Two children who had been rescued from a Jewish religious cult in Guatemala are reported to have disappeared over the weekend, fueling fears that they were kidnapped by members of the group known as Lev Tahor.
According to a report in Yeshiva World News, New York State Police are looking for the pair — a 14-year-old girl and her 12-year-old brother. They were last seen getting into a car in the early hours of Saturday morning in the Catskills region of upstate New York, where they were attending a therapeutic event with other escapees.
Yeshiva World News reported that the girl, identified by the haredi Orthodox website Voz Iz Neias as Yante Teller, had been kidnapped several weeks ago as well but had been found and reunited with her mother, Sara Feige Teller, sister of the late cult leader Nachman Helbrans.
Lev Tahor practices an extreme form of Orthodox Judaism. Its members fled to Guatemala claiming persecution by Canadian authorities that accused the sect of child abuse and neglect. Arranged marriages between teenagers and older cult members are reported to be common.
The group shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. It also rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish nation can only be restored by God, not humankind.
Helbrans died last year in Mexico, leaving the cult members, who followed Helbrans from Jerusalem’s Beit Yisrael neighborhood to Brooklyn to the snowy suburbs of Montreal before settling in tropical Guatemala, facing an uncertain future.
Convicted of kidnapping in New York, Helbrans relocated his group to Canada, where child welfare authorities in two provinces investigated claims of child marriages and abuse. Hopes for a new start in a picturesque lakeside town in Guatemala were dashed when village elders asked the group to leave, citing cultural differences.