By Lyndsey Kelly Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – Nearly 230 members of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community were forced to leave a western Guatemala village after weeks of friction with sections of the indigenous population. The Lev Tahor community was forced to pack its bags and leave San Juan Laguna after settling there six years prior.
The Lev Tahor is a strain of Hassidic Judaism who encountered problems in their home of Quebec after suspicions arose as to the group’s treatment of their children. Quebec’s child protection authorities believed that the group was carrying out underage marriages, and forcing members to raise their children without access to doctors or education. The allegations prompted proceedings to have more than a dozen children placed in foster care. The Lev Tahor fled Canada to avoid the repercussions of the allegations and settled in San Juan Laguna.
Differences in religion and customs led to a tumultuous relationship between the Lev Tahor and locals. Tensions between the two groups came to a head on Friday, 29 August 2014, when the town’s Elders Council voted to force the group to leave. The Council’s decision came after a failed attempt to negotiate a solution between the two groups.
Locals say that the Lev Tahor “wanted to impose their religion” and were undermining the Catholic faith. Another reason behind the Council’s decision included the mistreatment by the Lev Tahor of indigenous residents and tourists. Elders accused the Jewish members of shunning the villagers, and refusing to pay the appropriate price for products in local stores.
The Lev Tahor members accused the locals of threatening to turn off their water and electricity if they did not leave San Juan Laguna. The alleged threats even went so far as to intimidate the Jewish group with the possibility of lynchings. Ultimately, the Lev Tahor decided to abide by the Council’s decision and leave the village. The group boarded a bus for Guatemala City where they hope to be accepted.