Authorities handling fallout of breaking up polygamist cult

The Jerusalem Post/January 12, 2011

A year after police raided TA headquarters of suspected cult that involved some 40 children 20 women, welfare authorities say they are still dealing with rehabilitation process of cult members .

One year after police raided the Tel Aviv headquarters of a suspected polygamist cult that involved some 40 children and 20 women, welfare authorities say they are still dealing intensely with the fallout and rehabilitation process of the cult members as they return to live a normative life.

According to information published Tuesday by the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, the 20 wives and 40 children of the yet-to-be convicted cult leader Goel Ratzon continue to receive a wide range of welfare services, including constant psychological monitoring.

"The Goel Ratzon affair is a clear sign that we have a policy of zero tolerance to cults and other groups that prey on vulnerable women and children," Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said in a statement Tuesday.

"It also raises awareness to the dangers of belonging to such cults."

The minister said that in the coming months a specially formed committee to look into the phenomenon of cults and their long-term effects on members would present its findings and hopefully improve the rehabilitation process for those involved.

A spokeswoman for the ministry told The Jerusalem Post that the prosecution is still gathering evidence on Ratzon, who could be convicted of sexual abuse and rape of a minor.

The information released Tuesday regarding the fallout of this unique case showed that in addition to standard social welfare assistance, the women and their children are being given help in finding public housing and employment, access to legal aid and intensive therapy to reconnect with their extended families.

Former cult members have also received financial support to repay debts accrued while in the cult and funds to pay for the removal of the cult's signature tattoo, which depicts their grey-haired leader and was inked in very visible places on most of the women's bodies.

Social workers have also helped the children to acclimatize to the mainstream education system and financed psychological treatments for them.

"The role of the social services did not end with the rescue operation last year, but rather, that is when the hard work began," stated the information published by the ministry, which described the work of a special team of social workers who have been continually examining the needs of each woman and following their progress in order to provide them with proper treatment and solutions for their complicated situation.

"We will continue to assist and rehabilitate the women and children for as long as they need and provide financial and professional resources for them," said ministry director-general Nahum Itzkowitz.

In an interview last year with the Post, the ministry's deputy director-general Menachem Wagshal, who worked for six months before the raid to make sure that breaking up the cult would not have an adverse effect on those involved, said that nothing like this had ever happened before in Israel.

"We looked at other similar cases from around the world," said Wagshal in that interview. "We prepared for all the possible outcomes because there was a fear that the mothers could hurt their children the minute we entered their homes."

At the time, there was also a concern that Ratzon had dictated a suicide pact to the women. The ministry assembled a team of 150 professionals to deal with the immediate fallout.

In Tuesday's statement, the ministry said that most of the women and children had started to re-integrate into the community and had improved relations with their families.

"Most of the women have already left battered women's shelters and are in various stages of integration in the community; some women have received grants for permanent housing and others have already purchased apartments," said the ministry's spokeswoman. "All women and children who need psychological treatment continue to receive it."

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