By Ryan Fahey-World News Reporter
4 Feb 2023
Former victim who escaped jungle paedophile cult shares details of monstrous abuse.
WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT
Yisrael Amir, now 22, was just 12 years old when his father ripped him away from his home in Israel with the promises of a heavenly life in Guatemala, but he instead arrived at a cult compound where leaders have been accused of raping children.
Yisrael Amir, now 22, was a member of Lev Tahor or "Pure Heart", which claims to follow a fundamentalist version of Judaism and forces women to cover their bodies from head to toe and carries out teen marriages.
But former members and Israeli courts say it's nothing more than a "dangerous cult".
The group settled in Guatemala in 2013 after being accused of systematic and widespread abuse of children in Canada.
Yisrael and his wife were both 16 when they tied the knot, despite the legal age for marriage being 18 in the Central American country.
His sister was one of a number of children married off when they were barely a teenager, Yisrael said.
In the Lev Tahor cult, women and girls are forced to wear an all-covering black garment from the age of three(Image: i24NEWS English)
The 22-year-old, who now lives in Tel Aviv with his aunt, told the BBC: "My sister was 13 and they forced her to marry a 19-year-old. She was crying.
"She cried so much they punished her by banning her from speaking for a year.
"She could not say a word - not ask for food, not ask for the toilet, nothing."
Yisrael Amir, 22, says other children told him they'd been abused and raped by senior Lev Tahor leaders (Image: i24NEWS English)
The cruel punishment left the youngster unable to speak properly after her 12 months penance of silence, Yisrael says.
He said it was just one of a catalogue of methods the cult's cruel leader used to brutalise and molest his followers, including forcing the children to thank the adults who beat them for minor transgressions.
But these were just the tip of the iceberg, Yisrael said.
View of belongings of the Lev Tahor Jewish sect, inside a house they rented in the Ejido Independencia community in Tapachula, Chiapas state, Mexico on October 1, 2022. (Image: AFP via Getty Images)
He added: "I saw every day Shlomo Helbrans [the founder of Lev Tahor] and another leader take boys in their room, boys as young as eight, then afterwards he sent them to the mikveh [ritual bath used for purification].
"I didn't understand what he did with them. Now I know."
Yisrael added that a number of young girls and boys told him they were sexually abused and raped.
The US-based Lev Tahor Survivors group counts multiple child rape victims among its members, and authorities in Guatemala say they have received sworn statements about the organisation's hideous assaults.
Rabbi Shlomo Hebrans painted himself as a "Messiah-like" figure which allowed him to whatever he wished, Yisrael said. (Image: AP)
Yisrael said one of the worst was leader Helbrans, who "cast himself as a Messiah-like figure". He used his religious esteem to claim he could "do what he liked because he was a holy man", Yisrael said.
The group has a presence in both Guatemala and a smaller compound in Mexico, where police carried out a jungle raid last year.
Cops found an order handed down by senior leaders, which told mothers to kill their kids with poison if social workers came to remove them.
In translation, the document said: "If some people come to take our children from us… we have to sacrifice lives so the cursed ones will not desecrate the spirit of our pure children… [in] the way it was instructed by our holiness [Shlomo Helbrans] before he died.
The compound in Guatemala(Image: i24NEWS English)
"It must be done in a way they [the children] don't suffer… nor disfigure their body… so they [women] will use what we will distribute [which] has to be given to the children immediately… without explaining to them what it is so as not to frighten them."
The women were then supposed to kill themselves after slaying their offspring.
The threat was so serious that Mexican cops divided women from children on entering the compound.
Recalling his early years in the cult, Yisrael said he was taken from home in Israel with his six siblings on promises of life in Guatemala being like paradise - with animals freely roaming for the kids to play with.
The jungle camp (Image: i24NEWS English)
But when he arrived, the kids were separated from other children, and their parents. They were then forced to sleep on hard, stone floors.
They'd be woken up at around 3am before being forced to sit through a day of prayers without food, water or being allowed to speak amongst themselves.
The religious curriculum consisted solely of reading Helbrans' writings, which had to be learned by heart.
"We had no education. We did not even study Torah [holiest books of the Jewish Bible] or Talmud [the book of Jewish law] because it would have opened our minds," he said.
Yisrael was just 12 when he was taken to Guatemala(Image: i24NEWS English)
Members could only eat some fruit and vegetables, with meat, fish and eggs completely banned because Helbrans claimed genetic engineering had made them unkosher.
Yisrael believes that it allowed senior leaders to keep the group weak by depriving them of protein.
"Helbrans, though, ate everything he wanted - eggs, fish, meat. He said it was for his health, and you weren't allowed to question it," he added.
Lev Tahor leaders deny breaking local laws, refute sexual abuse claims and say they've been targeted in current and previous investigations for their beliefs.