Montreal Gazette

Caring for Lev Tahor kids seen as no easy task

Members appeal Trinidad’s decision to deny entry

- JASON MAGDER THE GAZETTE jmagder@montrealga­ Twitter: JasonMagde­r

Members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor fled the country this week with 13 children, days before they were to have appealed a judgment ordering them into foster care.

The children, ranging in age from six months to 15 years, were to have appeared in court Wednesday in Chatham-Kent, Ont., to appeal a Feb. 3 order validating a Nov. 27 Quebec court ruling that the children be removed from the community and placed in foster care. That ruling was made after most members of the community had already left their Ste-Agathe-des-Monts homes for Chatham-Kent.

This week, six of the children were found in Guatemala in Central America, another six turned up in Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean, while the baby is believed to be with her parents somewhere in New York state.

The children remained out of the country on Friday, despite a court order for them to return to Canada to be placed in the custody of Child Welfare Services in Ontario.

On Friday, the adults accompanyi­ng the children in Trinidad appealed that country’s decision to deny them entry.

Although appeals may delay the process, the children will likely return to Canada in the coming days or weeks, where they have been ordered into foster homes in Ontario until the cancelled appeal can be heard next month. If the appeal of the Feb. 3 order stands, they’ll be sent back to Quebec, where foster families in and around Montreal have been identified.

But caring for the children will be no easy task, said Mendy Marcus, a product of the foster care system.

Marcus, 20, grew up i n an ultra-Orthodox Jewish home as the youngest boy in a family of 12 children. At age 9, he and his siblings were removed from their home in Boisbriand, north of Mont- real, because their father was physically abusive. Even though he was no longer in his care, his religious father continued to exert control over his life, including his schooling and the foster families he was placed with. Youth protection officials granted his father’s request that Mendy, then 11, and his older brother be sent from Montreal to live with the Lev Tahor community in the home of one of its leaders, Uriel Goldman in Ste-Agathedes-Monts.

His brother remains with the community today, is married and has a son. Marcus said he feels for all the chil- dren in the community, and would like child protection services to remove them all, including his nephew. Quebec’s Department of Youth Protection has said it is working with its Ontario counterpar­ts to remove all 127 children from Lev Tahor.

Marcus said the road ahead for the 13 children ordered to live with foster families will be a difficult one.

“They’re all under the impression that if they are placed in foster care, it’s like they’re put in a house with Nazis,” he said. “All other Jewish communitie­s aren’t doing it right. According to the (Lev Tahor) community, everyone else is going to hell.”

He said as long as the children remain in contact with their families and the Lev Tahor sect, they won’t be able to adjust to a normal life.

Mike Kropveld, the executive director of Info-cult, a non-profit charitable organizati­on, agreed it will be emotionall­y difficult for the children to leave the community.

“They have probably grown up with fear of those on the outside,” he said. “Since they are the ones that are the exclusive holders of truth, those on the outside will be perceived as enemies set out to destroy their spiritual life.”

Members born in the com- munity often have very rudimentar­y knowledge of any language that’s not Yiddish. One former member who spoke to The Gazette on condition of anonymity said she had trouble with basic tasks like going to the store, taking the bus, or even being in the same room as a man who was not her husband, as the community has strict rules separating men and women.

Another former member living in Montreal successful­ly got his five children ordered out of the community by a youth court last year. They have been living with a foster family. The father has yet to gain custody of his children.

Kropveld said if the children are removed, the ideal scenario is for them to be reunited with their parents if the situation improves. In that case, youth protection officials will have to closely follow what happens with the community.

“If the group stays the way it is, it is less likely the children will be returned (if the parents remain part of the community), but a group can change,” he said. “If parents leave the group, what kind of state will they be in, and what kind of help will they need? If they have been in the group their whole life and have no education, no language or budgetary skills, what are they going to do?”

Marcus is afraid the children will struggle to find stability in foster care. In his case, he lived with a different foster family or group home almost every year.

 ?? DAVE CHIDLEY/ THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Members of the Lev Tahor ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect walk down a street while an emergency motion in the child custody case was held at the courthouse in Chatham, Ont., on Wednesday.
DAVE CHIDLEY/ THE CANADIAN PRESS Members of the Lev Tahor ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect walk down a street while an emergency motion in the child custody case was held at the courthouse in Chatham, Ont., on Wednesday.

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