Fascinating read! Mesmerized by the innocence of their faces. http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/11/25/the-jewish-taliban-controversial-sect-dismisses-child-neglect-allegations/Controversial sect dismisses child neglect allegations as ultra-orthodox Jews settle into new homes in Ontario
Mayer Rosner sits on a folding chair at the head of a long table in a loose-fitting black jacket and wide-brimmed black hat, breaking off a piece of bread from an enormous loaf still warm from the oven. His wife and five of his nine children, all swathed tightly around their head in long, black cloth, sit before him.
As his wife, Malka, gets up to clear away the avocado and tomatoes and check on the duck eggs cooking on the stove, their five daughters, the eldest 17 and the youngest four, listen to their father or play with Play-Doh, rolling out colourful logs like their mother had just done to make bread.
The girls giggle as their picture is taken and want to see each shot on the camera’s small screen, saying which ones they like best.
Asked where his four sons are, Mr. Rosner, 37, looks surprised: “In school,” he says, making a gesture with his expressive eyes and slender hands to suggest the answer should be obvious.
The different treatment between boys and girls highlights one reason why this group creates controversy.
The two rows of identical cottages in a private development on the outskirts of Chatham, 80 kilometres east of Windsor, is the new home for the Lev Tahor, a controversial orthodox Jewish sect dubbed by some in Israel “the Jewish Taliban” because of their strict lifestyle and manner of dress. The women, even young girls, wear burqa-like clothes.
Last week, just before the 200 members of their community left their homes in Quebec, they celebrated the 17th anniversary of their spiritual leader’s release from a U.S. prison. This week started with Mr. Rosner, a director of the community, meeting officials with Chatham’s child protection services to address fears passed along from Quebec.
Like bookends, the two events highlight some of the Lev Tahor’s controversial past, but if Mr. Rosner is uncomfortable by any of it, he masks it well.
“Everything is written upstairs,” he says, pointing skyward.
It must be metaphorical because there is no upstairs to any of these small, duplex units and not much of a downstairs either. The Spartan accommodations are made up for by the town’s reception, he says.
“People have been very friendly and welcoming. Our people have gone shopping in Chatham and had no problems. People waved,” he says. That wasn’t the case in Quebec: “Everywhere we went on the street, people were cursing us,” he says.
“This is a perfect place. It is private; there are many homes together. It is this place that brought us here.”
The Lev Tahor are a seeming contradiction: an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect that opposes the existence of the state of Israel.
“The Old Testament says the Jewish people live in exile, we are not to establish a government or an army until the Messiah comes. This is something the Zionist government hates,” says Mr. Rosner. “They have always been trying to destroy our community.”
The sect’s founder, Shlomo Helbrans, was convicted in New York in 1994 of kidnapping a 13-year-old boy who he was tutoring for bar mitzvah. Mr. Rosner says the rabbi was only protecting the boy who ran away from his parents, but the court felt differently. Mr. Helbrans was deported to Israel in 2000 but came to Canada a year later and his followers joined him. He was granted refugee status on the grounds of persecution in Israel over his beliefs.
“He’s the spiritual leader of the community. Mostly, he is our religious provider. He is not a manager, he’s a rabbi,” says Mr. Rosner.
The Lev Tahor community in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., 100 kilometres north west of Montreal, drew little attention until 2011 when authorities stopped two teenaged girls arriving from Israel to join them; their uncle in Israel obtained a court order to have the girls returned over fears they would be forced to marry.
Quebec’s youth protection services investigated the group. Mr. Rosner dismisses talk that his community beats their children with sticks or rods or that they force marriages on young girls.
“They say we have forced marriage. We don’t but, like many orthodox religious communities, we have organized marriages,” says Mr. Rosner. A marriage broker pitches couples to parents and if both sets of parents approve, the children meet. If either of them objects the marriage is halted, he says.
“Our boys are not allowed to pick up girls on the street,” he says. “We allow marriage at the age of 16. Some people object to that; everyone has their own choice.”
Child services in Quebec said the children suffered from poor dental health, skin problems and poor hygiene and that there was no adherence to Quebec school curriculum.
Three families with 14 children have court hearings scheduled for this week to ensure social worker access. The group’s nighttime departure for Ontario last Sunday raised concern they were fleeing to avoid that scrutiny.
Mr. Rosner says that’s not true. It is Quebec’s insistence that their children be taught the full Quebec school curriculum that was the breaking point. Some material — evolution, sex education and discussing homosexuality — are objectionable to them, he says.
“Some subjects are against our religion. That is something we can’t compromise on.
Community director Mayer Rosner, spoke about the group's move, while his daughters, and his wife, watched from the kitchen area. “We didn’t just decide to move last week, we’ve been looking for properties for the last few months. These [units] are rented now but the whole place is also for sale. We’ll settle in. See how it goes. Our community is growing,” he said of the group’s plans in Ontario.
The community will co-operate fully with child services in Chatham, he says, and he met Monday with officials. He is hopeful that Ontario offers more flexible education requirements.
The group does enroll their girls in school, he says, but the genders are schooled separately and the girls’ classrooms have not yet been set up.
Neighbours on the small street said the group’s arrival was a surprise but not problematic.
“All of a sudden they are here, overnight. What a shock,” says Claude Chirkoski, 65, who has lived here for 14 years. “They’re friendly enough. Their kids don’t roam the street,” he says, but he worries talk of the community buying the entire property might mean he will have to move.
Traditional Jewish groups were not as welcoming.
“This group exhibits cult-like behaviour and is nothing more than a perversion of Judaism,” said Frank Dimant, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group.
“We are very much worried about the well-being of the children and have advised the social service and police authorities to ensure that they are properly cared for.”