We Are All Lev Tahor.
Bernard Fryshman Ph.D.January 27, 2014
One can't really blame the Quebec Provincial Government. Terrified by the possibility of a homegrown Islamist movement, legislators are viewing all extremist movements with suspicion. Philippe Couillard, the recently appointed leader of the Quebec Liberal party expressed it clearly in conjunction with a bill to ban public servants from wearing religious garb and symbols: Religious fundamentalists and extremists “are not welcome in Quebec” he said, (quoted in the 12/18/13 Globe and Mail), proposing “concrete actions.” The report added that Couillard said "groups such as the Lev Tahor Jewish orthodox sect, which has come under investigation by child welfare authorities in Ontario and Quebec for child neglect, threaten “social destruction."
Lev Tahor also merited special mention in the 12/18/13 article in the Montreal Gazette, to quote: “As an example of unacceptable behavior, Couillard referred to Lev Tahor, the extremist Jewish sect whose members are alleged to have abused their children.”
And so we have it. Religious fundamentalism and extremism have been conflated in the words of the man who could be Quebec's next Premier, and Lev Tahor has been labeled as guilty of child neglect and child abuse.
A nice neat package, except for the fact that to one extent or other, all faiths which base their beliefs on sacred works fall somewhere along the fundamentalist spectrum. It's easy to marginalize Lev Tahor: their culture emulates a lifestyle characteristic of European Jewry 150 years ago. But their religious practices and social mores fall squarely within Orthodox Jewry. To a non-Jewish secularly-minded Quebec citizen, many Chassidic groups would similarly fall in the "fundamentalist" spectrum.
Suddenly, a 200 year history of a Jewish presence in Montreal – a history of a loyal, peaceful group which contributed so much to the growth, commerce and culture of this city is in jeopardy. Because so many Jews fall somewhere in the fundamentalist range, and because fundamentalism and extremism are viewed in the same light, they could become as unwelcome as Lev Tahor.
Perhaps more troubling is the fact that Lev Tahor has been accused of child neglect and child abuse, without a shred of evidence to support either contention. This, in spite of the fact that Quebec's child protection apparatus has maintained a microscopic, vigilant eye on the community, without a single confirmed finding. The same, by the way is true in Ontario. Accusations and malicious rumors persist, but no findings of neglect and no findings of abuse.
As noted above, one cannot blame Quebec's legislators. There is fear and there is concern.
One must, however, speak out against the silence. There is silence from the Fourth Estate. Evidently some Canadian journalists view their role as presenting, in a pleasant readable fashion, the information presented to it. Forgotten is the role of the editorial writer, to gently (at first) remind the leader of Quebec's Liberal party of the difference between fundamentalism and1
(presumably, violent) extremism. Forgotten, too, with a few exceptions, is the role of the investigative reporter who can ascertain whether or not there was any neglect or abuse of Lev Tahor children. Small minority communities have a right to expect that the Press will protect their freedom from an overbearing government, no matter how well intentioned.
And there is the strange silence from citizens who care about civil liberties. For some, the fact that Lev Tahor has been labeled a cult is ample justification for silence and inaction. They do not seem to realize that the reason for the capricious actions by Quebec authorities is that Lev Tahor is viewed as a fundamentalist sect. They forget that other groups, too, can be viewed by the general population as fundamentalist sects.
In this regard, the effort by the Centre Jeunesse des Laurentides Youth Protection division to have fourteen Lev Tahor children taken from their Chatham, Ontario homes and placed in Quebec foster homes is instructive.
On November 14, 2013 a petition was filed in Quebec Court outlining the reasons “the security or development of the children are considered to be compromised.”
The entire list of findings submitted to the Court are included at the end of this article. Readers will judge the implications for themselves, but a few findings merit comment:3.3) The legitimacy of the community “Lev Tahor” is not recognized by other Orthodox; Jewish communitiesThis signals a new area of concern for all religious bodies. If the legitimacy of a religious community is to be predicted by its "recognition" by another group or groups, then all religious bodies are threatened.3.4) The children are not in school;
3.10) The boys attend, several hours a day, a place where religious education is given to them;
These mutually contradictory findings (along with findings 3.5, 3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 3.14) suggest that the reason the children are to be taken from their families is because of the nature of their education rather than because of abuse or neglect. This, by the way, is the reason the Mennonites also fled the Province of Quebec.3.13) Children react negatively by fear, distrust and disgust when put in contact with external people to the community and their way of life;Compare this claim with the observation by Canadian Jewish News reporter Paul Lungen who, unlike most other journalists, took the trouble to explore the Lev Tahor community first hand and in depth. Writing in the January 20, 2014 edition of the newspaper, Lungen observes:In a 2-1/2-hour visit earlier this month to the Lev Tahor shtetl, located on the outskirts of Chatham, I found dozens of smiling children, curious about the newcomer and eager to have their photos taken. Boys were in school, studying Judaic subjects. Boys and girls are educated separately.2
3.17) Most of the girls in the community suffer from fungal infections in the feet, directly in connection with the obligation to wear stockings, days and nights;
Now read this report by Assistant Professor (McGill University) of Dermatology, Rachel Rubinstein, MD, FRCPC:My name is Rachel Rubinstein, MD, FRCPC, and am assistant professor of dermatology at McGill University and practice out of the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. I was asked to visit the Lev Tahor community in St. Agathe, Quebec on November 14, 2013 to evaluate and treat their dermatologic problems. In general, I found the children to be clean, well-cared for and behaving appropriately. I was impressed by the warmth of the community and concern of the parents for the well-being of their children.
Overall, I evaluated 61 patients, the majority of which were children, at the Lev Tahor community. The most common problems I encountered were onychomycosis (nail fungus), stopic dermatitis, acne and warts. These are typical clinical problems I routinely encounter in my dermatologic practice. These are relatively benign conditions, many of which spontaneously resolve in early adulthood. It is important that I emphasize, unequivocally, that these problems do not reflect parental neglect or abuse. As such, there is absolutely no indication for intervention by child welfare authorities regarding these minor skin conditions.
The other findings need no further comment: every person of faith will find good reason to object to a government agency interpreting religious practices as justifying placing a child in foster care.Foster care for abused children is a necessity; taking a child which is in a caring relationship from its mother is traumatic. Reportedly many children so removed never recover and remain troubled for life.
Fourteen Lev Tahor children are threatened with this draconian edict, for reasons of their culture and faith–and for no other reason. Silence in the face of such overbearing insults to the civil liberties of Lev Tahor is taken to mean acquiescence. If authorities can use unfounded accusations of neglect and abuse to move these fourteen children into foster homes, whose children will be safe?
Lev Tahor is the canary in the coalmine. Small, vulnerable, weak and inoffensive. We ignore its fate at our peril.
Findings presented to the Court of Quebec, Youth Division #700-41-009405-134
3–The security or development of the child are considered to be compromised in that:
43.1) The family lives under the influence of the community “Lev Tahor”, headed by Rabbi Schlomo Helbrans;3.2) Children are isolated from the outside world at the community “Lev Tahor”;3.3) The legitimacy of the community “Lev Tahor” is not recognized by other Orthodox Jewish communities.3.4) The children are not in school;3.5) Children know neither read nor write the French or English;
3.6) The children speak only Yiddish except Yehodit Nechama and Miriam who have minimal English; knowledge
3.7) Children are not general knowledge corresponding to their age;
3.8) Children have access to any book or materials;
3.9) Girls occupy their days for the maintenance of the home, to cook and to pray;3.10) The boys attend, several hours a day, a place where religious education is given to them;3.11) Children do not have access to other games or toys;3.12) Children play out;3.13) Children react negatively by fear, distrust and disgust when put in contact with external people to the community and their way of life;3.14) Parents neglect education and stimulation of the child;3.15) At the age of three, girls are dressed with a chador, a garment which leaves show as the oval of the face;3.16) The dress code for girls in the community is very strict;3.17) Most of the girls in the community suffer from fungal infections in the feet, directly in connection with the obligation to wear stockings, days and nights;3.18) The child is subjected to a power imposed on the community “Lev Tahor”;3.19) It is usual that the girls in the community marry at the age of fourteen (14) years;3.20) Rabbi Helbrans and groom parents arranged the marriage;3.21) At the ceremony of the marriage, the spouses see themselves for the first time;3.22) The marriage is formalized through a sexual relationship which must have following the ceremony and before the sunrise;3.23) The sexual relationship must be confirmed by a Rabbi of the community, Aaron Teller, responsible for this task;3.24) Four years ago, parents have lost a baby died of SIDS infant;3.25) Children can be removed from their families in order to punish the parents of behaviour not the rules of the community;3.26) Children are at risk of going to hell if they disobey the rules of the community;3.27) The children take tablets of melatonin several times per day;3.28) The security and development of children are compromised by educational, school, dropping negligent psychological abuse and risk of abuse for Yehodit Nechama and Miriam;
Verbatim from translation of court papers.
Dear Friend, I am unsure as to where to start. But I feel in my heart that I must tell you that I am a close neighbour of yours in this community of which you have found yourselves to be at the hands of such confusion and attack. I for one am guilty of a few things myself when it comes to passing judgement, which I regret to admit that I myself have been feeling hypocritical for, based on the fact that I teach my children not to be judgemental of people who are "different" from them. Wether it be the clothes they wear, the color of their skin, the way they walk ect ect. When the Orthodox Jewish group came to our community months ago, I am sadden to admit that I too was very much taken back by your different ways of living. I spent weeks and months in fear of the new comers of my neighbourhood. Fear of what? I guess the unknown of your religious beliefs, reasons behind why you dress the way you do, and just the fact that there was so many members of your family that I was finding myself in a situation that I have never been in before. I first most want to apologize to all the members of your family for the unfortunate article that was posted in the chatham daily news on Febuary 4th of which was not intended to be in anyway hurtful to your image. It was a misunderstanding on my part that anything that was mentioned about the new comers of this community was purely part of casual conversation and was NOT in anyway intended to hurt or offend you in any way. However, the article was out in public and the damage was done. There wasn't a day that didn't go by where I whole heartedly was very disappointed in myself for h! ow that article turned out to be more about you, then about the real situation which was suppose to be about the neglect my kids and I were receiving from the people who became recently responsible for the upkeep of the property. Every day I think to myself "If I could just have the opportunity to speak with my new neighbours, maybe have the opportunity to say hi to the children, possibly learn more from them and get to know the woman and children who have become my fellow neighbours, that even though it may not lighten the views of everybody else who speaks of you, but at least it would shed some light on my own and have the chance to get to know you as a fellow neighbour and human being" I understand that there is a lot of comments good and bad about your families, your way of life, your intent, the allegations. I chose to try to ignore everything I hear and the allegations as well. I don't want to judge you, nor do I want to make matters worse for you in any way. That being said however, I adore your children. I enjoy watching them smile and wave to people as they pass by and when I see their little innocent faces, it brings a smile to mine and a warmth in my heart. As a mother myself, my heart was shattering over the cries of your children during the border security investigation that took place here yesterday. I watched how distraught and heart broken some of the members of your family were expressing and suddenly I realized... no matter who you are, no matter what mistakes you have made or how imperfect people may want to believe you are..... I too understand the depths of a shattered heart when someone threatens to take a member of your family away. I could hear the children crying and praying out of fear that strangers were close by who had the intent of taking more of them out of the hands of their loved ones and into the hands of complete strangers. I never witnessed such heart breaking sounds before in my life. As a Mother, and at that very moment, my heart went out to your children and to those who ! were und erstandably upset. What are my intentions of this letter? To apologize, and to let you know that I do not have a personal problem with any of you. I merely would like to get to know you and the children more and have the opportunity to build a neighbourly friendship with the women and children in this community. I want my children to learn more about you along with me so that they too can grow to be more educated of different ways of life and understand the importance of accepting and respecting ones freedom of personal choice. To be more accepting of different views of religion, culture, morals, values, ect ect. I was not sure if writing you this letter would have any positive outcome of reassurance to my true feelings towards you, but my children and I were hoping for maybe a fresh start at how we should have welcomed you when you first arrived. Please accept my apologies for being so ignorant, and I want you to know that you have my deepest sympathy for the hurt you must all be feeling. Sincerely, Your friend and neighbour of Unit #1
Fear can cause unwise actions
Sir: I was interested in Greg Van Moorsel’s column “Jewish sect far from persecuted” in March 21 issue of The Chatham Daily News. He’s writing about the 200 members of Lev Tahor, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, who suddenly arrived in Chatham last November. I have spoken to these people in town and I find them to be quiet and gentle.
I don’t know much about their background. According to the CBC, which did a program about them on Fifth Estate in February, the group’s name means Pure Heart. They were fleeing from Quebec because, they said, their religious studies were at odds with Quebec’s curriculum. This is understandable because Quebec’s laws are a law unto them-self. Also it seems the Quebec government was accusing Lev Tahor of neglecting their children, forcing girls to marry under the age of 16 and not letting the children receive adequate education. The Quebec youth protection services were determined to take a group of children away and put them in foster homes which would have been very traumatic to the poor youngsters. Yet none of these allegations have been proven in court.
I am not sure about the legal implications and at this point I don’t really care! I’m sure Justice Stephen Fuerth went by the law – that is if a judge in Ontario has the legal authority to hear a child-protection case begun in Quebec. But my heart bleeds for those dear children, some of whom are apparently in hospital on hunger strikes. Others have carted to western Canada and to Trinidad and Tobago en route to Guatemala. They must be terrified and we must pray they will recover. Now they have offended many by wearing yellow Stars of David, the symbol that Hitler's Nazis used to mark Jews for torture and death.
OK. These people have different beliefs from us. They dress differently. They have done some strange things but to the casual observer they seem to be gentle people. Israel doesn’t like them and they don’t like Israel.
But a lot of us don’t agree with many other people. But how would you react if police cruisers come speeding along the 401 from Quebec and Chatham-Kent police help to search your homes. Perhaps you would be angry or maybe just fearful. You do some strange things when you’re scared.
These people had come here – to Chatham – to what they believed was their New Dawn Settlement, the name of the community where we welcomed runaway slaves. Those runaway American slaves were probably terrified by the unusual. Just like the Lev Tahor were scared by the way in which they were treated. So they started doing unwise things, like leaving the country. People do foolish things when they face fear. Charles Stanley once wrote that “Fear stifles our thinking and actions. It creates indecisiveness that results in stagnation. I have known talented people who procrastinate indefinitely rather than risk failure. Lost opportunities cause erosion of confidence and the downward spiral begins."
There must have been a better way of handling this. Not armed police. Thank God some people I know actually visited this community and spoke to them in love. If everybody had done this, things might be very different.
I’m sorry to be so long-winded but I have been musing and praying about this situation since it all began.
Stephen J. Beecroft
by AnonymousCrownHeights.info | March 11, 2014
When I read the news this morning that two teenage girls of the Lev Tahor sect are undergoing a hunger strike after being separated from their parents by Canadian authorities, I came to the conclusion that I could no longer remain silent in the face of such a grave injustice. After all, if we don’t speak out for them, who will speak out when they come for our children?
As the proud father of several beautiful children, who are my world and from whom I could never bear the pain of being separated, I realized that the same flimsy evidence used by the authorities to rip those children from their mothers’ and fathers’ arms could be used against me, as well as a majority of Frum families in Crown Heights, Borough Park and Williamsburg.
Quebec Child Protective Service workers went into the Lev Tahor community several months ago looking for evidence of child abuse, based on allegations from some of the group’s detractors. They found none. Instead of apologizing for the intrusion and leaving empty handed, they asked a Quebec judge to allow them to remove the children of three families based on their claim that these children were perceived to be lacking in education, hygiene and nourishment.
Allow me to address all three allegations, and how meaningless they are.
Education: My 12-year-old son learns in Oholei Torah. He is a budding Talmid Chochom, and I am thrilled with his education Al Pi Taharas Hakodesh. In my opinion, my son is very well educated, but the Quebec authorities might beg to differ. My son cannot name the Prime Minister of Canada, and has very little knowledge of geography, arithmetic, science or American history. To them, he and all of his classmates are uneducated.
Hygiene: My children are very active, Boruch Hashem, and like to play outside often. They come back 85% of the time looking like coal miners. Am I or my wife able to make sure they are always perfectly clean? No. What are the odds that if a random inspection was held in my house, they would find some of my children dirty and “unhygienic”? In the Lev Tahor community the odds were about 12%. I wouldn’t give myself such good odds.
Nourishment: Some kids are obese, some kids are skinny, and some are in between. The Lev Tahor community has very strict dietary guidelines that are based on a stringent interpretation of the laws of Kashrus. They eat mostly homemade and non-processed foods. (Imagine a Lubavitcher Pesach all year round – now you get the picture). Despite this, I have seen many pictures of Lev Tahor children and not one of them looks to be malnourished. In the midst of all the hysteria about childhood obesity, I find it ironic that these parents are being demonized for keeping their children’s weight in check with a healthy diet.
Lastly, even if all of these allegations were absolutely true and reasons for concern, the trauma of a child being separated from his or her parents, and the known failure of the cold and uncaring foster system to provide a healthy and loving environment for children in their care, far outweigh any perceived improvements in the education, nutrition and hygiene of these children. This should give pause to any intelligent human being who thinks the government is acting with these kids’ best interests at heart.
So why is this group so demonized and hated, especially by the Orthodox Jewish community?
Many of us tend to smugly separate ourselves from this group by giving them the arbitrary label “cult,” because they seem so foreign and different to us and our traditions. Notably, the fact that the women in the group wear Muslim-looking hair coverings somehow ignites some sort of primal hatred for them among many in the Jewish community.
While I don’t agree with their insular and extreme way of life, I wouldn’t dare suggest that I have any right to tell them how to live – the same way I would not accept a secular American telling me that I was too insular and extreme and that I had to change my way of life.
We have to remember, and I cannot reiterate this enough, the non-Jews cannot tell the difference between us and Lev Tahor. The slight difference in dress is meaningless to them. We are all “extremist fanatics” to them, as the recent controversies regarding Shchita and Metzitza B’Peh illustrate.
And to those who insist that the group is a “cult,” I ask: What makes them a cult? Is it because they follow every word their leader says with unquestioning devotion? If yes, then Lubavitch (at least until 27 Adar, 1992) falls under the same category. Is it because they dress differently? So do we. Is it because they are insular? So are we.
Let’s also not forget that the Alter Rebbe was demonized and hounded by the mainstream Lithuanian Jewish community in the late 18th century because of the changes he and his followers were instituting to what was until then mainstream Jewish tradition. They labeled him and his Chasidim a “cult,” and had him arrested by the Czar’s soldiers. These Jews sincerely believed that they were saving Judaism from the threat of a group of wayward heretics.
Here’s a thought exercise: Picture for a moment what it would feel like if government authorities showed up at your door and declared that they were taking your children away so that they could be “properly” educated, fed and cared for according to approved government standards.
Now channel that feeling and do something for these poor Jewish fathers, mothers and children – our brothers and sisters – who are about to be torn apart by the cruel and indifferent bureaucrats of Quebec’s morally corrupt government, who are notorious for their continued oppression of religious minorities.
Write to the Bev Shipley, the Minister of Parliament representing Chatam-Kent: email@example.com and to Chatham-Kent Children’s Services Board of Directors: firstname.lastname@example.org. Write to the Quebec Child Protection Services: email@example.com. Tell them that the days of Jewish children being stolen away from their parents for “proper education” were supposed to have ended with the repeal of the Cantonist Decree in 19th Century Czarist Russia, not reoccurring in 2014 Canada.
P.S. I have submitted the following update to my op-ed in response to some of the comments. Here are a few points that I believe need to be clarified:
To those claiming that the children in Lev Tahor are physically abused:
There is zero evidence to support any of these accusations, and trust me the CPS authorities were looking for it. There is a concept of innocence until guilt is proven, which seems to be lost on some of the people commenting here.
Furthermore, even if some reports of abuse in the community are true (and I don’t think they are), what does that have to do with these particular children? Their parents were never accused of physical abuse. Do you mean to suggest that the whole community bears collective guilt? That is a dangerous concept and absolutely foreign to any modern-day justice system (outside North Korea).
Do you think children aren’t abused in Crown Heights? I have some sad news for you about that. Does that make you responsible as a member of the community?
So if you think that the accusations being thrown around justify the removal of these children, let’s pretend for a moment that I’m a New York CPS official. Here’s how our conversation would go:
“I hereby accuse you of abusing your children. I have no proof, but it’s well known that there is some child abuse going on in the Crown Heights community. No need for any court case or due process. I’ll just be at your door to pick up your kids at 4:00.”
Are you OK with that happening to you? If not, don’t be OK with it happening to others.
To those who say Lev Tahor is a “cult:”
You keep throwing that word around as if it has some magical powers that make people’s right to religious freedom disappear.
Please explain to me, what makes them a cult? How are they any different than Chabad in its early history? Let’s see… charismatic leader who everyone follows unquestioningly? Check. Dress differently and more modestly than most other Jews? Check. More stringent than other Jews regarding the observance of Mitzvos? Check. Unique customs? Check. Everyone else calling them a cult? Check.
To those who say Lev Tahor is acting against Halacha:
First of all, since when is that grounds to have your children removed in Canada?
Second of all, in what alternative universe is being more stringent with Mitzvos and dressing more Tzniusdik against Halacha? Are Lubavitchers who don’t use sugar or oil on Pesach violating Halacha? And where in Halacha does it say that Jewish men must wear a black Fedora and frock coat? Must be a violation.
It reminds me of the saying: “Whoever is more religious than me is a fanatic, and whoever is less religious than me is a heretic.” It would be funnier if we weren’t talking about the separation of young children from their loving parents.
To those who say I should have published my name:
It’s amazing how you don’t see the irony in the fact that you yourself haven’t posted your name.
Publishing anonymously is perfectly acceptable when dealing with controversial and sensitive subjects. Many important historical documents, such as the Federalist Papers, were published anonymously for this reason.
Demanding that an author reveal his/her identity is just an intimidation tactic, meant to scare dissidents into silence.
To those who are saying it’s OK because the children will be put with Frum foster families:
Let’s put aside for a moment that you are completely missing the point here, namely – that removing these children is traumatic for them and heartbreaking for their parents, and that neither the children nor their parents deserve this.
Are you so completely self absorbed that you see nothing wrong with other people’s children being seized as long as they are brought up with your values? Do their values matter at all? Who decided that your way of life is better than theirs?
If your children were taken away and placed with a “frum” family that didn’t keep Cholov Yisroel, would you be OK with that?
To those who keep repeating that the leader of Lev Tahor is a convicted criminal:
First of all: So was the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe and the Frierdiker Rebbe, to name a few.
The teenage boy who Rabbi Helbrans allegedly “kidnapped” denies that he was ever kidnapped. He willingly left his non-religious parents and joined Lev Tahor. He had every right to do that, and Rabbi Helbrans was under no moral obligation to force him to return home.
Dina D’Malchusa Dina only applies to laws that don’t contradict Torah.
Second of all: none of this has anything to do with the children who were seized. They are not Rabbi Helbrans’ children, and there is no place for “guilt by association” in a modern day justice system.
I do not endorse Lev Tahor’s way of life. I don’t agree with them about their interpretation of Jewish law. I’m merely defending their inalienable right to live in peace and not be persecuted for their religious practices – a right that many people in my community seem to take for granted.
Public support shown for Lev Tahor.
By Vicki Gough | Chatham Daily News |Tuesday, February 25, 2014 5:34:53 EST PM
RALLY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS At its peak there were two dozen people holding signs encouraging people to be kind and not judge others for their differences during Tuesday's peace rally in Chatham. Organizer Dave Formosa was pleased with the turn out for the peace rally on Grand Avenue West in front of the Chatham courthouse Tuesday, February 25, 2014. Formosa wanted to draw attention to the need for basic human rights after he heard members of the Lev Tahor had been spat on while out in Chatham, On.
About 40 people passionate about human rights braved freezing cold winds to wave signs at passing motorists on Grand Avenue West in Chatham Tuesday afternoon.
Their aim was to draw public attention to the treatment of a Jewish group who recently settled in the area.
Rally organizer, Dave Formosa, said he arranged the event through a Facebook group after learning that members of the orthodox Lev Tahor community were being shunned and even spat on.
"I haven't picked a side. Whether allegations (of Quebec child-welfare authorities) are proven innocent or guilty, everyone is entitled to human rights," Formosa said during the peace rally.
About 200 members of Lev Tahor, whose name means "pure heart" in Hebrew fled their homes in Quebec in the middle of a November night amidst allegations — not proven in court — of child abuse and neglect.
The story made national headlines, and has sparked debate in communities across the country, including Sarnia-Lambton.
Community leaders have said they left Quebec in search of a better place to raise their children according to their own religious beliefs.
An Ontario judge ruled 13 children named in a court order be sent back to Quebec.
Lisa Smith travelled from Corunna to join the rally.
"Just because people look different, dress differently, is no reason to turn your back on them," she said.
The 47-year-old plans to marry a Jamaican next year.
"I see it (being shunned in public)a lot," Smith said. "I'm told, 'Oh, you're one of them.'"
Rally member Nathan Koning, 31, said he sympathized with the Jewish group.
"Everyone should have the freedom to live their beliefs," Koning said.
"There is too much hatred in this world already," Koning's wife Alicja Trozynska, 27, chimed in.
The couple held signs with their 17-month-old son Jonathan to show their support of Lev Tahor.
"I actually argued with a guy to know the facts when he called them pedophiles," Koning said.
"If I had to be in their shoes and knew my children were going to be taken away, I would drop everything and run too," he added.
Clifford Quenneville, 66, and Susan Peltier, 61, of Calvary Community Church in Tilbury held an Israeli flag to show their support.
"We're here to build relationships," Quenneville said.
Retta Cadotte, 32, of Chatham, called the Lev Tahor "a complicated story."
"The parents clearly love their children ... they haven't been given a chance to prove themselves," Cadotte said.
Formosa said he visited the Lev Tahor community, north of Chatham, on several occasions over the last month and was always received with a warm welcome.
"I've spent 18 to 20 hours with them and saw kids running around happy," Formosa said.
"If we've influenced just one person today, a difference has been made."
Lev Tahor spokesperson Uriel Goldman told QMI Agency that his community was humbled by the rally.
"We thanked them and hopefully people realize ... the issues here are human rights and religious rights," Goldman said.
While the rally continued, lawyers for the 13 children and local child-welfare agencies were in Chatham court to set a March 5 date to hear legal arguments for and against sending the children into care in Quebec.
My experience in starting a rally to support human rights.
Dave Formosa of Chatham, is raising awareness about human rights with his rally for the Lev Tahor. The rally will take place outside the courts in Chatham on February 25th, from 1 to 3 p.m.
By Dave Formosa | CK Review
I run a Facebook group called Cupcakes to Restore Humanity. I created the group as a method of repairing my faith in humanity. The group is a place where members can come if they need help with virtually anything. I remember shortly after the group was created it hit 20 members and I went to bed feeling very proud. When I woke up I was astonished to see 80 members overnight. The group now has almost 600 members!
By doing so I am now labelled “the cupcake guy”. I knew the group was going to be a success when I realized my front room was continuously filled with donations and I was continuously driving around picking these donations up.
A short time ago I was involved in a debate about the “Jewish Taliban”. I could not believe some of the things people could say about a group we knew virtually nothing about. This isn’t the Chatham I know, what happened to us? A few other members felt the same as I did and we decided that we should stand up and show support and welcome the members of the Lev Tahor to our community. After speaking with a few people and gathering ideas we decided on a peace rally. The goal is to try to get the community to understand the members of the Lev Tahor and not assume who they are based on media. The others from cupcakes to restore are great people with huge hearts. They have ideas and we put those ideas to work. We decided on the peace rally, hoping to achieve:
- respect for the Lev Tahor- protecting rights that are being violated
My first time meeting a Lev Tahor member was with Uriel Goldman and Mayer Rosner. My knowledge of the group wasn’t the greatest and I was unsure of what to expect. I remember sending Goldman a text message to set up the meeting then asking myself,”does he even text?”. Sure enough I got a response he was excited to meet me and thankful I contacted him. When I drove out to meet with him I met Rosner in the office he informed me that Goldman was in the school and that he too would be joining us. When Goldman came up he had a plate full of kosher desserts. He offered me some saying “it’s not cupcakes but they are alright, not good either but alright”, followed by a laugh and a smile. We entered his office and began to discuss my intention to hold a demonstration. When I told him the ideas our group had, Goldman was happily surprised to see more and more people supporting them. He told me how he is amazed every day how people stop out at Spurgeon’s Villa to lend support.
Setting A Date
My concern with the rally was I did not have Lev Tahor input. They love the idea and not only because it is for them. Goldman mentioned, “It is a great idea because it is a positive message.” During the meeting, which was during school hours, I could hear children in the next room singing songs and learning from their teacher. Goldman insisted we join in the classroom to see how the children are taught. I declined not wanting to intrude. I could hear the children were busy and what sounded like fun laughing and singing songs. After getting the support from Lev Tahor members, I decided on a date of February 25th between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., in front of the Chatham courthouse at 425 Grand Avenue West.
I created the event page and that is when the fun started. I had a few followers and plenty of negative feedback as well. I didn’t realize how hard it would be defending humans rights. That’s the one thing we are all born with, yet for the members of the Lev Tahor it seemed the community didn’t believe they deserved rights. I was torn between feeling the need to help the community understand or just letting people shame a whole community based on what they thought they knew of them from media stories.
Online Comments Discouraging
I decided to push forward and soon enough the attention was getting bigger. A reporter contacted me and released a story. When it first appeared I was thinking this is awesome, now people can be aware. That was quickly rerouted once some negativity began. People started making outlandish claims based on what they had heard in the media. I was shocked how people just hear or read something and automatically call it truth. I thought our society was stronger than that. After reading some comments and feeling pretty discouraged, I decided this isn’t who I am. I can’t sit back and let these claims linger as truth. I started replying back to some of the comments and quickly realized I have more support outside of the group than I initially thought. That and a few encouraging messages sent to me privately once again restored my faith in humanity.
My response to the negativity is: The rally is for human rights. My initial goal was to avoid all allegations towards the group no matter how far-fetched that seemed. The purpose is to protect what they/we are entitled to. Through my group Cupcakes to Restore Humanity I have seen so much compassion from others that it is absolutely amazing. I want to extend that compassion to all groups of people. I know most of you have made up your minds about the Lev Tahor based on media reports. I expected some negativity out of this. I’m not the soft type of guy and this started out as, with a ‘lets see if we can help’ approach. During this process I have learned to be more and more compassionate, even typing this I’m holding back emotion. Which is hard as my heart weeps to the children, mothers, fathers and other group members. I weep for Chatham-Kent but most of all I weep for you Canada. If this groups’ rights can be violated so drastically, then living as Canadians that means you are just as much at risk in having your rights violated. There is no proof or evidence of child abuse and this group has been investigated for 18 months. They found no issues other than the education, which is why they came to Ontario. Educational issues that are the same as many people complained about in the Ontario school curriculum; including sexual education to grade one students. People stood up and said, “Wait a minute, that’s too young.” You had a right to stand up for how your child is educated. So why don’t they?
Human Rights Apply To Everyone
I want people to understand that this is about human rights that we all have and are entitled to. Please do not base your outlook on this group based on media reports about the Lev Tahor. We all have the right to free thought. I encourage all of us to use it. We are not programmable drones.
Let’s heal Canada by healing the issues within ourselves. That is the only way to protect the children. I will continue pushing forward, despite the negativity, as I stand up for what I believe is the most humane approach. As one member of the group, Lisa Smith has said, “Please try to keep an open mind to all this. I know its hard to forget what you have read and heard from media, but you know the old saying ‘you tell two friends and they tell two friends’ and so on. Stay open-minded.” I agree with her. I believe an open mind is the key to an open heart. I encourage all of you to join the event. You can follow the event on Facebook or join Cupcakes to Restore Humanity and we will happily welcome you to the group, as a community should welcome new members.
Anyone interested in standing up for your rights, is invited to the event page on Facebook:
Feb 10, 2014 - 10:48 AM EDT
Re: Lev Tahor children ordered back to Quebec, by Sarah Sacheli, Feb. 3.
I find it disappointing that there has not been more of an outrage with the treatment of the Lev Tahor community.
It seems the Chatham courts are trying to ship a human rights issue out of their jurisdiction and let the Quebecers deal with it.
Because a group of people follow a different, even radical, way of life, does not give us the right to judge them by the way they worship or dress. It is their religious freedom and right to worship how they please as long as they are a peaceful people.
Let’s not use the children as pawns to try to reshape this community and make them fit into our notion of what society should be. We should have learned this from the residential schools that the Native American children were subjected to in the past.
Let’s have compassion for these people instead of contempt. I would encourage the Chatham community to accept and support these newcomers.
I do wish lawyer Chris Knowles strength and courage to stand up to our judicial bullies and not let them destroy these families.
NEIL QUIRING, Kingsville
Welcome to Chatham-Kent?
By Greg Holden | CK Review February 6, 2014.
By now you have heard of the Lev Tahor, their struggles with authorities and how they dress. Other readers may have seen miriamhelbrans.com or many of the written articles on the conviction of their leader, Shlomo Helbrans, for kidnapping in the US. What isn’t in black and white print is the unspoken mistrust of the Lev Tahor in our community. While some people are pleased to express their dislike of the Lev Tahor in online banter, many people leave it unsaid. Our curiosity about them is piqued by their unique fashion, as a community they distinguish themselves as different. The time is ripe to ask, has the welcome expressed to the Lev Tahor to Chatham-Kent made you proud?
The stares in the shopping centres give us away, we are curious about the Lev Tahor. The news that they arrived in town immediately carried a negative tone with the Chatham Daily News identifying them as the Jewish Taliban, fostering a xenophobic atmosphere of misinformation. Sun Media has been taking a blistering series of condemnations for their reporting on the case on social media, aggravated by Jane Sims continued usage of the term Jewish Taliban. The prejudice runs so deep that it is accepted in mainstream media. The Taliban are not listed as a terrorist organization in Canada, however at least one foreign government does list them as a terrorist organization. The fear sprung up everywhere, in seniors centres, coffee shops and online. Reporters showed up on their doorstep by the dozen and with all that coverage many people remain curious. What are they really like? Are they to be compared with terrorists? The Lev Tahor take their religion seriously. That religion causes them to be a people of peace. They maintain a strict way of life to align with their interpretation of the Torah. That interpretation also includes that Jewish people should not have a homeland, a national government, so they are anti-Zionist. This controversial position pits them against the government of Israel and their supporters. It is also part of why they were given refugee status in Canada. The Lev Tahor say that Israel should be populated by arab people and not exist as a country. While this runs against most people’s political perspective, so too does voting NDP. Canada allows for dissenting political views. Our need to know, to pry, into these people’s lives and render that they might be compared to terrorists is how history will record their welcome here. Fleeing Chatham comes to mind.
There are others in Chatham who support the Lev Tahor. “I love them”, one supporter told me. The shame these people feel for the reception the Lev Tahor have had in Chatham-Kent has been muted by an avalanche of fear expressed in online comments for them to leave immediately… and worse. When I moved to Chatham I didn’t have a media horde on my front lawn and if I did they would know what my derriere looked like. The community that is the Lev Tahor in Chatham are a large group, not just one person or family, who sought out this area as a refuge. They have praised the Chatham-Kent police and mayor Hope after speaking with each of them. When no crime has been committed by any of their entire community, while this publication has daily reports of others in the community committing crimes and so long as the Lev Tahor are depicted with negative stereotypes, the question remains; does the welcome that the Lev Tahor have had in Chatham-Kent represent you?
Some Articles from the Thinking Minority who are not condemning but reserving Judgement and asking Questions.
By Jane Sims | The London Free Press | Thursday, January 30, 2014 09:28 PM EST | Updated:
LONDON, Ont. -- The timing is perplexing, the optics a head-shaker.
Why, just days before an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect that fled Quebec two months ago finds out if 14 of its kids are to be sent back and put into temporary foster care, did Quebec police suddenly raid two of their homes near Chatham, Ont.?
What was so important that eight officers from Laval, Que., drove 800 km to act on two search warrants Wednesday night at the homes of two of Lev Tahor's leaders?
Why, when a court in Chatham is expected to rule Monday whether local child-welfare authorities can enforce a Quebec order to apprehend the kids?
No one in the justice ranks is saying why.
The Quebec police, meanwhile, say only that the raid was part of a continuing criminal investigation.
Court officials in Chatham won't even acknowledge the existence of two warrants signed by a local judge to allow the search.
One unnamed source hinted the search surrounded immigration issues involving the anti-Zionist group who follow an uber-strict religious lifestyle, oppose the state of Israel and are led by the controversial Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans.
The swoop-down might also suggest the case for Quebec child protection needed some bolstering.
But the men who were the focus of the raids suspect authorities were looking for documents to prove alleged under-age marriages of girls in the sect, described by a former group member at a Quebec child-protection hearing held after the 250 members of Lev Tahor pulled up stakes and left Quebec Nov. 17 in the dead of night.
The witness, who described brutal, routine corporal punishment of children and his own arranged marriage to a woman who was 15 (16 is the legal age), was part of the case to convince a judge the children from three families are at risk.
The officers, assisted by Chatham-Kent police, arrrived at Spurgeon Villa, a rural enclave of rented duplexes near Chatham just after 5 p.m.
They rifled through the home of Helbrans' oldest son, Nachman Helbrans, who is a community organizer. He said they even looked inside his bottles of coconut oil.
The other search was at the home of Mayer Rosner, Lev Tahor's director and most prominent spokesperson since the group left Ste. Agathe-des-Monts, Que., last fall.
Wednesday night, Rosner blamed a Zionist conspiracy aimed at the group's destruction and said "we are crying S.O.S."
By Thursday, the tone had mellowed somewhat.
The searches have everything to do with the ongoing child-protection issues, possibly linked to a letter the sect sent to Quebec last week to leave them alone, Nachman Helbrans said.
"They're looking for the documents," he said, specifically marriage contracts proving forced under-age unions.
"I don't think they find anything. I have nothing," Nachman Helbrans said.
Their children, both men said, were scared they'd be taken away.
Rosner said his eight-year-old son stayed in a closet when police arrived and prayed, "'I want to stay Jewish.' "
Their suspicions still don't answer why the raids were conducted less than a week before Ontario Court Justice Stephen Fuerth decides whether local child protection officials can act on the Quebec order.
But one Israeli reporter, who spent a week with the group in Quebec in 2012, didn't dismiss that there could be other issues.
Shay Fogelman, of the daily Haaretz in Tel Aviv, said one-third of the group immigrated to Canada from Israel with the controversial rabbi who was eventually given refugee status in 2003.
Another third came from Lev Tahor's community in Monsey, N.Y., and the rest came to Canada in the last 10 years from Israel.
The group is maligned in Israel and by mainstream orthodox believers because of its extremest views, whispers of alleged child abuse -- no allegations have been proven in court -- and marriages of girls as young as 14.
Fogelman said he didn't see "any miserable child," but "I heard many stories."
Well, it's hard evidence and not stories that we need.
The unanswered question for Fogelman is how Lev Tahor supports itself financially. Very few members work outside the sect and have claimed they've raised money through the sale of the rabbi's books. Fogelman said fewer than 200 texts have been sold in Israel.
The money could be coming from other prominent anti-Zionist groups, making it important for Lev Tahor to claim Israeli persecution.
"There is no sense behind it. The Israeli government doesn't have anything to do with this group. They don't care about them," he said.
[Not true. This began in Israel where they were located before they fled to Canada. Last year Lev Tahor was discussed in the Israeli Knesset [Israeli Parliament]."Deputy state prosecutor Galit Greenberg said, “The State of Israel was acting according to all the means legally available” to protect the children, but added that “there is an obvious difficulty in obtaining evidence when it comes to sects,” on top of the difficulty of dealing with alleged crimes committed abroad. Greenberg did not say whether Israel had asked Canada to investigate the matter." SOURCEBut even those donations wouldn't be enough to explain how they house, feed and clothe the entire group.
"There's not enough explanation where they get their money from," he said.
The Lev Tahor Controversy in Canada.
The Feed @ Blackchicjen | March 13th, 2014.
I couldn’t let an opportunity pass to comment on yet another religious controversy making headlines in my home country. If you’ve been paying attention to the news out of Canada lately, then you may have heard about a small ultra-Orthodox Jewish group, Lev Tahor, creating quite the controversy here in the Great White North. Now, Canada tends to be known for its multiculturalism, and as a champion of individual rights and freedoms, including religious freedom. Although admirable, at times this tolerance creates a firestorm of controversy.
Late last year, media stories began percolating about a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews living in a secluded and tight-knit community in Quebec. They were clashing with the province over the education of their children, and fled to Ontario in order to privately educate their children (read about issues surrounding private and public education in my post on Creationism in Canada). What began as an increasingly common story, religious rights versus the public education system, has turned into a media frenzy with accusations circulating of child endangerment, suspicious charitable donations, and religious discrimination.
I won’t bother rehashing all the details that have been steadfastly published in the media. You can do that for yourself, here, here, and here. You should also consider watching two investigative reports available on YouTube, one by Global’s 16×9, and the other by CBC’s Fifth Estate. Both provide some interesting insight into this group, particularly during the interview segments. Regardless of how sensationally the information has been portrayed in the media, it’s pretty clear that something isn’t quite right. So, should Lev Tahor be considered a legitimate religious group simply trying to live in accordance with their beliefs, or are they a dangerous cult?
In all honesty, I don’t know. I hesitate to label minority religious groups, fringe religious groups, or new religious groups as a cult, because the word is far too often misused and abused. That said, after researching Lev Tahor, something is terrible amiss with the leaders of this group.It’s no secret that I champion religious tolerance and freedom; however, it’s important to clarify that there are exceptions. For example, religious rights should never trump basic human rights. If there is even the suspicion that Lev Tahor children are not being properly cared for, then a full investigation is warranted. Lev Tahor claims they have nothing to hide, then open your doors and let social service workers have unfettered access to your way of life.
There are also questions surrounding how Lev Tahor generates income, particularly when so few members work outside the community. According to community leaders, generous donors help sustain the community. It was reported that at least one charity run by Lev Tahor had their charitable status revoked. As a taxpayer, I’d like to ensure that tax exemptions are indeed being given to real charities. Further, it was reported that some Lev Tahor members receive thousands of dollars in child tax benefits. This causes me concern too. Child tax benefits are intended to ensure that children are being adequately taken care of, but clearly there are numerous accusations that suggest otherwise. This must be investigated fully.
I don’t wish to see Lev Tahor members persecuted, but there are too many unanswered questions that need to be addressed. I hope that officials and the media can do so in a responsible and unbiased manner, so that religious freedoms and basic human rights are appropriately balanced and equally championed. Anything less would be ‘un-Canadian’.
Reserving judgment difficult, but necessary.
By Karen Robinet | Chatham This Week | Saturday, March 1, 2014 11:47:30 EST AM
Like many people in Chatham-Kent, I have been watching the situation involving the new Lev Tahor members of our community with a mixture of feelings.
On the surface, the spectre of children being ripped from the arms of loving parents by child protection workers is enough to make anyone’s blood run cold.
But, if those children are suffering abuse or neglect, or if their human rights are being compromised, it is incumbent upon society to intervene.
Just in case you haven’t been following along, here’s a recap of the situation:
Last November, a caravan of buses and cars left Quebec in the middle of the night, bound for Chatham-Kent.
Some 200 members of the Lev Tahor, were fleeing a Quebec ruling that 13 children from two families should be taken into care and placed with foster families.
While Quebec authorities have stated there were concerns about the physical condition of some children, the Lev Tahor spokesmen say that education, which consists primarily of religious training for boys, is at the heart of the matter.
From what I’ve read to date, if there is such a thing, the Lev Tahor could be considered to be the most extreme of Ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Their spiritual leader is Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, who is apparently now in Chatham as well. He started the sect in the mid-1980s, despite the fact he's not an ordained rabbi, according to The Times Of Israel.
In 1990, the Times said Helbrans left Israel after an Israeli investigation into possible ties with the Islamic Movement in Israel. He and 20 followers then fled to the U.S.
In 1994, he was convicted of kidnapping a young boy in the U.S. and served a two-year prison term before being deported to Israel.
According to the Times, “reports of the neglect and abuse of the Lev Tahor children have circulated for years.”
The article states that the Israeli Center for Victims of Cults regularly sends testimony to the Canadian authorities.
And, just in case you’re wondering what the heck Israel is doing sticking its nose into Canadian business, it seems the Israeli families of the Lev Tahor members are very concerned about their children and grandchildren.
Of course, Helbrans may not be particularly concerned about what those in Israel think about him.
In a documentary aired recently on Global TV in regard to the Lev Tahor controversy, Helbrans did not mince words when it came to his view of modern Israel.
“Israel should not belong to the Jews until the Messiah comes,” he said. While he said that the Nazis had committed a physical holocaust against the Jews, he said modern Israel is committing a spiritual one.
In fact, after being released from prison in the U.S., Helbrans applied for and received refugee status in Canada as he said he would be persecuted if he was returned to Israel.
However, Helbrens is quick to align himself with persecuted Jews everywhere to explain why the Lev Tahor are being targeted now.
In a recent London Free Press article, Helbrens blasted authorities in both Quebec and Ontario, saying: “What difference does it make to the human being, to the human nation, if he is referred to as a judge, a minister or if he is referred to as (Nazis) Dr. Goebbels or Mr. Goering.”
Whether the Lev Tahor are a sect, or a cult, we should all have a healthy dose of skepticism and concern when it comes to the welfare of any children in our community.
Since the Lev Tahor arrived in Chatham-Kent, we have been faced with a wide range of media coverage, some balanced, some not so much, and I don’t think any of us can know with any certainty what the real story is.
But one thing is for certain.
These families have moved to Chatham-Kent and whether they’re here for the short-term or the long-term, we should welcome them to our community and treat them as we would like to be treated ourselves.
Paul Lungen | The Canadian Jewish News | Monday, January 20, 2014
CHATHAM, Ont. — About halfway through our interview, Uriel Goldman received a call on his cellphone. Family service workers from Chatham-Kent Child Services had appeared at his home for a surprise visit. His attendance was required.
Goldman left to meet the two investigators, returning 30 minutes later. The unscheduled visit was nothing new, he explained. In fact, it was the third such visit that day. Since the group of 250 members of Lev Tahor, an ultra-Orthodox sect seeking to live a “pure” Jewish lifestyle, relocated to Chatham-Kent from Quebec in November, the visits have become an almost daily occurrence.
The Lev Tahor, Hebrew for “pure heart,” families are asked about their treatment of their children, their living conditions are investigated and, in at least one case, the child-care workers asked to see a mother change her baby’s diaper and then checked the infant’s body for bruises.
Lev Tahor adept at use of technology
In addition, Chatham-Kent police have visited the community several times to reassure themselves and child protection officials that the children are appropriately cared for.
Nothing has ever been found, Goldman said, referring to the charges of child abuse or neglect that have dogged the group, first in Israel, then in Quebec and now in Ontario.
The complaints levelled by Quebec child protection authorities have included neglect, girls having fungus on their feet, physical abuse, giving children melatonin (an over-the-counter sleep aid) to calm them, and even a suggestion of mass suicide if they faced the prospect of losing their children.
Recently, an Ontario court held a hearing to determine whether the court had jurisdiction to uphold a Quebec court ruling to remove 14 children from three Lev Tahor families. On Nov. 27, 2013, a Quebec judge ordered the children be placed temporarily in foster care, undergo medical examinations and receive psychological support. But by then, community members with children had moved to Ontario.
Judge Stephen Fuerth of the Ontario court of justice will announce his decision on Feb. 3. Chris Knowles, the lawyer for Lev Tahor, suggested to reporters there might be an appeal against an adverse finding.
Lev Tahor members reject allegations of abuse or a suicide pact. Goldman and his colleagues, Mayer Rosner and Yakev Weingarten, laughed at the absurdity of the idea that the group would do themselves in. They say the allegation was based on the uninformed speculation of former Lev Tahor member Adam Brudzewsky, whose suggestion was repeated in court Nov. 27. His identity and testimony were only made public last week after a publication ban was lifted Jan. 16.
That former member is not credible at all, they said. Lev Tahor provided The CJN with an 11-page letter signed by four members of the Weingarten family, who knew Brudzewsky before they joined the group. The letter’s allegations about Brudzewsky, dating back to their acquaintance in Monsey, N.Y., bring his testimony into question, they say.
As for fungus on the feet, a Montreal dermatologist spent several hours at the Lev Tahor community in Ste. Agathe, examined 61 children and found nothing out of the ordinary. The minor skin conditions she discovered were nothing more than what you’d find in any population, she said.
Referring to another child worker’s allegation – that children were given melatonin – Weingarten said not every parent used the hormone, which is used to help them sleep, not to calm them. “You can see how ridiculous” the allegation is, he said.
As for other charges, which originated in Ontario, not Quebec, an Ontario judge has already overturned a removal order that had placed two children in foster care. In that case, a toddler was taken into protective custody over what appeared to be bruising on the face. It was nothing more than the remains of a permanent marker and the efforts of the parents to wash it off, the group’s spokesmen said.
In a 2-1/2-hour visit earlier this month to the Lev Tahor shtetl, located on the outskirts of Chatham, I found dozens of smiling children, curious about the newcomer and eager to have their photos taken. Boys were in school, studying Judaic subjects. Boys and girls are educated separately.
The children seemed happy and well-fed and showed no signs of fear or distrust. The boys wore the same sort of black garb, crowned with a type of pillbox hat.
The girls, from a very young age, were dressed in black robes and head coverings that have led some to dub Lev Tahor the “Jewish Taliban.”
The men wear long black coats and wide-brimmed hats, similar to those of other ultra-Orthodox groups. The women’s clothing was designed by Lev Tahor members after they researched traditional European Jewish clothing, Weingarten said. Bringing up some images on his laptop, he showed groups of European Jews wearing similar long-flowing robes, perhaps from the 19th century.
For Lev Tahor, those were the good old days. “We’re more old-fashioned,” Goldman acknowledged. “We go to the sources. We don’t believe in any compromise. We think it’s authentic Judaism. We want to go backwards. We understand that our great-great-grandparents were smarter than us.
“We can see in the old literature that the people were very, very clever. They saw that to serve HaShem, there’s no need to make a compromise.”
It was that refusal to compromise that drove Lev Tahor to Ontario, they explained. At the heart of the issue was their desire to educate their children as they saw fit, without being forced to include subjects anathema to them – evolution and homosexuality.
“There’s one curriculum that every child in Quebec must study, and there’s no exception. It’s against the Jewish religion and it’s not just our problem,” Goldman said, referring to other religious groups in the province.
Though Lev Tahor had been living in Quebec for nearly 20 years, their lives changed after a CBC radio documentary aired in October 2011.
“They said our schools don’t go the same way as the Ministry of Education. That invited the government to come. We knew we [couldn’t] comply exactly with them,” Goldman said.
“Evolution, homosexuality, that goes against our religion. Evolution means there’s no Creator. We can’t teach that,” he said.
The group researched other Canadian jurisdictions and determined that Ontario provided the best opportunity to home-school their children, teach them the required material while not violating their religious beliefs.
“Absolutely,” Goldman said when asked if the children are taught secular subjects. But they do “mix in Torah together.
“The Torah talks about a lot of subjects,” including geometry, mathematics, biology. “We do learn secular subjects in a religious way,” he said.
In April 2013 – long before the November court ruling in Quebec – the group hired a real estate agent to find a suitable location, Rosner said. A site in Chatham-Kent was found, consisting of a row of 15 to 20 bungalows, side by side. Community members with school-aged children settled there; others rented apartments in town, in close proximity to each other. The other members remained in Quebec.
The spokesmen reject suggestions Lev Tahor has the characteristics of a cult. In a cult, people “have been brainwashed to accept beliefs and practices, not in a logical way, [through] mind control,” said Weingarten. “Our message is open, and so, clean of all kinds of influences. We don’t hide anything. We’re so open with one message and it’s that we want to keep the Torah as given.
“People can understand it… with his own logical opinion, can accept or reject a part, but it’s a message that is clear.” He said there is no charismatic leader, no appeal to emotions or to irrationality.
“Here it’s clean and open,” he said. “It’s the Torah message.”
The group prepares all its own food from scratch. Lev Tahor members buy kosher beef directly from the slaughterhouse. They don’t trust the kashrut of meat sold in retail outlets, Goldman said.
The group’s members rely largely on contributions from outside supporters for their subsistence.
Asked to explain the bad press the group has received over the years, the spokesmen said it goes back to the group’s formative years in Israel. The group is openly anti-Zionist. They believe only the Messiah can establish a Jewish state.
That obviously goes against the grain in Israel and among Jewish communities around the world, for whom Israel is a centrepiece of their identity, they say.
When they first moved to Quebec about 20 years ago, an Israeli official expressed concerns to the Quebec media over the welfare of Lev Tahor children. The group’s founder, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, had been convicted in New York of kidnapping a 13-year-old boy he had been tutoring. He served two years in jail. He returned to Israel and the group coalesced around him.
Goldman said Israeli authorities opposed the group because it is anti-Zionist. They are also angry that Rabbi Helbrans was granted refugee status by Canada.
As for their reception in Chatham, it’s been only positive. “We’ve been received wonderfully,” Rosner said. “During Chanukah we invited [our neighbours] to join us and to say hello. Many came daily to say, ‘We support you.’”
“They feel we’re being persecuted,” Goldman said, adding locals from Chatham have attended court to show their support.
Posted by Editor on Dec 30th, 2013By JAWED ANWAR
RELIGIOUS Jews of Lev Tahor (“Pure Heart”) community of Quebec had not been sending their children since long to secular public schools that corrupted the heart, mind and soul of the children. Their children had been unschooled, and parents had been homeschooling them with the help of independent teachers, tutors, and moral educators.
These Jews are doing same thing as 3 million Americans are doing: un-schooling; i.e. managing your children’s education by quitting the school.
Quebec government recently ordered the homeschoolers to teach the secular curriculum in home schooling. This was the good reason and compulsion for these Jews to make hijrah (migration) from the province.
On Monday, November 18th, morning moonlight at 1 a.m., 40 families comprising 200 people boarded a convoy of the buses to flee from their homes. New destination of these families was Chatham-Kent, a town in Southwestern Ontario.
Nacham Helbrans, the son of Shlomo Helbrans, the group’s leader and a rabbi, told the Toronto Star that they were forced out of Quebec over a clash with education authorities regarding the secular curriculum they were being ordered to teach their home-schooled children. Failure to comply could have led to children being placed in foster care —an unthinkable outcome for them, Nacham Helbrans said. The problems began when another of Shlomo Helbrans’ five children, Nathan, reportedly fled the community after a dispute in which he was forcibly separated from his children, and the brood was farmed out to live with other families, according to the Times of Israel. Nathan complained to Quebec’s child protection services.
“To go to the Director of Youth Protection against your own wife, against your own children, just to show that you are the stronger one is not welcomed in our community,” Nacham Helbrans said.
With that threat over their heads for the last six months, they evaluated moves to various provinces across Canada but opted finally for Ontario, whose relative liberty for faith-based schooling and home schooling has been an enticement for other religious communities in Quebec, including Mennonites. In 2007, Mennonite deacon’s small community was locked in a year-old fight with Quebec’s education ministry over their desire to teach their children according to their faith. More than 30 of the group’s women and school-aged children have gone into self-imposed exile in Alexandria, Ont., just over the Quebec-Ontario border, to ensure they can do so.
Lev Tahor sect began in Israel, where Shlomo Helbrans founded his anti-Zionist movement in the 1980s. After the first Gulf War, Helbrans moved his community to New York, where he was convicted of second-degree kidnapping after a young follower fled from his parents.
Upon his release from prison, he eventually re-established his community in Canada.
The men and boys are indistinguishable from other orthodox Jews, women and girls who, from the age of 3, are shrouded head to toe in black robes, showing only their faces, a complete Hijab exactly what Muslim women wear.
The resemblance to the group’s Muslim counterparts is what inspired the “Jewish Taliban” tag, but it is not one that the adherents of Lev Tahor shy away from.
“We are not ashamed of this name,” said Nacham Helbrans, 31. “Just as orthodox is a name for non-Jews beating up on the Jewish path of religion, they do the same thing today with the Taliban.”
However, I feel ashamed when I see the approach of Muslims of Ontario including pure religious and Islamic community who are in post Bill 13 (new Accepting Education Act) era still debating of “disadvantage” of not sending to their children to the public schools. Several Imams and leaders argued in favor of the public schools and fooled Muslims about the Liberal agenda (several of them are members, party paid workers, and liberal gate keepers in the Islamic organizations) of brainwashing the children of public schools from KG.
This is the situation for which a great poet of Islam Allama Muhammad Iqbal by criticizing once said, “Ye who Musalamn hain jinhen dekh ke Sharmayen Yahood” (Jews will be ashamed by seeing these Muslims).
Ontario Public Schools are now perfectly fit not only to change the heart and mind but gender of your children. Watch the Video.
In this scenario Jewish Lev Tahor has shown Muslims a path of Tahoor (Taharah).
It may be surprising for many but that is the fact.
Jawed Anwar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Universite de Montreal | Released:12/10/2013 8:00 AM EST
Media Resource: Fearing children might be taken away, Anti-Zionist Hasidim flee Quebec
MONTREAL, December 10 2013 – For ten years, University of Montreal Professor Yakov Rabkin has been studying the Hasidic anti-Zionist group Lev Tahor. The group fled Quebec on November 19 in order to avoid a youth court hearing to have children removed from their families.
The Toronto Star reported on Dec 8 2013: “On November 27, a Quebec youth court judge gave the order to seize the children, who range in age from 2 months to 16 years. The judge ruled there was a ‘serious risk of harm’ to the children. To date, the order has not been carried out by the Chatham-Kent Children’s Aid Society.
The following Q&A is free of copyright and has been prepared to assist the media. Journalists are welcome to use the provided questions and answers in part or in whole. For interviews and further information (including the original French text of this document,) please contact media relations at the University of Montreal (email@example.com).
The University of Montreal is officially known as Université de Montréal (www.umontreal.ca).
Further information about Professor Yakov Rabkin and his expertise is available at www.yakovrabkin.ca
Question: How are Lev Tahor members different from other Hasidic Jews?
Y.R.: The main difference is that they almost all grew up in an irreligious environment. It was not until adulthood that they drew closer to Judaism and began practicing religion. While most of Lev Tahor children were born in Quebec, the majority of adult members, about 50 persons, came from Israel where they had been raised with the ideology of Zionism. Some are former officers of the Israeli army who embraced Hasidic Judaism, left the army, and then the State of Israel. Lev Tahor stands out by its unusually strict practice of Judaic law regarding food, clothing, and prayer.
Question: Are the children in danger?Y.R.: I don't know whether or not there has been abuse, but the times I went to visit the community, sometimes without notice, I didn't see any violence. The boys appeared similar to other Hasidic boys. However, in recent years, the girls and women started to wear veils and came to look different from women in other Hasidic communities A few years ago in the framework of a film project, I videotaped interviews with several members of the community, both men and women - unveiled - about their background and their motivations to join Lev Tahor, but I didn’t talk with the children. To avoid controls stipulated in the Quebec Public Education Act, they began planning a move to Ontario several months ago. They spoke to me about this when I visited them last summer with a PhD student in anthropology from Brazil.
Question: Some argue that members of Lev Tahor are backward. Are they?Y.R.: Their opposition to Zionism led them to learn Yiddish, spoken by Hasidic Jews, so they would no longer use modern Hebrew, even though it is the mother tongue for most of them. They deliberately reversed the Zionist project, the efforts Zionist pioneers made more than a century ago when they abandoned Russia, their homeland, and settled in Palestine. They also rejected Yiddish, their mother tongue, and desacralized Hebrew, the language of prayer and Torah study, turning it into a vernacular.
While some consider Hasidic Jews ignorant of the modern world, members of Lev Tahor used to be immersed in secular Israeli society. This is why their rejection of Zionism is more of a provocation than that of other Hasidic Jews, who have inherited anti-Zionism, along with other values, from their ancestors.
Not surprisingly, Zionists in Israel and elsewhere are very upset with Lev Tahor. In a television report,an Israeli parliamentarian accused them of wanting to kill all nonbelievers in Israel. A reporter from Haaretz, a daily often considered to be anti-religious, spent a few days among the Lev Tahor. His informative articles are available online.
Question: How do you explain the attention given to Lev Tahor?Y.R.: I understand the antagonism Lev Tahor generates in Israel. The relatives of those who joined Lev Tahor are almost all secular Zionists. They are horrified by the new lifestyle of their children and by the education given to their grandchildren. Based on the testimonies of those who rebelled against Lev Tahor, including a son of the group's leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, these relatives alleged child abuse. They protested outside the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv and mobilized Israeli authorities, which put pressure on child protection agencies in Canada. Hence the recent attention of the Quebec Directorate of Youth Protection to the Hasidim of Sainte- Agathe. For several months children were checked for signs of beatings, and homes, including refrigerators, were inspected almost daily. Last week, Lev Tahor was discussed by an Israeli parliamentary commission for the protection of children. So far the testimony before the commission came from critics of this Hasidic group. I suppose Lev Tahor members will be heard in the future even though the commission must have many other priorities: in Israel, one in four children lives below the poverty line.