CHATHAM, Ont. — Uriel Goldman could not contain his anger and frustration. The latest development in the saga of Lev Tahor had him boiling over.
For Lev Tahor, he said “you’re guilty until you prove you’re not guilty.”
Goldman, a spokesperson for the ultra-Orthodox sect, was seething at reports that authorities in Quebec were planning to seek the removal of all children in the community, which is based in Chatham, Ont. “They’ve been investigating for two years, police, child welfare, and they’ve found nothing,” he said.
If authorities had evidence of wrongdoing, they should have laid charges and taken the case, or cases, to court. The one time an Ontario court looked at allegations of physical abuse, over a small mark on one child’s face, they returned the child to his parents, he said.
Goldman said children in the community can’t sleep over worry they will be taken from their families.
“The allegations are hate, hate,” he said.
“ We’re going to take you down, to take your children because you’re you. You’re a dirty Jew and that’s it,” he said, suggesting the allegations against Lev Tahor resembled longstanding anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Allegations have appeared in a number of media reports that homes in the Lev Tahor community are filthy and the children are dirty, that children sleep on urine-soaked mattresses, that they do not have basic math skills, that corporal punishment is used for discipline, that Melatonin is dispensed to calm children, that marriages are forced, teenaged girls marry under the legal age and that children are removed from their families as punishments. Goldman said the allegations are all false.
The latest developments in the group’s saga took place this past weekend, when nine members of the group who had fled to Trinidad were returned to Canada.
Arriving at Pearson International Airport on Saturday night, authorities took five girls and a boy into custody. Three adults were not taken into custody.
The children were subject to an order by Ontario Superior Court Judge Lynda Templeton, who ruled last week that 14 Lev Tahor children should be placed in the care of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services. Another six children who were subject to the apprehension order are believed to be in Guatemala – the destination of the group that was stopped, en route, in Trinidad.
On Sunday, two more children were apprehended at the airport in Calgary. A 17-year-old girl and a five-month-old baby were apprehended under the court order and were to be flown back to Toronto.
Templeton’s apprehension order called on child protection authorities to work with police and the Canada Border Services Agency to apprehend the children.
The court had convened to consider an appeal from an Ontario court ruling that upheld a Quebec order to apprehend the children. The group moved to Chatham last November ahead of the Quebec court ruling.
Quebec Judge Pierre Hamel said in the original ruling that he believed the children were at “serious risk of harm.” The judge ruled after he heard testimony from three child-protection workers as well as a former member of the group.
Denis Baraby, the director of Quebec’s department of youth protection for the Laurentians region, said he would ask for the removal of all children in the Lev Tahor community, which number some 250 individuals.
“I think the community is preparing a mass move,” he told the Gazette in Montreal. “If we want to protect the children that are in the community, we need to start working on the exit of the 114 other children.”
Baraby also said police and Crown prosecutors were preparing criminal charges against the guardians of the children who took them out of the country, the Gazette reported.
Goldman said “those people who left, I cannot talk on their behalf.” But non-Lev Tahor members have told him they understand why parents would flee rather than lose their children.
The allegations against them are not true and there are no substantiated allegations against the rest of the community that would warrant the removal of all their children, he maintained.
Goldman said Quebec child welfare authorities want to destroy the community. Speaking in their voice, he said, “you cannot run away. We have to get you down.
Your children are not sleeping at night because they’re afraid. Who cares? They’re just dirty Jews.
“This is normal?” he asked. “This is hate.”
“We feel exactly like 1939 Berlin.”
That suggestion was roundly rejected by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
“Lev Tahor is a radical cult. Perhaps they do suffer from delusions of persecution,” said David Ouellette, CIJA’s associate director, Quebec public affairs. “Anti-Semitism has absolutely no role in this. The Jewish community in Montreal has been involved in the investigation of Lev Tahor.”
Orthodox families have agreed to provide foster care for the children, should they be removed.
Ouellette said family relations of Lev Tahor members in Israel and elsewhere have raised serious allegations of abuse and neglect.
“It’s preposterous to suggest that Quebec authorities would persecute a religious group because of its beliefs,” he added.
But that’s precisely the allegation that Goldman advanced. He said the group left Quebec because it did not want to comply with the province’s educational requirement to teach their children evolution or about homosexuality.
And the allegations of abuse are ridiculous and unsubstantiated, he said.
“We have to take your children away because they take Melatonin [an over-the-counter sleep aid]. If they take Melatonin, call the police, take away the children,” he scoffed.
“They say they have to take the kids away. Why? Because they don’t know math?”
As to children sleeping on urine-soaked mattresses. “Maybe [a few] kids in the community make in the bed. Even Canadian kids make in the bed,” he said.
Goldman rejected other allegations levelled against the group, that children are taken from their families as a form of punishment.
“Tell me names where children were taken away as punishment. This is lies,” he said. “If someone took my children, I’d call the police.”
Allegations of mass suicide, levelled by a former Lev Tahor member, are likewise ridiculous, he said.
The suggestion came from a former member, who happens to be Goldman’s son-in-law, and who likened their plight to that faced by Jews facing torture and murder during the Crusades. The media accepted the allegations.
“People will believe anything about Lev Tahor,” Goldman said.
Child welfare authorities have visited the community regularly and in an intrusive way, he said. “A social worker asked a couple 35 years old when they last had sexual relations. You have to disclose all your lives and every detail. This is unacceptable,” he said.
As to Baraby’s comment that the members of Lev Tahor are planning to move again, Goldman said, “Absolutely not true. But tell me right now, why can’t I move?”
There’s no court order against Lev Tahor members, he said.
“Why don’t the same rules apply to us?”