Aug 27, 2014

Guatemalan Town Allegedly Expels Haredi Cult

August 25, 2014
Shmarya Rosenberg

The council of the city fathers of San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala decided to evict the haredi Toras Hesed cult made up of about 70 families after finding the cult to be a a risk to the local population, Prensa Libre reported.

Toras Hesed had been in the town for almost eight years, but it appears most of the people Prensa Libre is counting as its members are actually members of the haredi Lev Tahor cult who fled Canada of the past several months to escape child protection enforcement against them.

The council, made up of 75 members representing 20 indigenous communities, made its decision Thursday and ordered the haredi cult to leave town no later than Friday.

Earlier this month, Toras Hesed complained that officials increased harassment and took other actions to try to force them to leave.

"In recent weeks, some people went to the owners of the houses rented [to us] to ask them to cut [our] water and electricity,” Misael Santos, a Guatemalan convert to Judaism, reportedly claimed.

Verbal and physical attacks against 32 Jews began in October when six families moved to San Juan La Laguna, and were teased for their clothing and insulted. That escalated into occasional physical attacks. While Prensa Libre does not report this, the six families appear to be the first small group of members of the Lev Tahor haredi cult who fled Canada and who were reported to be living in a two- or three-room dirt floor shack in rural Guatemala.

"We wanted a clean, quiet, peaceful and friendly for our children to grow up,” Santos said in May, adding that the verbal abuse and racist insults had worsened in recent days, and have led to physical attacks by the villagers against some of the Jews, and villagers began demanding that the Jews leave the rural village, even though they were not breaking any laws.

The city at one point allegedly tried to compile a list of Jews, sparking international outcry.

Santos now reportedly fears the situation is taking a dangerous turn into irrational antisemitism.

However, the leaders of Guatemala’s small Jewish community dispute much of Santos’ accounts of previous anti-Semitism, including his account of how the list of Jews allegedly began, and warned locals and the press months ago that Lev Tahor and its close cousin Toras Hesed are cults which do not represent normative Judaism.