Group claim they were threatened by locals who ordered them out of village
An Orthodox Jewish community has been forced from a village in a remote Guatemalan countryside, after a dispute with members of the local indigenous Mayan people became increasingly venomous.
Mayan elders asked the Lev Tahor community to leave the village of San Juan La Laguna, which is about 150km west of capital Guatemala City.
They claimed the Jews had shunned the other villagers, and attempted to impose their customs and religion. On Friday the Lev Tahor loaded their luggage and bags onto buses bound for the capital.
“We are a people of peace and in order to avoid an incident we’ve already begun to leave,” Lev Tahor member Misael Santos told the AFP news agency.
“We have a right to be there, but they threatened us with lynching if we don’t leave,” he added.
The Lev Tahor members said that they had been subjected to verbal abuse, and threats had been made to cut off their water and electricity supplies since they arrived from Canada in March.
Their customs clashed with those of the locals, who claimed that the Lev Tahor were trying to undermine their Catholic faith.
“We felt intimidated by them in the streets. We thought they wanted to change our religion and customs,” village elder Miguel Vasquez Cholotio told Reuters.
Founded in the 1980s by Israeli Shlomo Helbrans, the group practices a fundamentalist form of Judaism. Their name means “Pure Heart” in Hebrew.
In Canada, critics and relatives of group members accused Lev Tahor of keeping children in unsanitary conditions, underage marriage and physical abuse.
The group will not settle in Israel, as they regard the Jews as a people in exile.