One of the women who escaped a Haredi cult run by a rabbi in Jerusalem says she was groomed by his two female assistance whose job was to recruit the girls for their elderly leader.
Police forces on Monday raided a Jerusalem residential complex where dozens of women and children were living in slave-like conditions, some for up to 10 years, in what is believed to be a cult which operated under the auspices of a women's seminar. The remand of the alleged cult leader, Rabbi Aharon Ramati, 60, was extended by one week.
"I was part of the cult for a really short period of time, I quickly ran away,” said Maya (a pseudonym) in an interview with Ynet. "He has two or three girls [already part of the cult] who would bring women to him and it was the same with me.”
Maya said she was attending another seminary in Jerusalem when she was approached by the rabbi’s assistants. She said they “lured her” to meet with “the great rabbi” at his home.
"I saw the mattresses, I saw that they [the women] were sleeping on top of each other and were showering at the rabbi's house. It surprised me," Maya said.
The woman said once she joined what she believed was rabbi’s seminary, she quickly realized the man’s behavior was “wrong” and she often argued with him. “He warned me if I committed any offense, ‘God would destroy me.’”
The woman said the rabbi ran two seminaries, one in his house and one outside. The more he liked a certain girl, the more likely it was that he would place her in the in-house seminary. Maya, due to her unruly behavior, was put into the “far away” one with the women he admired the least.
Maya said neither she nor the other women at the remote seminary experienced sexual abuse but adds she’s unaware of what was transpiring inside the in-house seminary. “We always wondered what was going on between him and the girls who were near him."
According to the woman there were also no children at the remote seminary even though the in-house one had an entire kindergarten. Police are investigating whether the cult leader was abusing the children, aged 5 to 11, some of whom has already been questioned by a child protection specialist.
She said the last straw that triggered her decision to finally run away was an "unsettling" car ride with the cult leader.
"One day he took me and another girl for a car ride and the whole way he was warning us about men and how we should stay away from them,” she said. “We asked him 'So why is it okay for us to be with you?' He started arguing with us and scared us, the whole situation was weird and unsettling. There was brainwashing, unequivocally."
Maya said although she managed to escape rather quickly, many “good, intelligent” girls still opted to stay with the rabbi. “He gave them something they didn't have, I can’t put my finger on it,” she added.
"These are simply girls who got carried away by the so-called rabbi and are obeying all his teaching, even the most extreme ones,” she said, adding some of the women would willingly get into the trunk of a car if he’d asked them to.
“My good friend is still there, a girl with a good head on her shoulders and I don't understand why she is still part of it,” she said. “There are girls who have been cut off from their families and I hope that now they will leave and return home.
“This man belongs in prison.”