Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .
This week’s items
The BCHA wraps up their three-part series about public funding of private schools with a bang. This is easily the most fascinating instalment. It’s so weird what some religious schools feel compelled to regulate. Like… comic books. Why call out comic books specifically? Seems like an odd thing to focus on.
And while the BCHA article doesn’t mention it, there’s a lot more in Pleasant Valley Christian Academy’s handbook that’s weird. Here are some other things they ban:
- playing cards
- iPods (and specifically iPods); and
electronic devices(guess we’re stuck using slide rules and abacuses 🤷🏼).
 As the Catholic Church reckons with residential-schools legacy, parishioners are torn between their conscience and church
I’ve been savage in my criticism of both the Catholic Church leadership and the laity for their response to the residential schools scandal. I feel no inclination to ease up on those who still claim allegiance to the Church in light of all that’s happened, but… well, I think it’s only fair that we let them speak for themselves.
The thrust of their case is that they think they can “fix” the Church “from within”, despite the leadership. Personally, I find that logic ridiculous.
First of all, if you want to yell at the Church leadership to stop fucking around, issue a proper apology, and pay their due compensation, you don’t need to a member of the Church to do so. What is getting the Church leadership to show any sign of remorse and integrity—even if they’re just faking it—is the very public shaming they’re facing for their almost comically unethical behaviour. The argument from those who remain is that their criticism is more effective than the criticism of non-Catholics… but I see no evidence of that. The people who have been most effective at discovering Catholic crimes and cover-ups have been, almost exclusively, non-Catholics, or at least former Catholics who were victims.
In fact, by contrast, I see Church leadership more likely to ignore the criticisms of Catholic laity, because, by their thinking, they are the ones who should be deciding what Catholics should be thinking.
Indeed, the thing that seems to be having the greatest effect toward getting Catholic leadership to get off their ass and at least try to behave like ethical human beings is the massive number of people leaving the Church. Church leadership seems to be more afraid of empty pews than they are of the sheep that fill them. (Hey, don’t get pissed at me for calling Catholics sheep; that’s their own metaphor!)
But I’d be willing to hear other opinions. What do you think? Is it more effective to try to force the Catholic Church toward ethical behaviour “from within”? And… is it ethical to stay, even for this purpose?
 “Welcome to My Own Research University!” by 22 Minutes (Video: 2:08)
22 Minutes takes on Google U!
Probably too little. Probably too late. But nice effort nonetheless.
I learned of the story of Grenville Christian College years after it really broke, when the students finally won a class action lawsuit last year. The actual story became news before Canadian Atheist existed.
It is a horrifying story, not just for the graphic details of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse that the kids… and some of the parents… endured, but for the fact that so much of it happened while so many people coolly looked on. Some of the parents actually lived at the school, and witnessed their own kids suffering horrific abuse, and did nothing.
Many of the whistleblowers, years later, expressed horror and shame at their own participation, or at least at the fact that they watched it all happen, and did nothing.
This long-form story of the school is a harrowing read, but it’s not even the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t mention some of the more horrific “discipline” that was forced on students—stuff that came out in the class action lawsuit—or even what the parents endured, including having their kids taken away from them.
The thing that really makes this story truly disturbing is that this wasn’t some backwater religious sect isolated from the general population, doing horrific shit where no-one is really looking. These guys were in tight with the conservative parties of the time, even at the federal level. There’s even a picture in the article of then-Prime Minister Mulroney visiting. That’s the other thing… this shit isn’t from back in the 50s or whatever; this school only closed in 2007.
It’s been a while since I’ve given a thought to Lev Tahor, and I suspect that’s true for most of our readers. I’ll give you a quick refresher before we dive into the current story, because it’s just bonkers.
Lev Tahor was founded back in the 1980s in Isreal by Shlomo Helbrans. In 1990, Helbrans immigrated to the US, claiming persecution because he was anti-Zionist. (He believed Jews should not be settled in Israel, but rather should continue to live in exile until the coming of the Messiah.) In 1994 he kidnapped a 13 year-old boy to indoctrinate him against the will of the non-religious mother. He got off from those charges because an election was coming up, and the DA didn’t want to piss off the orthodox Jewish community. He was arrested again in 1996 after he was caught on tape conspiring with the boy’s father, and the boy was even convinced to lie on the stand to protect Helbrans. It didn’t work; Helbrans was deported to Israel in 2000.
In 2003, he applied for refugee status in Canada, again claiming persecution because he was anti-Zionist. It was later discovered he probably lied on his refugee claim, and paid the boy he kidnapped to give him a good reference. Nevertheless, he settles Québec, and setting up his cult there.
For almost 10 years, Lev Tahor existed quietly in Québec… until 2011. Two teenage girls were being trafficked from Israel, like to become child-brides. Luckily for them, their uncle raised a stink all the way from Jerusalem to Québec City, and that caught the attention of Canadian authorities. They started looking in to Lev Tahor.
In 2013, when it became abundantly clear that Québec authorities were on the cusp of seizing all the kids for numerous child welfare violations—everything from malnutrition to failure to educate to physical abuse to straight-up rape in the form of child marriages—the entire community packed up and fled to Ontario. But the Ontario government started to investigate them, too. So in 2014, Lev Tahor began very quietly moving the ~120 kids under their control out of Canada, one-by-one. Canadian authorities only realized what was going on after an incident with one of the families in Trinidad, en route to Guatemala. But by then it was too late.
Things didn’t go so great for them in Guatemala, either. They hooked up ~30 or so of their number who had already been settled in a village there for years, but the new arrivals were such douchebags, that the locals actually kicked them out of the village.
I’m not clear on what happened next. I’d heard they fled again to Mexico, but what really seems to have happened is they were preparing Mexico as their next escape destination, but moved elsewhere in Guatemala in the interim.
A number of other things appear to have happened in that period. In mid-2017, Shlomo Helbrans drowned in a botched mikveh—basically a magical Jewish bath—and his son, Nachman Helbrans, took over. And, of course… the kidnapping this article is about.
The story behind the article is fucking incredible. One of the two children who would eventually be the kidnap victims the article is about was married to a 19 year-old, when she was 13, and, as per Lev Tahor rules, they started having sex. It sounds like the 13 year-old was really into the whole thing, and in fact, when the friction between her mother and the cult leaders began to escalate, she welcomed her little brother—the other child in the kidnapping case—to move in with her and her husband. Indeed, the marriage itself seemed to be partly about getting away from her mother.
The mother had numerous disputes with the Lev Tahor leadership, even before the marriage, but she seems to have gone along with it at the time. Eventually, she wanted out. Helbrans and the children’s father—Teller—tried to make a deal with her: she could leave, and she could take her three youngest children, but she would have to leave behind her three oldest children… which included the child bride and the brother. The mother refused.
In October 2018, she slipped away to Guatemala City, taking two of the youngest, and all of the passports for her six children. She called Teller, and told him she was going to the US, and she was taking all six kids. Two days later, she showed up at the Lev Tahor compound with… I’m quoting the court documents here…
approximately twenty vigilantes to remove the remaining children from Lev Tahor by force. Mama bear don’t fuck around.
They beat the shit out of Teller, but were only able to secure one additional kid before the culties rallied and drove them out. Notably, both the child bride and the little brother were almost taken, but they resisted. Realizing the mother meant business, Teller took the three remaining kids, and fled to Mexico.
The mother then filed false reports with the Guatemalan authorities, pretending to be a Canadian tourist, and omitting the fact that the father had custody rights and that the kids were actually residents of Guatemala. Nevertheless, this was enough to have Guatemalan authorities show up in force to the Lev Tahor compound. Although nothing came of it—the kids were already in Mexico, though the culties lied and told authorities they were in Texas—it was enough to freak out Teller and the Lev Tahor leadership.
At this point, the mother took the three kids that she already had to the US… but damn did she ever make a point of raising a massive finger to Lev Tahor as she did. She walked right past Lev Tahor culties at the airport, kids in tow, surrounded by her brother, a lawyer, and a goon from a rival Jewish cult. The Lev Tahor culties could do nothing but watch, helplessly.
After hearing that Guatemalan authorities had raided the cult compound, Teller decided he needed to lawyer up and fight the mother in the courts, so he tried to start Hague Convention proceedings to get proper custody of all six kids. There was just one teeny little problem: he couldn’t prove who the kids were, or that they were his; the mother had taken their passports. So Teller went to the US consulate in Mexico to try to get them new passports… and… ended up detained for a host of irregularities relating to why the hell he was in Mexico in the first place. While he was separated from the kids, fighting the red tape to protest his arrest, the mother flew in on a private plane
funded by her New York associates—who allegedly spent over a half-million US dollars on the operation—and took the three kids Teller was holding, then returned to the US. (The ruling isn’t clear on this, but it sure sounds like the mother’s moneyed
New York associates was the rival cult.)
Now, at this point, Lev Tahor alleges that the children were being held by a dangerous Jewish cult, who were keeping them in isolation, forcing them into unjustified psychiatric treatment, and denying them access to the justice system or legal support. The child bride was desperately trying to reach Lev Tahor to get help to escape, and the father, Teller, was apparently accosted and threatened repeatedly by thugs from the rival cult. I mean, if it’s all true—which is quite probable, because the mother is clearly no angel, and the new cult she was hanging with was still a cult—then yes, it is horrible. But still… oh, irony.
So, because they claim the kids needed rescuing, they hatched the kidnap attempt that the article is actually about. And the article ain’t kiddin’ when it says the attempt was a high-tech, spy-thriller caper; and yes, the child bride was part of the planning process.
And yes, they tried again twice, after the first attempt was foiled. Currently, it looks like Lev Tahor is on the run again, this time to Iran.
What a bonkers story, and sadly, one with no heroes, and one unlikely to have a happy ending. The teenage bride is almost certainly going to run back to her (no longer) teenage husband, back into the embrace of Lev Tahor, as soon as she’s no longer a minor… and likely to quickly settle down to breeding a whole new generation of children to be abused, exploited, and raped. And the younger brother sounds likely to follow suit. As bad as Lev Tahor is, the mother sounds just as awful, and the new cult she’s hooked up with is probably only a slight improvement over Lev Tahor, at best. Perhaps the only silver lining we can find here is that a few of the ringleaders of the child-trafficking cult will be locked up for a few years. Which is good… but I still don’t feel like cheering about the situation.
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