MONTREAL - The ultra-orthodox Jewish group Lev Tahor, now being targeted by a child welfare probe, says a report detailing its charitable activities in Canada will make it more difficult to find new donors or sources of income.
The report in Saturday’s Toronto Star showed that while authorities in Quebec found squalid living conditions and cases of neglect, psychological abuse and health problems in the community, Lev Tahor operated two separate tax-exempt religious charities — Congregation Riminov and the Society of Spiritual Development — that have benefited from generous donations worth millions of dollars going back to 2001.
A former member of Lev Tahor has since come forward to tell the Star that some senior officials in the group “constantly travel the world to collect money.”
“Each have one or more facade congregations which they … collect for, thus avoiding negative association with Lev Tahor,” the former member explained, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Other members of the community are required to collect amounts of up to $2,000 annually for the benefit of Lev Tahor. “They are instructed to hide where they come from, and to claim the money goes to poor families,” the former member said.
The Star has been able to locate two separate $1,000 donations, for the years 2011 and 2012, made out to Congregation Riminov from a New York-based Jewish group, the Davidowitz Family Foundation.
Lev Tahor responded Sunday on its website that it has already been targeted by “blood libels” and that further reports by media in Israel and Canada “can lead to (the) demonization of our community, and by that ... add more difficulty to our efforts to receive (a) job or charity after our move to our new place in Ontario.”
The group fled from the town of Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., and resettled in Chatham-Kent, Ont., on Nov. 18 amid concerns that child protection workers would place 14 children from two Lev Tahor families in foster care. On Nov. 27, a Quebec youth court judge gave the order to seize the children, who range in age from 2 months to 16 years. The judge ruled there was a “serious risk of harm” to the children.
To date, the order has not been carried out by the Chatham-Kent Children’s Aid Society.
Mayer Rosner, a Lev Tahor director, refused to discuss the details of the two charitable organizations when contacted on Friday ahead of the Star’s report. The donations allowed Congregation Riminov, at its peak, to bring in revenues of more than $1.9 million in 2005 and amass land and property assets of $5.6 million in 2006.
The Society of Spiritual Development, which was registered in 2004 and took over as the group’s main fundraising vehicle when Congregation Riminov’s status was revoked in 2007, received a $4.3-million transfer from another charity in 2011 that was meant to fund a community project for the sect.
The Jewish group posted a note on its website Sunday to respond to some of the unanswered questions about the two charities raised in the Star article.
On Friday, Rosner refused to reveal the source of the $4.3-million donation, telling the Star: “Whatever you have in public is in public, but whatever is not in public, sorry.”
On Sunday, Lev Tahor revealed more details. The bulk of the millions, it said in its note, resulted from a series of financial transfers that originated with one $1.9-million donation in 2005.
The individual donation was made on the condition that the money would be used to build a “Haredi borough,” or an enclave for the ultra-Orthodox group, made up of about 40 families. The second condition was that if this could not be done in five years, the money would be passed on to another Jewish charity.
Lev Tahor did purchase a parcel of land, but the project could not proceed for two reasons. The biggest roadblock occurred when the municipality in which the land was located changed its zoning regulations to favour the construction of “luxury apartments” and retail outlets. Another section of the property turned out to be protected wetlands.
Court documents from 2008 confirm some of those details. They show that an individual named Chaim Landau for Congregation Riminov initially agreed in late 2005 to pay $1.95 million for 1.62 million square feet of vacant land in the Quebec municipality of Blainville.
The deal went to court after the discovery that 20 per cent of the property was wetland. The court ruling indicated that the Jewish group still hoped to purchase the land, but at a lower price of $1.4 million.
The sale apparently went ahead. Lev Tahor said the value of the land eventually increased to $4.6 million. That, the group says, is the source of the $4.3-million donation to the Society of Spiritual Development.
By: Allan Woods - TorontoStar