CHATHAM-KENT, Ontario, March 13, 2014 ( – The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community Lev Tahor is devastated after child services seized seven children from parents after a judge issued an emergency seizure order last week. 

The children are now on day five of a hunger strike, demanding to be reunited with their parents. Five of the children have allegedly been hospitalized in Toronto’s Sick Children’s hospital after fainting from hunger.

Community members have donned yellow Star of David badges — similar to those the Nazis forced the Jews to wear prior to the holocaust — with “Jew” written on it, signifying what they believe is a persecution against them and their way of life.


“If you want to hate me because I’m a Jew, hate me. But I’m a Jew. It’s what I am. Don’t say I abuse children because no one abused the children,” said Joel Helbrans, a 21-year-old member of Lev Tahor and father with three children, to CBC News.

The 200-member Lev Tahor community, meaning “pure heart,” fled Quebec to Ontario four months ago amid allegations of child abuse and neglect from social services. Allegations include forced marriages of girls as young as 14, children being beaten with various instruments including belts, crowbars, and coat hangers, as well as a lack of education and poor hygiene.

Community leaders deny the allegations, saying that parents in the community raise their families well. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Community leaders say the group left because families did not want to comply with the province’s mandatory ethics and religious culture course, which they said would subvert the religious formation of the community’s more than 100 children.

Last month an Ontario judge ordered that 13 children belonging to two separate families be returned to child protection authorities in Quebec to be placed in foster care. The parents appealed the decision, but decided not to wait for the outcome, which was to have been handed to them last week.

Fearing a negative outcome, the parents and children fled the country last week, hoping to maintain custody of their children. But seven of the children and their caregivers were halted in Trinidad and Tobago when officials said there were inconsistencies in responses to questions. The children were forced to return to Ontario.

The other six children and caregivers made it to Guatemala where they remain at large. Social services says that if these children are located, they will be returned to Canada to be placed in care of children’s services.

Lev Tahor members are calling the seizure of community children an “illegal kidnapping.” They deny all allegations from social services, saying that their community is being “demonized” for its strict adherence to its religious beliefs and practices.

Community members are begging that the seized children be allowed to “speak to the media” so that people will be able to see and hear “well spoken, confident, and happy girls” who have a “strong will to live in our community.”

A Jewish man from Crown Heights, Brooklyn who sympathizes with the families wrote an op-ed for on Tuesday calling the seizure a “grave injustice.”

“As the proud father of several beautiful children, who are my world and from whom I could never bear the pain of being separated, I realized that the same flimsy evidence used by the authorities to rip those children from their mothers’ and fathers’ arms could be used against me, as well as a majority of Frum families in Crown Heights, Borough Park and Williamsburg,” wrote the father who wished to remain anonymous.

“Here’s a thought exercise: Picture for a moment what it would feel like if government authorities showed up at your door and declared that they were taking your children away so that they could be ‘properly’ educated, fed and cared for according to approved government standards.”

While not endorsing Lev Tahor’s way of life, the Jewish father said that the parents’ “inalienable right to live in peace and not be persecuted for their religious practices” must be defended.

“After all, if we don’t speak out for them, who will speak out when they come for our children?”