Update about Amanda and Michael Elk/Elkohen/Tzadok

Hagivaa hazarfatit
French Hill neighborhood. Credit: Rotem Danzig

Dear readers,

I am here after a long break to post an important update about an older post. In around 2010, I was in touch with a fellow blogger named Michael Elkohen, a self-styled sefardi “kabbalist.” An interview with him appeared on Alan Brill’s Kavana blog in 2012. Michael, whose original name was Elk, also went by the name Tzadok. 

Michael put me in touch with his wife, Amanda, who asked to write a guest post for this website. I’ll share more on that in a minute. I met Amanda a couple of times and we stayed in touch over the years, although less so recently. I posted a brief obituary of her on Facebook when she died of cancer a few months ago. I even attended her funeral at Har Hamenuchot on Zoom. Amanda was well known on Facebook and in Jerusalem. Many friends posted about her joy of life, her enthusiasm, and her sincerity. 

The next day, I received a message from Judy Lash Balint, a journalist based in Jerusalem. She shared documents showing that Michael and Amanda were paid Christian missionaries. Since then, evidence has shown that not only were they not Jewish as they had claimed, they had convinced the Interior Ministry to allow them to make aliyah as Jews.  Today, the story appeared in the press for the first time, currently only on Haredi Hebrew sites. Here it is in English.

When I first heard, I took down the obituary and began contacting Amanda’s and my mutual friends. It was difficult. How do you decide when to share a secret? You can’t know if the people you are telling want the facts or not. Once you share a secret, it can’t be undone. I am still extremely upset that I had not been told earlier. Fortunately, most people accepted the truth and were grateful. Some helped behind the scenes in various ways, gathering information and notifying authorities. I sent those who were skeptical to Judy, who has been following the Elks for a number of years.

The organization Beynenu issued the following statement today:

Beyneynu has been investigating this case for many years, and taken great care in verifying each piece of evidence before exposing this case to the public. The case was set to be exposed and dealt with this week, but due to one of the missionary’s children proselytizing in school – it was exposed suddenly. We are confident that the Jewish leaders will act strongly against this threat, and quickly put protective measures in place to protect the Jewish community. For more information, please contact Shannon Nuszen, Beyneynu- 058-405-3533 or shannon@beyneynu.com

I know of no evidence that the Elks proselytized Christianity to Jews in the Orthodox Israeli or online community. But they, especially Amanda, still had influence. The blog post, about a religious female pediatrician who supposedly pressured Amanda to abort her fetus at 40 weeks of pregnancy, was almost certainly fabricated or greatly exaggerated. I regret the sensationalist headline, although at least I had the good sense to include a question mark. The post was picked up by an anti-abortion website in the US, which was no doubt the intention. I feel used and manipulated. [Today, April 26, 2021, I removed the content of the post.]

Also, Michael worked at a Jerusalem gym that is known to cater to the Messianic Jewish community.

Living in Israel as an immigrant, as I have for over thirty years, is hard. One of the things that makes it bearable is the close connections I’ve formed with others in my situation. When you meet another English speaker among of a group of Israelis, you may form an instant bond, even though you might have had nothing in common in other circumstances. It makes me angry that the Elks took advantage of our warm and welcoming community in such a terrible way. 

I’d like to emphasize that the issue is not their belief in Christianity, but the deception. The Elks used their erstwhile Jewishness, and supposedly deep and sincere religiosity, which had no basis in reality, to collect money, meals, and childcare multiple times during the length of Amanda’s illness and after her death. (I was told that the funds raised through GoFundMe, set up after her death, were frozen and not distributed. I personally, and I am sure many others, gave funds directly to the Elks’ bank account during the illness.) Christians deserve help as well as Jews, but not under false pretenses. Amanda had claimed that her grandmother had lived as a Christian, but a secret diary discovered after her death documented her time as a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz. Yet the grandmother was born in the US and lived there her entire life. 

One reason given for delaying the revelation of this news was to protect the Elks’ five children who had recently lost their mother. We hadn’t known whether the five children had been raised as Christians. That question was answered last week when a teenage daughter told a friend that Jesus loved her. The girl told her parents, who told the principal. When rabbis, who had already been planning to make an announcement, noticed that Michael began to edit his Facebook profile, they published the information. In a way I’m glad that the children knew that they weren’t Jewish, so that they will have an easier time in a new community. Needless to say, any problems that the children will have in the future is a direct result of the parents’ ongoing deception, not of those who broke the news. 

Rabbi Elbaz of the French Hill Synagogue asked in a WhatsApp message to be sensitive to the children, who are not to blame. I hope I have succeeded.

Comments

  1. Ari Itzkowitz says

    Thank you for sharing this story Hannah!

  2. Hi Hannah,
    Your article here was incredibly helpful for digesting this.
    Thank you,
    Chaya

  3. I’m still in shock.

  4. This is just so upsetting to so many people. There is no doubt that they knew what they were doing – it took too much knowledge and careful work to keep it up.

    Which leads me to this: You say “I feel used and manipulated”. You feel that way, because you WERE used and manipulated. There can be no doubt of that – I don’t think that there is any realistic way to frame it any other way.

    I think that it’s useful for people who have been hurt to have this acknowledged. This is not just about how someone feels, (which then makes it about whether they are feeling “correctly” or even possibly misinterpreting). This is about something that was done to them. A wrong that was done to them.

  5. Marcus Wynn says

    I’m most disturbed, but not surprised. I’ve been aware of the case for some time . The Elk(ohen)s are not the only case like this. There are more. The extent to which some evangelicals and messianic “Jews” will go to penetrate Israeli society is sobering. One the one hand, evangelicals shower Israel with generous money – and with the other hand, they fund missionary personnel such as this couple. I’m sorry Amanda passed. I feel horrid for the children losing their mother so recently and now losing their friends, their school, and their self-esteem because of parental egos on a mission to “save the Jews” by masquerading as Jews. We can only hope the citizenship acquired falsely will be revoked.

    • Confused Olah Chadashah says

      We have some share in the blame. In birkat hamazon do we not ask Hashem to provide for us from H!s holy, open, and generous hand and spare us from having to rely on handouts from other nations? There is no such thing as a free lunch. We should know that every “gift” to Israel will be repaid with handsome interest and many tears.

  6. I know them personally and this is a stright out lie!

  7. There’s a network of covert missionary activity in Jerusalem. Many normal looking workplaces and non profits are missionary fronts. Many run by legitimate biological Jews (who became Messianic).

  8. Sad

  9. I’m Amanda’s close friend Leah Tiferet
    Was also at her funeral
    My husband did the Hesped in the funeral
    Yes I’m shocked
    But when I heard the truth
    I said I forgive Amanda for what she did
    Wow they were great professional acters
    We were 3 years neighbours and good friends
    My daughter was best friends with shevi and Devora
    Amanda did nothing to harm me
    Any help money and food I have given here I don’t regret
    They were poor family
    She dressed with clothes with holes
    Yes they took advantage of the community
    Lied
    I will still forgive her
    When I saw the picture of her kids leaving French hill pack with suit cases I cried over this story the first time
    My heart goes out to those poor kids
    Kids were brought up a lie
    Poor
    With a sweet mother that died
    I hope they will be in America where they belong
    With their grandparents
    In a school that they actually belong
    And will start having a healthy happy life
    They don’t deserve this
    I will forgive
    Move on
    Yes this story hurts so much
    We must learn from it for the future
    If we forgive
    Hashem will forgive us to

    • Wrapping my head around this says

      The family is leaving French Hill?

    • Leah, you sound like a nice person but you’re mixing up things. All poor people deserve help. However what BOTH parents did to the kids is not that easily forgivable, I would be surprised if they won’t be permanently psychologically damaged, akin to be molested. Those adults lied to can get over it. It won’t be the first or last time someone has lied to them.

      • The children could solve their problem by doing a giur if they want to stick to judaism.

        I had discussions with Michael on the blog “daas torah” about 10 years ago. He had a bit of an inflated ego, but apart from that, he looked like a very sincere baal t’shuva. never would I have imagined, according to what he wrote on “daas torah”, that he was a christian missionary.

        I am sorry he lost his wife, she seemed to be the great love of his life. I am sorry his children lost their mother.

        To some extent, I can understand that there are people who like to play with multiple roles in society. He was really good at faking it.

        So I am sorry for all those who got damaged by his fraud (who used him for a pidyon haben, a briss, etc.).
        But I do not really resent him. I did not like him because of his inflated ego, but he defintely is a first class mimetist.

    • Confused Olah Chadashah says

      I am sorry for the pain you feel. But nowhere in the Torah does it teach us to forgive the enemies of Israel. And these are enemies of Israel.

      L’havdil, the Torah promises that our enemies will be crushed, obliterated. And that we should never forget to remember what Amalek did to us and to blot out its name forever. Shaul also mistakenly showed mercy to our enemies and look where that got us.

    • what chaider did the boys attend?

  10. “Christians deserve help as well as Jews, but not under false pretenses.” That is an understatement. Better: All humans deserve help… except when they have dedicated their lives to undermining the education you are trying to give to your children, and your people has sacrificed for over centuries- in a surreptitious way. Yes, according to what they believe they are doing good. But their tactics – lying- can only be explained with the rationale of “the ends justify the means.” The 9/11 hijackers also believed that rationale.

  11. Confused Olah Chadashah says

    And to think how many actual sincere Jews of color — whether converts or born of a Jewish mother — are shunned and mistrusted to their dying breath because they don’t look like the late Amanda and her goyische husband. May this serve as a wakeup call to all of us that looking “white enough” is not the hallmark of Jewishness — even among Ashkenazim. I have also seen many goyim with “Jewish” — aka German — last names treated like royalty because it was their fathers rather than their mothers who intermarried. Go figure…

  12. Yes, deport them– it’s not as if the children don’t have a community waiting for them back in the USA–, but beyond the deportation, make sure they are all barred from entering Israel forever.
    (I am aghast at the story. I didn’t know such fraud was possible. )

  13. From what I’m reading, Mike Elk acted not only as a mohel, but as a sofer. All the tefillin, mezuzot, and sifrei Torah that he penned are (I suppose) pasul. How will they all be found and withdrawn from use?

  14. Galia Berry says

    2020 was a horrible year: so much hatred and violence generated due to the US elections, and then, Covid. But it seems 2021 might be even more pernicious, as its hallmark is Loss of Trust. First, the revelations about Meshi-Zehav. Now, the Elks. It makes us cynical. It makes us suspicious and untrusting of others. I wasn’t just upset – – I was hurt and felt actual emotional pain by these revelations. It makes us question ourselves – – if we can be duped in this, then in what other things have we been misled? Can we even trust our own judgement? How can people who do so much good have such evil within them? Deception not only makes us question ourselves, we feel shame and embarrassment (how could I have been so stupid?). We lose faith in ourselves and our ability to know what’s real and what isn’t. Deceivers may beat their chests and do tshuva, but where does it leave people who’ve been duped? How easy is it for those who’ve been deceived to move on? We are supposed to give people the benefit of the doubt; imagine if due to our feelings of vulnerability we were constantly hyper vigilant: we’d be anxious, bitter humans; clearly we were not meant to be this way. I hope that we will see that overwhelmingly, MOST people in the world are good. And that we must re-learn to trust in humanity. . . somehow.

  15. Eliezer Wolff says

    I never spoke to them or knew their name but I saw them together in the old city. The reason I remembered them is that I knew the husband acted as a Kohen. His wife did not look at all Jewish .A Kohen is not allowed to marry a convert. I figured maybe her mother or father came Jewish and she looked like her mother or father.When I heard the story that a Kohen imposter was a missionary I thought it could be him.

  16. Ruth Cohen says

    I am besides myself with fury. For the damage they did to the children of Nachlaot.
    When the scandal broke out about the pedophiles here, where I live, I got involved to do something the help the children by exposing the perverts.
    Had a conversation with this couple and they were so smug and arrogant and know it all and I had a very bad feeling that they would cause more damage to the more then 200 children damaged here, mostly Haradim. They were basically trying to shut me up and telling me to leave it to them, they know how to deal with the issue, they are the experts.

    Smug arrogance was pouring out of them, which I just ignored and kept on digging up what happened here and met a few of the Haradi mothers who were exposing this, to their credit for such bravery. One was my neighbour who was one of the first to go public with her article about my neighbour the pedophile.

    Michael attacked me on line trying to shut me up and mocked me and most likely he had a great time mocking me to all the neighbours as well. It never made sense to me why he felt the need to go to war against me, it never felt kosher and his wife was the same as him.

    Different people here had different views on how to deal with this scandal, but all of us wanted to help the children, there was no bitter competition between those of us involved in speaking out. Yet this couple wanted to shine and lead the way.

    This was a huge story, journalists came from America to talk to us, news stories in Hebrew where put out. I kept all the newspaper articles in Hebrew and English. In my famous little garden here on Shirizly street, put up newspaper stories, posters about what was going for my Haradi neighbours, who did not have access to that information. A member of the Knesset arrived one day to my garden with a gaggle of young eager journalists which led to a TV news story on Arutz Ten then, where a few of us where interviewed about what went on.

    Zalman Cohen the only pervert who is in jail was also involved in missionary work and now finding out about this makes me ask more questions. Sarah Vorst was also a missionary, and now the Elkohens are missionaries… what the hell is going on?? A young woman living on Shirizly street another missionary, also helped the pedophiles, how many more missionaries will be found out to have been involved in either covering up for the pedophiles or being involved in their dirty work.

    Time to start digging up if these people knew each other before they moved here to Nachlaot – Hannah Katsman we need answers because if their is one more missionary here in Nachlaot we need to know now, especially if they are involved in any way with the perverts. We cannot have more children damaged.

  17. the torah would be very clear that ‘uveearta hara mikirbecha’ would apply to such idolatrous meisitim . An example should be set . while we are not an empowered bais din , in days of yore the whole family would be liable to a horaat shaah and a mita meshuna . they need to be hounded out of the country , their faces plastered in every jewish community world wide –that this abomination come to an end

  18. Bystander says

    Reading the stories about the criminal fakes, calling themselves Jewish and having negative intentions, question comes up:
    1. Why did it take Beyneynu 5 years to go public ?
    2. Who is working in Israeli alya services and what is their criteria and knowledge base ?
    3. Not to offend the French Hill community that befriended Mr. Elk and his group, but did they see the reality ?
    I was watching the clip of Mr. Elk talking. The guy sounds totally uneducated but sneaky.
    May I be forgiven, but lots of these that gave money to Michael Elk should go and get their heads examined.

Trackbacks

  1. […] ‘Chareidi’ Missionary Family In Jerusalem.” (For a very personal perspective, see here. Elkohen claims that he used to do missionary work seven to eight years ago but has since […]

  2. […] On The ‘Chareidi’ Missionary Family In Jerusalem.” (For a very personal perspective, see here. Elkohen claims that he used to do missionary work 7-8 years ago but has since […]

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