For an update, see Save My Nieces from Lev Tahor Abuse.
Statement by Oded Twik on Behalf of All Family Members of Lev Tahor in Israel:
I, Oded Twik, recently visited my sister, a member of Lev Tahor, in Guatemala. The following is based on my first-hand observations, which are outlined in the appendix below.
The families of those injured by the Lev Tahor cult have been warning Canada for the last three years that our family members are in danger from the cult and their leader who controls their lives and those of their children.
These children were born in Canada and four have Canadian citizenship. Canada is responsible for them. We demand that the Government of Canada meet its obligation to protect these children.
Recently Canada failed to prevent my sister and her six children, on the instructions of Shlomo Helbrans, to flee to Guatemala in violation of a court order. These children are in imminent danger.
The gravity of the situation for these children, and the threat to their safety, increases daily. The international media stationed in Guatemala City, who are in contact with my sister, have informed me that on the evening of May 5, 2014, a group of local Mayans attacked, with rocks, the house where the members of Lev Tahor currently live. Members of Lev Tahor called the police, who have been guarding them. According to the most recent report, the tension remains very high and the families have not been able to leave the house in several days. We greatly fear for the safety of the community, and the children in particular. Two of these children are infants, including a newborn.
Therefore, we request the Government of Canada to immediately act and arrange for the return of these children to Canada. The concern for these children is reflected by the decisions of the Canadian courts that child welfare officials undertake ongoing monitoring of the children of Lev Tahor and conditions within their community. The children need to be returned immediately to Canada.
All children within this cult are helpless against its leadership, especially Shlomo Helbrans, who misrepresented himself in order to be able to remain in Canada.
The physical abuse of our family members is his legacy.
APPENDIX: Observations by Oded Twik, Brother of a Lev Tahor Member of His Recent Trip to Guatemala
Updated May 15, 2014 to correct the age of the girl who gave birth.
I live in Israel. I traveled to Guatemala during the period of March 27, 2014, to April 30, 2014, in an attempt to convince my sister to leave Lev Tahor.
My sister and her six children currently in Guatemala are members of the cult called Lev Tahor. Initially, Lev Tahor fled Quebec and settled in Chatham, Ontario. Members then violated an order of an Ontario child protection court by fleeing to Guatemala. Of those fleeing, seven members were returned to Canada from Trinidad; the remainder succeed in reaching Guatemala.
My journey was a difficult one, and took twenty hours. When I arrived in Guatemala City, I felt like I had returned to the 19th century. People rode motorcycles travelling 120 km/hour while holding toddlers in their laps with police rode alongside, paying no notice. Six-year-olds offer to shine your shoes for the price of a quarter.
With the help of local residents I began to look for my sister and six of her children, who had disappeared and completely broken off contact with her extended family. While living with the cult in Canada, she used to call my parents daily. But after Lev Tahor brought her and her family to Guatemala, under the control of her Lev Tahor “minder” Yoel Weingarten, her cell phone was taken away so that she could no longer be in contact with her parents.
The area is famous for its expansive views of volcanoes. The neighboring tourist town of San Pedro is infamous for the availability of recreational drugs, which can be bought for a pittance. Sex is constantly available for any price.
This is far from the situation of the poor local residents of the village of San Juan. I traveled three hours by car from Guatemala City to Panajachel, and another half hour by boat to reach San Juan.
In San Juan and the surrounding villages, there is no hospital and no clinic. The nearest hospital is in Guatemala City, and the cost for medical care is prohibitive for locals.
[HK: Oded has asked me to correct the age of the mother. She is 17 and not 15.] When I reached San Juan, Raisa Rosner Goldman, a 17-year-old, was about to give birth. The women in Lev Tahor delivered her baby, without any professional assistance, while she lay on the dirt floor. A half an hour before I arrived, the members of Lev Tahor went to the tiny Chabad center for tourists in order to request a basin to use during the birth. The center gave them the bowl used to make jachnun, a Yemenite pastry served by the Chabad House on the Sabbath.
There is no running water. The community receives water in barrels only once a week, so there is no possibility of showering. There is also no way to heat water, no infrastructure, and no sewage system. There are huge mosquitoes and insects everywhere.
I found my year-old nephew, M, dirty, hungry, and covered with insect bites. Other than hugging him there was little I could do to help. I couldn’t stop crying. I still cry every night before I go to sleep thinking of him.
My sister and her children have lived in the village for over a month. I was shocked to learn that the children slept on the dirt floor this whole time, without mattresses, in a two-room shack. At the time there were about thirty people in the commune. I understand that Shlomo Helbrans plans to send more Lev Tahor members to Guatemala.
By the time I arrived in Guatemala, they had managed to buy 15 filthy mattresses from local sources. They now have an old freezer in which to store the fish that they eat. But there is no refrigerator or washing machine. Nor is there any electric or electronic equipment except for a first-generation cell phone.
Before Passover they bought 30 kilograms of fish and stored them in the refrigerator of the Chabad house, but they never came to pick them up.
Helbrans and the leadership controls their diet. The members of Lev Tahor are allowed to eat only fish and vegetables morning, noon and night. The food is difficult to wash due to the absence of fresh water.
Helbrans sent them to Guatemala without any money, so they have no means to buy food for their children. Helbrans is very wealthy. Recently the existence of $6 million was uncovered in two of Lev Tahor’s charities known as the Society for Spiritual Development, and Congregation Riminov.
My sister and the rest of the cult collect funds for him, begging from the tourists who walk the streets.
Helbrans planned this move to Guatemala well in advance. He chose the village, which has a small Chabad outpost that serves tourists, because it contains a small group of Mayans who are in the process of converting to Judaism. A New York rabbi made the introductions between Helbrans and these Mayans. One of these potential converts has been hired by Shlomo Helbrans, who remains in Ontario, to watch over the families of Lev Tahor who are currently in Guatemala.
My sister refused to see me at first, because of the pressure placed upon her by Lev Tahor. The locals told their friends in Guatemala City that my sister and other members are taking psychiatric drugs. She was also afraid for my safety in that Lev Tahor would cause bodily harm to me if we were to meet.
Nevertheless, I contacted her and told her that I was standing outside to speak with her, armed with a metal bar for protection. I told her that if she did not come out I would break in. So she finally agreed to come outside and talk with me.
She appeared confused, scared, and weak. It was difficult for her to talk. She appeared to be without any desire or will to live, and worried about the future. The only words that came out of her mouth were that I should leave as quickly as possible to take the pressure off of her. My pleas that nothing would happen to me and that I am not afraid of them did not help. I told her that I had come to rescue her, and that I have the ability to physically take her away from this environment. She would not listen, and only answered that the “situation is not simple!”
Unfortunately, in my opinion, she is not mentally or emotionally prepared or capable of leaving her psychopathic husband. In some way she is afraid of him and the other group members. After so many years in the group, my sister does not have the ability, strength or the belief that anyone or any authority can help her or her children escape from the evil of the cult management and their cruel guru.
According to reports from local Jewish residents who have visited the house, her children are weak, neglected, dirty, covered with bites and itching, and have limited food and water. They are not able to communicate or talk as children. They have no toys. The children are quiet and do not speak with each other.
In the village there is no communication with the outside world. The families are cut off from reality and the outside world as Helbrans desires. This allows him full control over its members. Helbrans could marry off young children or beat up any member without having to answer to anyone or any authority. He could starve them and prevent them from having even the most minimal of sanitary facilities.
Guatemala, a developing country, has no required educational curriculum. The legal age for marriage is 14 years of age.
Helbrans has benefited from the attitude of indifference of the governments of Canada and Israel. In times of disaster and tragedy, both countries have shown their willingness to help people in need. Unfortunately, they have not yet been willing to take decisive action to save their own citizens who are in danger.
Images courtesy of Oded Twik