Welfare officials call this the biggest cult-busting operation ever in Israel

The Jerusalem Post/January 14, 2010

"Nothing like this has ever happened before in Israel," Menachem Vagashil, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services exclaimed Thursday, referring to the Tuesday morning raid and subsequent arrest of 59-year-old cult leader Goel Ratzon of Tel Aviv.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Vagashil, who headed the social services side of the six-month undercover investigation, outlined how the social workers and experts worked painstakingly to prepare for every eventuality that could take place on the day of operation, which police codenamed "Geula Me'Ratzon" ("Redemption by Choice," a pun on Goel's name, which means "savior" in Hebrew, and Ratzon, which means "desire").

"We looked at other similar cases from around the world," said Vagashil. "We prepared for all the possible outcomes. There was a concern that the mothers could hurt their children the moment we entered their homes."

There was also a concern that Ratzon had dictated a suicide pact among the women, he said.

In order to deal with a variety of outcomes, Vagashil assembled a team of some 150 social workers, child welfare officers, who are used to working with the prosecution, investigators, who are trained to talk with young children, and others. He also hired Prof. Mooki Lahad, an expert in stress prevention from Kiryat Shmona's Stress Prevention Center, and Prof. Nati Laor, an expert in psychiatric trauma for adults and children.

"These two experts were with us from the start and assisted us in creating the plan," said Vagashil.

He said Ratzon's 17 wives and 60 children are all currently undergoing therapy and treatment, utilizing techniques that have been used in similar situations abroad.

"Obviously the biggest risk was the day of the operation [when the homes were raided]," he said, adding that the women are currently being monitored to make sure they do no harm to themselves or the children.

"The goal was to disband the family and provide treatment to the women and children so that they can all return to normal lives," said Vagashil. "These women have lost everything - their homes and their lives as they knew it. We know it will be hard for them now, but we're ready to help them."

The ministry is to allocate special funds for rehabilitating the women connected with the cult.

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