw no signs of an imminent move.

Reached by phone in Chatham, Lev Tahor director Mayer Rosner denied that his group had fled to avoid child-protection authorities. He said they left in the middle of the night so it would be easier for the children to sleep on the long journey.

Ontario respects It’s all about schooling

The real sticking point, he said, was schooling. “To learn the full curriculum in Quebec exactly like in the public school is a problem for religious people,” he said. He said parents were co-operating with youth protection and making progress.

“They are not reflective of Judaic values
or any stream of Judaism.
They are completely out of the norm”

In Ontario, he said, “they are respecting freedom of religion,” and he is confident his community’s schooling system will be accepted. “We didn’t run away,” he said. “Three or four months ago we checked out a property in Chatham, because we were planning to leave anyway.” He denied that girls in Lev Tahor are forced into marriage.

David Ouellette, public affairs director at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Montreal, said Jewish community services had been active in exposing concerns in Lev Tahor. “They are a sect,” he said. “They are not reflective of Judaic values or any stream of Judaism. They are completely out of the norm.”

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SA Jewish Report is looking for a journalist

The SA Jewish Report is looking for a journalist, who is passionate about and hungry for news and who writes both news and features beautifully.

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The applicant must to be tech savvy, comfortable online, on social media and in a newsroom. The applicant must have at least five years’ experience as a journalist and a relevant degree. Please forward your CV and an introductory letter to the editor, Peta Krost Maunder on editor@sajewishreport.co.za.  

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Apologies

On the wrong page at the wrong time

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The SA Jewish Report wishes to apologise to Dr Yossi Unterslak, a specialist gynaecologist and reproductive medicine assistant at Vitalab, whose face and title was in an advert on the page three of our Rosh Hashanah edition this week. The advert just happened to be on the same page as “Johannesburg doctor guilty of unprofessional conduct”. I wish to place it on record that Dr Unterslak was on that page advertising his participation in Torah Talks and has absolutely nothing to do with the story about the doctor on the page.  The SA Jewish Report apologises to Dr Unterslak for any harm or unpleasantness that derived from the advert being on this page.  – Editor

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Jewish Guild Orchestra reaches out through sweet sound of music

A musical tour around the world was presented to residents of Golden Acres, Sandringham Gardens and members of Second Innings last Sunday by the Jewish Guild Orchestra.

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MARGOT COHEN

Jewis Guild Orchestra

Professor Brian Buch who conducts the orchestra and is also its musical director, had his appreciative audience clamouring for more. The Jewish Guild Orchestra, although founded in 1944, has still been able to retain its fresh sound. It okays a wide range of light classical pieces and its repertoire last Sunday ranged from the operetta Gypsy Baron by Johan Strauss to the all-time Neapolitan favourite, O Sole Mio.

Expenses of the orchestra are met by its 35 members themselves; they derive no income from its activities. The orchestra was named after its original sponsor, the Johannesburg Jewish Guild which no longer exists. Its founder was the late Dr Solly Aronowsky who served as musical director for 46 years. Its current leader is Dr Bernard Caplan.

The orchestra provides support for amateur musicians, irrespective of race or religion, to develop their skills to perform in public and to enhance their appreciation of music. It also plays to audiences who would not otherwise have access to light classical music, such as residents of old aged homes, the Red Cross, Hospice and the Cancer Association.

“One of our objectives is to provide performances through which we are able to assist various charities or to promote music appreciation among scholars,” says Buch.

“We welcome new players,” says Buch. “We need female vocalists, string and brass players. We need players who are at grade 6 level.”

* For further information, contact Dr Buch on (012) 348-8653 or 071-633-0869

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