Lev Tahor (Pure Heart), an ultra-Orthodox group whose members reside mostly in Guatemala, has found itself in hot water yet again after the group’s compound was raided two weeks ago by Guatemalan authorities due to cases of suspected child abuse.
The raid prompted its members to leave the site to a new location in Eastern Guatemala on Sunday, and complain that they are being persecuted because of their faith.
Considered to be a cult by the Israeli Center for Victims of Cults, Lev Tahor is made up of roughly 230 members from Israel, the US, Canada, Mexico, El Salvador and several European countries.
One of the group’s leaders, Rabbi Uriel Goldman, cited “harassment” as the reason for the move. Guatemalan officials said that the raid was carried out at the request of Israeli authorities, which have been trying to locate a kidnapped young girl and to get to the bottom of a string of abuse allegations.
An official stated that during the raid, evidence against heads of the group was gathered, as part of a pending investigation against Lev Tahor, which includes some 150 miors in total.
Members of the group have been wandering the globe for years, after allegations of child abuse have followed them to Israel, Canada and the US. “All of these allegations are false, they’re nothing but a scare tactic,” said David Sandoval, a member of Lev Tahor.
“We can’t stand it anymore,” Goldman continued. “We’re going to start over. The group is planning on moving 50km from the capital of Guatemala City, where they purchased land with the intent of building houses on it. For the meantime, though, they are living in tents.
The group’s high leader, Shlomo Erez Helbrans, decided to covertly move the group to Guatemala after Canadian officials began fighting him over moving the children into foster care. The families of the group’s Israeli members have claimed that Helbrans abuses the children by locking them in basements and hitting them with clubs, coat hangers and iron rods. Quebec officials additionally claimed that the children were given melatonin as a behavior modifying drug and forced to enter into marriage at the age of 14.
Two weeks ago, several of the group’s leaders were arrested, and dozens of Israeli children and babies were taken into protective care.