Dozens of Haredi women protest politician’s alleged help for sex offender

Rally outside cabinet minister Meir Porush’s home comes over reports he tried to help Eliezer Berland enter Ukraine

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Fay Sukenik protest near the home of Meir Porush on Aug. 31, 2023 in Jerusalem, Israel over the cabinet minister's alleged assitance to a sex offender. Her sign reads: 'When God's name is desecrated by a rabbi, he is not worthy of respect.' (Courtesy of Sukenik)
Fay Sukenik protest near the home of Meir Porush on Aug. 31, 2023 in Jerusalem, Israel over the cabinet minister's alleged assitance to a sex offender. Her sign reads: 'When God's name is desecrated by a rabbi, he is not worthy of respect.' (Courtesy of Sukenik)

A few dozen Haredi women and several men held a protest near the home of Jerusalem Affairs Minister Meir Porush Thursday evening for his reported efforts to help a Haredi sex offender travel to Ukraine.

The rally Thursday night on Allenby Square in Jerusalem follows reports that Porush, a member of the Haredi United Torah Judaism party, wrote to Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, requesting that Rabbi Eliezer Berland be allowed to enter Ukraine ahead of the Jewish pilgrimage to Uman.

Porush reportedly also wrote a letter of recommendation for Berland, who was released from prison in April 2017 after serving less than a year for sexually assaulting two women. In 2021, Berland served another four months in jail for fraud, theft, attempted threats and tax violations.

Berland’s entry ban in Ukraine, however, is believed to be connected to a recording of Berland, head of the cult-like Shuvu Bonim community affiliated with the Breslov Hasidic stream, in which he said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was punishment for Ukrainian authorities’ reluctance to let in Shuvu Bonim followers to Uman.

That city is the resting place of Rabbi Nachman, an 18th-century luminary who is the spiritual inspiration of the Breslov movement. Each year on Rosh Hashanah, thousands of Jews — and especially Israelis from Breslov circles – come to Uman on a pilgrimage that has been the center of frequent disturbances and tensions between Ukraine and Israel.

Screen capture from video of Rabbi Eliezer Berland urging his followers to travel to Uman, August 2022. (Via YouTube, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“Porush is using the political power that we, the Haredi public gave him, and abusing this status for the benefit of a predator who has targeted us,” said Fay Sukenik, one of the protesters. Sukenik, a 40-year-old mother of six from Jerusalem, told The Times of Israel that she had come to the protest rally “to stand for many people I know personally who were so badly hurt by sexual abuse, that they no longer are able to stand here.”

Minister for Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Heritage Meir Porush arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on May 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sukenik, the founder of Ba’asher Telchi, a nonprofit that helps Haredi women and their children through divorce, noted that the protest follows anger in some Haredi circles over previous efforts by Yaakov Litzman, a former Haredi politician from Porush’s party, to allegedly try to block the extradition to Australia of Malka Leifer, a serial sexual abuser of minors who last week was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Australia.

Former principal Malka Leifer, wanted in Australia for child sex abuse crimes, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, on February 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The message of the actions of Litzman and Porush is that not only will sex offenders not be condemned in Haredi circles, but can expect help from the highest echelons,” Sukenik said. “This raises questions as to what goes on under the surface to create this reality. But we’re here to say we won’t stand for this anymore.”

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