After settling in a remote village in Guatemala in the hopes of finding religious freedom, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews have been threatened and forced out of their homes by local villagers.
According to The Jerusalem Post, about 60 members of the Lev Tahor community started leaving the Guatemalan town of San Juan la Laguna on Friday morning. The remaining members of the 200-odd group are expected to follow suit throughout the weekend.
Lev Tahor was founded in the 1980s by an anti-Zionist rabbi, and its members practice an austere form of Judaism. Its strict religious practices have earned it the reputation for being cult-like, and the groups refusal to assimilate into the Guatemalan culture has frustrated many of San Juans locals.
The Lev Tahor community was in Guatemala for less than a year before the villagers started forcing them out. The ultra-Orthodox Jews recently relocated to Guatemala from Canada, where they were criticized of alleged child abuse and promoting underage marriage.
Rabbi Uriel Goldman of the Lev Tahor community told Reuters that they didnt experience threats or verbal abuse from everybody in the village. Rather, he claimed that a small, politically motivated group worked toward pushing the Lev Tahor community out of town.
I dont understand why they dont want us, Goldman said, Were not doing anything bad here.
Goldman also claimed that a council of elders in San Juan threatened to cut off electricity and water if the Lev Tahor group did not leave, and added, They also said they would remove us from the village by force.
The members of the Lev Tahor community certainly do stick out in San Juan. In comparison to the locals, who frequently dress in colorful clothing, the members of Lev Tahor dress in black from head-to-toe–only exposing their faces.
According to Al Jazeera, San Juans Vice Mayor Domingo Gusman Ujpan asserted that, Most of the town wants them to leave, and claimed that over 300 of the villagers have signed a petition asking for the government to force the sect out of the town.
Ujpan said that the Lev Tahor community clashed with the Guatemalan villagers (who are primarily Christian) over more than just religious beliefs; He claims that the Lev Tahor do not work, and therefore do not contribute to the local economy, and its members are also notorious for not paying landlords and cab drivers.
We have a constitutional right to protect our village and culture, Ujpan said, If theyre going to violate it, the people of the town have to make some decisions.
There are two Guatemalans that disagree with Ujpans view, however.
Guatemalans Michael Santos and Jonathan Lima have converted to Judaism, and they believe that anti-Semitism is behind the villages attempt to push the Lev Tahor community out of their town.
Its a witch hunt, Lima said, [Lev Tahor members] are bewildered because they have been harassed every day for more than eight months without a reason. But they are a peaceful people.
The Lev Tahor community does not know where it will settle next, but its members are in search for a place where they can practice their own form of Judaism in peace.