Attempt to leave Lev Tahor sect thwarted, former member testifies

Montreal Gazette/January 17, 2014

By Jason Magder

Montreal -- When the community leaders of Lev Tahor got wind that a member planned to leave, they told him he had a psychological disorder and forbade him and his pregnant wife from seeing each other for two weeks.

Adam Brudzevski, who has since left the sect, testified in a Nov. 27 youth court hearing in which Judge Pierre Hamel ordered 14 children from the community to be removed from their families and placed in foster homes for at least a month. The man’s testimony was part of a sweeping publication ban that was lifted Thursday after a challenge by The Gazette and other media.

Brudzevski, 28, joined the community in 2009 and was a member for two years. However, his wife was born and raised in the community. They left the community together in 2011.

Brudzevski said that when word got out that he and his wife, who was then three months pregnant, were thinking about leaving the sect, community leader Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans requested a meeting with him.

“I was called into the rabbi’s office,” he said. “My wife didn’t want to stay at home, because meetings with the rabbi could be long, so I took her to her parents’ house.”

During the meeting, Brudzevski said, the rabbi explained that Brudzevski would suffer in the afterlife if he left the community.

“He warned me that even if I continued to follow all the teachings after leaving, when I died, my soul would not go through a cleansing process in order to be close with God. Rather, it would be ground up to dust and thrown under the feet of the righteous,” he said. “This is a known concept in Judaism.”

Brudzevski said the rabbi told him he had borderline personality disorder and would have to attend daily workshops with three or four other members of the community who had the same affliction.

“I was told if I attended the sessions and followed a healthy diet, I wouldn’t need medication,” he said. “Other members had pills they were taking.”

He said the rabbi also told him that if he didn’t shape up, the community would have to find another family to take care of his baby after the birth.

For the two weeks that followed the meeting with the rabbi, Brudzevski said he wasn’t permitted to see his wife, who remained in her parents’ house.

He was only permitted to see her again after he made an oath of loyalty to the community. He explained that in the community, oaths are taken very seriously, because punishment for breaking them is retribution in the afterlife.

“I was asked to take an oath, and I accepted all the conditions without knowing what they were, just to prove my loyalty,” Brudzevski told the court. “I was told I would have to divorce my wife. The plan was to divorce her, and then to spend two years devoted to curing my borderline personality disorder. Divorced women can only remarry two years after they give birth, and my wife was three months pregnant. If I was successful in my treatment, I would be allowed to marry my wife again in two and half years.

“The next week, they took me in a car, saying they were taking me to a Rabbinical Court in Montreal so I could have my divorce finalized. On the way there, they stopped the car and told me it’s now clear I am obedient, and I don’t have to divorce my wife, if I agree to certain conditions. I told them I would agree to anything so as not to divorce my wife.”

Brudzevski made a formal oath of loyalty to the community, and a week later his wife was permitted to return home.

Despite the oath, his conviction to leave hadn’t waned, but he wasn’t sure about his wife.

Through nightly sessions, he started to teach her about the definitions of a cult and eventually explained how Lev Tahor had all the signs of a dangerous cult.

“Eventually, she started to recognize patterns (of what was happening in the community),” he said. “I could speak with her openly about the need to leave. She was (in agreement) with me on keeping it a secret.”

Brudzevski found a local rabbi who was sympathetic, and on his daily errands, he snuck out more of the couple’s belongings and brought them to the rabbi. He secretly bought a computer and switched his home phone line to include an Internet connection.

The couple purchased airline tickets to Denmark, where Brudzevski’s family lives. His wife clicked on the button to purchase the tickets, a symbolic gesture, Brudzevski said, because it showed she was on board with leaving the community, which also meant leaving her parents and siblings behind.

The local rabbi arranged a car to transport the couple to the airport in the middle of the night.

“Everything was planned so it would be dark and no one would see us,” Brudzevski explained. “At an agreed-upon time, we ran through the garden and the bushes to a car that took us to the airport.”

The couple had no contact with members of the community for several months.

“We had nothing to do with them until my child was born three months later,” Brudzevski said. “The main reason was my oath. I swore that if the community decided I needed to divorce my wife, I would be obligated to. My wife didn’t want to contact her family even though I encouraged her to do so. After the baby was born, she contacted her family for the first time.”

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