Lev Tahor: Coming in from the Cold.

The most recent tweeting of news [unconfirmed by the community] that more members of Lev Tahor have been moving to Guatemala, and the assumption [also unconfirmed by the community] that they intend to migrate to that country, was begun on May 6th by Julian Sher, Senior Producer of CBC TV's The Fifth Estate,

and continued by Abraham Feld.

"Someone," according to Abraham, "told the locals"?

I did not wish to jump to any conclusions about whether the situation being described was wishful thinking or the result of more mischief being accomplished, so I imagined instead that that "someone" was simply another local who had read one version of the story coming from abroad and had shared his concerns with his community. However on May 11, Prensa Libre, Guatemala, published an article which I have translated below, which threw some light on the situation. From the readers' comments, you will see that the article provoked prompt debate and criticism. Despite its deficiencies, I was glad to finally see some commentary from Guatemala. Perhaps the main search engines have their limitations but before this article, I had not seen any significant coverage of the Lev Tahor story coming out of Guatemala or Latin America.

The article below discusses members of two Haredi groups, including Lev Tahor, which have been arriving in Guatemala. The writer seems to be conflating the two groups - Lev Tahor and Toiras Jesed, so I cannot be certain if the observations being made by the locals are about both groups or one.  Despite this confusion, the article is useful to explain some of the concerns of their hosts. We learn that after some initial upset with the Toiras Jesed group, there has been consultation with the community councils and reconciliation was achieved.

Several weeks ago, the residents of San Juan La Laguna, Sololá, were surprised by the presence of a community of nearly a hundred ultra-Orthodox Jews who have settled in this population.
By René Sáenz | Prensa Libre | 11/05/14

The all-black clothing and lack of knowledge of the customs of these people caused from puzzlement to distrust.

The villagers were even more scandalized when several men bathed fully naked in the lake, as part of a religious ritual. Paradoxically, they claim that they do not practice proper hygiene habits and that each family has at least 10 children. They do not speak with anyone, and if someone tries to address them, they are sullen.

Seven years

The group is called Toiras Jesed, and according to Jose Misael Santos, President of the community, they have about six years residence in the municipality, but a year ago, migration of members from Israel, United States, Russia, England and Bulgaria increased, which made them more visible.

They currently reside in seven homes which they rent, and are looking for four more, to avoid overcrowding. They have temporary permission from Immigration to stay in the country.


Complaints from neighbours about the behaviour of the Jews led to the matter being addressed last April 29 at the meeting of community councils.

There was reconciliation between the foreigners and the villagers. Salvador Loarca, assistant of the Human Rights office, reported that the religious group committed itself to be respectful of the laws and regulations of the municipality.

"So far no violation of Guatemalan laws had been committed," said Loarca.

They are seeking refuge.

Santos explained that they chose San Juan La Laguna for being a peaceful place, since they try to live in harmony.

"However, in recent days we have been subjected to insults and racial and religious discrimination," he said.

When asked, the parish priest of San Juan La Laguna, Angel Mario Roquel, said that yes, he has seen those called Orthodox Jews, but did not know if there is any discomfort, and respects their tradition.

For his part, Adán Vásquez, pastor of the Central American evangelical church Bethel, expressed concern, although he has not spoken to them. "They come to confuse the population, because they are deviating from the true concept of God," he said.

Who are they

Toiras Jesed Guatemala is part of an organization with a presence throughout the American continent, directed by Rabbi Avraham Goldstein. They are communities formed by Jews and converts. Their customs are often surprising. For example, the mikvah, which is the immersion of the naked body in the water, a very old custom of the Jewish people for the purification of the spirit, generates suspicion.

As well, they correct their children with the rod, which in some countries has earned them accusations of child abuse.

International Case

A similar group, Lev Tahor, is being investigated in Canada because an Ontario court received complaints of child abuse. The court ruled that the government should take custody of 14 minors in early March, so many children and adults left Canadian territory.

Fernando Lucero, spokesman for the Department of Immigration in Guatemala , recently confirmed that the family of ********* and their six children, entered the country on March 4.

Due to the alert issued by the Government of Canada, Judge Leon Mariela Nicté de León Regil cited them, but left them free for not having concrete evidence in the case and no existing international arrest warrant. Those involved will have to present themselves next Monday to the court of Sololá.

The members of the Jewish community Toiras Hesed come from several countries. In the case of a family which came from Canada, they were part of another group, Lev Tahor, who left that country because of a court order taking custody of the children to place them in temporary foster care due to allegations of suspected child abuse.

The office of child protection in Canada notes that children are corrected with lashes, married when minors and their education is poor, since they do not attend school. Before the legal deadline, more families fled from Canada to other countries.

In San Juan La Laguna, Sololá, complaints range from the bad mood of the members of the religious group, the complaining in stores about the prices of products to poor hygiene. Nicolás Cholotío, Civil Society, said that the San Juan community fears losing their identity. SOURCE

If you are interested in reactions from readers, the comments are worth reading. I will try to provide translations, maybe. But what I found really refreshing was how the author was immediately called out and asked to account for some of the details which had been presented. I got the impression of an audience that is not as unquestioning as some others have been on related matters.
In the bigger picture and beyond Nicolás Cholotío's intriguing comment that the San Juan community fears losing their identity or the obvious turf guarding posture of the evangelical pastor,  there may be other more complex concerns arising out of the country's history, that could cause ordinary Guatemalans to fear or resent foreigners. As this article explains, part of Guatemalans' suspicion "reflects the deep insecurity felt throughout this country after years of a civil war in which more than 100,000 people have been killed, an estimated 40,000 disappeared..." and then perhaps there could be heightened suspicion of foreigners associated with the USA and Israel - two countries which were both involved in Guatemala's civil war which lasted from 1960 to 1996. 

Then there is that other related factor of lack of accountability. "Edgar Gutiérrez, a former foreign minister, has called post-conflict Guatemala a "kingdom of impunity". [9] Two truth commissions examined human rights abuses committed during the civil war and discovered unequivocal evidence that the government had perpetrated genocide against the Mayan people. Nevertheless, efforts to hold the perpetrators accountable have faced many obstacles. All too often, those who have attempted to unmask the perpetrators of atrocities have themselves become targets." SOURCE  As recently as May 2013, Guatemala's top court overturned the genocide conviction of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, ordering that the trial be taken back to the middle of proceedings. "That ruling threw into disarray a process that had been hailed as historic for delivering the first guilty verdict for genocide against a former Latin American leader." SOURCE  Perhaps that could explain why in certain matters which directly impact on their lives, ordinary Guatemalans may decide to take matters of "justice" into their own hands.

In the past, Guatemala has been the scene of spates of attacks against locals and foreigners whenever they have been suspected of harming children. In one instance, many years ago, it was alleged that rumours were deliberately being spread that local children were being stolen and killed by foreigners for organ transplants in order to destabilize the administration of President Ramiro de Leon Carpio. In 2009, the U.S. Department of State had issued this advisory on the situation in Guatemala. [Archived by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine] Dedicated mischief makers could  manipulate the anxiety of locals and their natural desire to protect their children. While I admire Guatemalans for their protectiveness, vigilantism can lead to tragic outcomes that hopefully not even Lev Tahor's detractors would wish upon anyone.

Back in Canada, no journalist/sleuth has been dispatched to Guatemala and the mainstream media have been simply echoing the details of a report being shared by the brother of a female Lev Tahor member. His sister is a married woman with eight children of her own and he has admitted that he had visited her in Guatemala to try to convince her to leave Lev Tahor. An Israeli blogger first carried his report:

The next day it was relayed in Canada in the May 9th article by Jason Magder, Montreal Gazette: Lev Tahor members migrating to Guatemala, family member says. and on May 10th it was quoted by the National Post: Dozens of members of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect have left Canada and are living in a shack in Guatemala. Since then, this has been the only source of information being referred to, and it seems that the news sources in Canada and Israel are happy to continue reporting that it's turtles all the way down.

As regards Lev Tahor's plans to migrate to Guatemala, it is obvious that even if that is what they are considering, and there has been no confirmation, this is a community that will not voluntarily move anywhere without their children. Unless I have missed the report of any change, their children continue to be detained in Canada because of the court orders obtained by Quebec that prevents them from obtaining passports and crossing international borders. In addition, the Ontario courts have thus far been proceeding in a manner that in my opinion should be more conducive to their believing that a humane resolution can be achieved, so I do not understand this rush to relocate them before they have expressed any intention to do so.  If Lev Tahor should decide to migrate to Guatemala, even if only as a temporary stop, the success of their integration there will depend on their finding common ground with the community within which they find themselves. Guatemalans, like Lev Tahor, and like all harried people who have experienced the shocking fragility of the concepts of home and homeland, cannot be blamed because their trust is hard to win, if in the past it has been betrayed in the most horrific ways.

Update: On Tuesday 13 May, 2014: 
"Guatemala's Congress approved a non-binding resolution that denies there was any attempt to commit genocide during the bloody 36-year civil war, while calling for "national reconciliation" in the Central American country.

"It is legally impossible ... that genocide could have occurred in our country's territory during the armed conflict," said the resolution, which passed late Tuesday with support from 87 of the 158 legislators.

The resolution was proposed by Luis Fernando Perez, a legislator for the party founded by former dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Rios Montt was convicted of genocide for crimes during his 1982-83 rule, but a court later annulled the 80-year sentence for the massacre of thousands of Mayans and ordered his trial re-started.

The vote apparently will have no effect on the trial, which is scheduled to begin again in January.

Groups representing Guatemala's Indians, the principal victims among the estimated 250,000 people killed during the 1960-96 civil war between a U.S.-supported government and leftist movements, have said the annulment of the Rios Montt verdict was a denial of justice.

Opposition congressman Leonel Lira criticized the resolution, saying such efforts "create more divisions in Guatemalan society."

"This shows that they aren't really looking for reconciliation, but rather there's an ideological point they're trying to make," Lira said.

Relatives and representatives of the army's victims during the civil war called lawmakers' decision racist and offensive.

Diego Rivera, leader of the Movement of Victims in Northern Quiche, said the decision affects the victims that are still fighting for justice.

"It can't be denied that there was genocide, our proof is the more than 1,771 human remains," Rivera said. "No one can hide there were several massacres. That's a racist attitude."


gejyspa said...

You had two typographical errors, where you said "Tuesday 13 Mary, 2104", I think you mean 13 May, 2014, unless Mary is the name of a month, and it was sent from 90 years in the future.

Take care,

Guanaguanare said...

Gejyspa, 2104 carries "getting ahead of myself" to a whole new level but the use of Mary instead of May is an intriguing mistake. May is actually the month of Mary according to the tradition of the Catholic Church. Thanks a lot for alerting me to those errors. Would you believe that I was actually just checking to see who really pays attention? :)