Open Letter: Save My Nieces from Lev Tahor Abuse

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Lev Tahor teens, dressed in black

The following update was sent to me by Oded Twik, whose sister’s family is part of the extreme hassidic group of Lev Tahor.

Please Save My Nieces from Lev Tahor Abuse:

An Open Letter to Canada

By Oded Twik

On May 29, 2014, a family court in Ontario will decide the fate of my two oldest nieces, Yehudit Nechama and Miryam. Three years ago I received information that the two girls, then 13 and 12 and living with the Lev Tahor group in Ste. Agathe, Quebec, were about to be married. Miryam’s intended groom was a mentally disabled boy a year or two older, and the marriage was arranged so she would act as a mother to him. I immediately notified the Canadian authorities, and Lev Tahor got cold feet about going through with the marriages.

However, Miryam was punished by being locked in a basement for two months. Lev Tahor’s leaders said this would make “the evil inclination leave her.”

Afterward, the leaders of Lev Tahor passed the two girls from home to home within the group, where they acted as servants and were forced to take psychiatric medication that dulled their resistance. During this time they were physically and emotionally abused and denied contact with their mother. My sister would report to my parents on the phone that her children were passing by the house, but they were not allowed to speak to one another, or with her.

About six months ago, the youth protection court in Montreal, Quebec concluded that all eight of my sister’s children had suffered severe neglect and abuse, and ordered their removal from the custody of their parents and Lev Tahor. Just before the order was implemented, Lev Tahor placed all of its families with children on buses in the middle of the night and moved them to Chatham-Kent, Ontario, to escape Quebec’s authority. When Lev Lahor could no longer escape the actions of Ontario courts, after two months of delaying tactics, the group again tried to escape justice by fleeing abroad. Yehudit and Miryam were apprehended in the airport in Trinidad and Tobago in transit to Guatemala where my sister and her six younger children are now living in defiance of the Quebec order.

The Canadian authorities brought the girls back to Canada, and sent Yehudit Nechama and Miryam to foster homes in Toronto. There they are undergoing rehabilitation with Orthodox Jewish families.

According to information from two separate sources, Yehudit is engaged to a 19-year-old member of Lev Tahor.

On May 29, 2014, a Canadian judge will decide the fate of my two nieces: whether to send the girls to us in Israel, to their real family, which loves them and have been fighting for them, or to return them to Lev Tahor, to an unknown fate which may well include further punishment because they were not defiant enough with the authorities.

I, Oded Twik, am especially concerned because the children of a second family, who were also apprehended in Trinidad and brought back to Canada, have been returned by Ontario authorities to the custody of their parents in Lev Tahor.

Unfortunately the convicted criminal Shlomo Helbrans, Lev Tahor’s leader, has substantial resources for the legal fight combined with a willingness to defy the law and jump jurisdictions. Rabbi Helbrans, who spent two years in a US jail for kidnapping, has no trouble playing with the lives of others, snatching them, and controlling their lives. We, the families who care so much for those under his thumb, do not have such resources and do not act illegally. But we are determined to persist in fighting for the welfare of our entrapped, dear relatives. We will continue to fight for the only just outcome, their freedom and for a chance to choose their life path on their own. This is not a fight about religiosity or political ideology. We are ready and able to support them with family members who are also religiously observant.

The best interests of Yehudit and Miryam will be violated if they return to Lev Tahor. Their mentally ill father blindly follows the group’s leadership, allowing the abuse of his wife and children.

We have learned that my niece Yehudit has asked the court-appointed lawyer to return to Lev Tahor. Hers is not an informed choice. She knows no other life, and has been taught that unmarried girls her age are old maids. She doesn’t even know that I traveled to Guatemala, where her parents and the rest of her siblings have been taken. To my sorrow, I learned that the neglect and abuse continue in Guatemala.

As there was no way of contacting my sister, in April 2014, I journeyed to Guatemala to speak with her. On the day I visited the community, a 17-year-old child give birth on the floor without medical care. It is unconscionable and humiliating to allow anyone to give birth in this type of environment. The young mother is the daughter and daughter-in-law of two leaders of Lev Tahor.

Yehudit and Miryam have no family in Canada, so there is no logic to keeping them there. My parents, my ultra-orthodox sisters and I are ready to welcome them here in Israel. My family here is anxious to provide them with a fresh start, with the help of social services and the necessary professionals.

While this letter is specifically about two of my nieces, this is part of a larger effort by many relatives of Lev Tahor’s captive members (including approximately 130 children) to assist them in reestablishing contact with the outside and choosing their life path, free of coercive control. I am in the process of opening a registered charity in Israel for the benefit of the children.

I hope it is not too late to provide the necessary psychological and emotional rehabilitation for these children

I trust and hope that justice will prevail on the 29th. I look forward to seeing the judge send the girls to us, to a warm home and not return them to a lion’s den. I hope that this is followed by action on behalf of the remaining children.

Signed, Oded Twik

More on Lev Tahor:

Martha Bailey, a law professor at Queen’s University, wrote a paper entitled Cross-Border Child Welfare: The Lev Tahor Case. In the paper she expresses concern that Canada’s legal system may have failed to protect the children of Lev Tahor when the group crossed provincial lines:

A legal framework is needed to ensure protection of children in interprovincial cases. Canada is a mobile society and it important to ensure that protection of children is not hampered when children move across borders. Conflicts among provinces and territories regarding jurisdiction and applicable law should be avoided. Measures taken for the protection of children or their property made in one province or territory should be enforceable across Canada. In order to improve the protection of children in an interprovincial context, it will be necessary to establish rules regarding jurisdiction, applicable law and enforcement of measures to protect children and their property.

A human rights commission is also studying the case of Lev Tahor:

Quebec researchers also have a meeting scheduled for mid-June with Ontario’s Advocate for Children and Youth to address the aggravation expressed in Quebec that Chatham-Kent Child Protective Services, the police and the courts were unable or unwilling to act swiftly when the Jewish group defied a Quebec court order and sought refuge in Ontario.

“I can’t say that something’s broken, but we certainly want to evaluate it to improve child protection services,” said Picard.

From court documents released to the press in February:

The allegations include lying to Canadian immigration officials to bring young girls into the country to be married, forcibly drugging young children and beatings – with belts, crowbars, sticks, hands – for disobedience. Some young women were kept in basements as punishment, and young children taken away from their parents to be transferred from one family to another, the documents allege. Families said they had no control over their cash.

Finally, a documentary and follow-up by the CBC’s fifth estate:

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Comments

  1. Where can those of us in Canada, and outside, send letters/emails to Canadian authorities encouraging them to return these children to their family in Israel, or keep them in Canada and away from Lev Tahor?

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  2. I can only send my positive thoughts and prayers for these kids and thank Hannah for keeping the issue alive
    Allan Katz recently posted..Nasso 74 – Motives and Community or Behaviors and CompetitionMy Profile

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  3. Hannah,

    Right now we are in the midst of a provincial election which will take place on June 12th. Afterwards, I would suggest that people write to either the Minister of Community and Social Services to which CKCS is responsible, or to the Attorney General of Ontario who oversees Provincial offences. With the election, there is a strong possibility that there will be a new government so the Ministers will be changed. The website for the Ontario Government is http://www.ontario.ca. The Ministers at that time will change.

    It may not be appropriate to write directly to the courts as Justice Templeton was quite upset that someone attempted to write to her. The courts should be free from being swayed.

    However, it is totally appropriate for the Ontario government (as well as all governments) and their Ministers to receive feedback and hear the views of their constituents.

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