Tel Aviv ‘saviour’accused of enslaving women in cult-like harem in cramped apartments
JERUSALEM (AP) — The women tattooed his name and portrait on their bodies and gave their children his name — Saviour.
They spoon-fed the bearded, one-time healer as if he were royalty, brushed his shoulder-length white locks, sent him text messages when they were ovulating and slept with him at his bidding.
They turned over wages and welfare payments to him and lived in cramped, rundown Tel Aviv apartments with the children they bore him. According to police, he fathered some of his own daughters’ children.
The man, 60-year-old Goel Ratzon — whose first name is Hebrew for “Saviour” — is now sitting in a Tel Aviv jail, suspected by police of enslaving a cult-like harem of at least 17 women and 37 children. Ratzon, who’s lived this way for two decades, denies any wrongdoing, his lawyer says.
Ratzon’s alleged crimes and unconventional lifestyle have gripped Israel and become newspaper and talk show fodder.
How he managed to lure so many young women and live this way so long in full view of authorities remains a mystery. While cult leaders like Jim Jones, who led hundreds of followers in a 1978 mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, claimed messianic status, Ratzon did not.
“I’m not their Messiah, I’m not their saviour. I’m just good to them,” he said in a rare interview to Israel television last year.
Police, however, said they swooped down on Ratzon when the children were at school because they were afraid their mothers might hurt them if they were at home at the time.
According to police, his lawyer and t e s t imony from the women, Ratzon kept tabs on his “extended family” through closedcircuit TV, and fined them for violating rules that included modest dress and a ban on unauthorized telephone calls.
“He doesn’t live like you or me. He lives differently. And the fact that the women accepted it and were part of it gave him the legitimacy that it was OK, that it was good for them,” said his courtappointed lawyer, Shlomzion Gabai.
Police broke up the harem on Jan. 12, taking the children and women to various shelters. Police investigating him on suspicion of enslavement, rape and incest have until Friday to charge him or else his detention runs out, Gabai said.
In an Israeli television documentary aired last year, Ratzon said the women were drawn to him because he was “perfect” and had “all the qualities that a woman wants.”
But Asher Wizman, a private investigator who said his company was hired by two sets of parents to extricate their daughters from the clan, told The Associated Press that Ratzon preyed on troubled young women.
Some of his women invited sisters, cousins and friends to join the harem. Ratzon would go trawling for others in two busy Tel Aviv malls, Wizman said.
He said a private investigator he sent to infiltrate the harem was badly shaken after her first encounter with Ratzon.
“He looked her in the eye” for about 90 seconds, “and she felt like she was losing control, it was a kind of hypnosis,” he said.
The investigator, who spend a month inside the clan, reported to Wizman that the women “talked about Ratzon as if he were a god and the biggest honour is to spend the night with him,” he said.
Now pried from his grasp, the women seem divided over whether they were enslaved or living an extraordinary way of life with a unique kind of man.
Dvora Reichstein was taken into the fold four and a half years ago when she was 22, unmarried and pregnant with another man’s child. From day one, she said, life with him was “ like living in a prison” — but she had nowhere else to go.
“Today, I’m free to wear jeans, talk to my parents, meet friends, buy myself a cup of coffee without getting Goel’s permission,” said Reichstein, who had a “Goel” tattoo peeking out over her black turtleneck in a photo published in the Yediot Ahronot daily.
“I’m not the same woman who just a month ago sent him an ovulation SMS saying, ’ I want to remind you that I’m ovulating, and if it works out, I’d very much like to be with you and carry your seed in my womb. Love you forever, your wife-slave,”’ she wrote in an account of her life with Razton published by Yediot Ahronot.