About 40 ultra-Orthodox Jewish families living in the Laurentians, in the closed community of Lev Tahor, disappeared this week without warning — leaving youth protection officials in Quebec worried about the safety of 120 children.
Roughly 200 members from the community left their homes in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, and moved to Chatham-Kent, Ont. — about 100 km south of London.
Sect members say they left Quebec due to conflicts with the government over their school curriculum.
'We saw that it was somehow a way to trap us,' - Yoil Weingarten, Lev Tahor member
The province demanded children, who were schooled on site, be taught subjects that conflicted with their religion — such as evolutionary science.
“We have to follow the religious all over — 100 per cent. It's nothing to give up and...if something contradict the government, you have to leave,” said Lev Tahor member Yoil Weingarten.
“We don't have any goal in our life, just only to do what God wants — what he told us in the Torah.”
Youth protection officials worried
For years, the community has been led by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans — a controversial figure convicted in the United States of kidnapping a teenage boy.
Officials at Quebec’s youth protection services say that, for months, they’ve been keeping a file on the community because they had concerns the children were being neglected.
“Children had some skin problems that were not addressed. They also had very bad dental hygiene,” said Denis Baraby, a director with Quebec’s Youth Protection department.
Youth protection officials were scheduled to meet with sect members in court on Tuesday, but by Monday morning the entire community was gone.
“We saw that it was somehow a way to trap us because of the education [issue], and they knew we would never agree to the whole custom — the whole code of the education,” said Weingarten.
Now that the families have moved to Chatham-Kent, youth protection officials in Quebec say they’ve sent all their files to their counterparts in Ontario.
However, workers in Ontario will still have to build their own case before they can take sect members to court.