Lost in Translation? 'Expelled' Guatemalan Jews from Lev Tahor

After media hubbub over Nazi-like threats against Jews, local leader says Spanish news omitted that group is Jewish cult.

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Tova Dvorin and Ari Yashar,

Senior Lev Tahor member Nachman Helbrans
Senior Lev Tahor member Nachman Helbrans
Screenshot: YouTube/Windsor Times

Controversy continues over reports that a small town in Guatemala has called for the systematic expulsion of Jews, according to Jewish news agency La Agencia Judía de Noticias, after one local leader explained that vocal dissident Misael Santos is actually a member of cult group Lev Tahor. 

"There was no expulsion of Jews from the town of San Juan la Laguna," George Tannenbaum, President of the Guatemala Jewish Community, told the news agency last week. "There is a group of Jews who are migrating from Canada to Guatemala, [but they are being] pursued by the Canadian authorities for legal issues there." 

Spanish-language news site Prensa Libre originally reported last month that a "small group of Jews" had been facing persecution from local authorities - including Nazi-like 'Jew registers,' a blind eye to physical attacks on the community, and a specific request to leave - based solely on the testimony of Santos, a convert to Judaism who emigrated to the community. 

The news site failed to specify the source of the newfound 'waves of immigrants' to the small community, nor did it identify the group as ousted cult Lev Tahor. 

The mayor of San Juan La Laguna, Rodolfo López, fully exhibits anti-Semitic views in the interview, insisting that "If I go to America, I must adopt the ways of the gringo [highly offensive term for non-Hispanics - ed.]," and insisting that it is "the people's will" for the unspecified group of Jews to leave. 

The new information - if true - sheds the matter in an entirely different light, however; Lev Tahor has reportedly engaged in shocking physical and sexual abuse

The group started receiving public attention last November after it fled to Ontario from Quebec to escape an investigation of child abuse and insufficient education.

Documents in February accused group leaders of imprisoning children in basements when they misbehaved, and physically and psychologically abusing them. Some children were allegedly even sexually abused and forced to take psychotropic drugs.

In early March, members of the group tried unsuccessfully to flee again, this time to Guatemala, after Ontario upheld court orders to remove 13 children to foster care.

Child protection officials have also reported extremely poor hygiene in homes, substandard healthcare, and cases in which children were forcibly removed from their homes and placed with other families, in addition to lacking education in basic subjects such as math and English.