I have longed for thy salvation, O L-RD; and thy Torah is my delight. Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments. Psalm 119:174-176

07 February 2014

The Twelve Tribes in Germany - Part 15

Photo by A. Stahl

This week, there have been two audio clips released covering the Twelve Tribes case. The first is from Augsburg TVNote: For whatever reason, the link below is not going directly to the video. In the search box on A.TV's site - pop in "Zwölf Stämmen" and it will be the second result in the search results at the bottom of the page. (pay close attention, I missed it twice this morning!)|mediathek: Natürlich Gemeinsam - die ehemaligen Schüler von Klosterzimmern melden sich zu Wort
[Naturally together - the former students of Klosterzimmern speak out]

Reporter: The Twelve Tribes community in Donau-Ries always wanted to seem like they had nothing to hide. In the previous months and years they have released videos on [their website] the internet in which the members of the sect release commentary about their every day lives in the community.

[member] The most important thing in life is that my children - for me, is that my children walk in the same faith walk I also have been walking in and raised in.

Reporter: The sect was founded in the 1970s in the United States. Since then, there are groups all over the world - in total 2,000 people living in [Donau-Ries]. There have been problems for a while in Klosterzimmern. The first, due to the compulsory school laws being rejected.

Stefan Rößle (CSU) County Commissioner in Donau-Ries: I have been dealing with the question the Twelve Tribes since I've become county commissioner in 2002. In the past, there were bigger activities such as enforcing our compulsory school laws by sending police to escort the children to school, but in the end it wasn't very promising. The children did not take part in classes - they were there in person due to being escorted but not there in spirit.

Reporter: In the last year the Twelve Tribes have been implicated in first-hand accounts of corporal punishment in the Klosterzimmern community.  However, not much happened. The authorities attempted to, but, sadly without results.

Stefan Rößle: This is an experience that has been made in other places, that when it comes to sects, there is a clannishness environment [among the members]. The children that we have interviewed, even without their parents, will not admit that they have received corporal punishment. They were instead very quiet and have been pressured and raised to not talk to any outsiders about it.

Reporter: In the public, the sect presents itself as very child-friendly. Happy children are seen at a play. What actually happens behind closed doors is only now coming to light.

Stefan Rößle: We have tried everything in our power to resolve the situation. It has taken a very, very long time but I'm glad about these film recordings [RTL's Wolfram Kuhnigk's detailing the life in the sect and the corporal punishment that happens regularly] which was the cause of it. That we now have concrete eye-witness statements and court decisions - that at the least, after all these years is able to terminate this state of affairs.

Reporter: The children are living in foster care at this time. The responsible sect members need to brace themselves for indictments. The state prosecutor in Augsburg has reopened the case. This time they are assured that they can close the case with an actual court sentence. 

The second news article was released by the Südwestrundfunk. The summary of the story was "All is not quiet in the "Twelve Tribes" community of faith. A 13-year-old has run away from his foster parents with whom he had been housed since his biological parents had been accused of child abuse. The Court of Appeals has now decided in Augsburg that the 13-year-old must return to his foster parents. For one 13-year-old it is all just to hard to understand. And when he heard all charges against his parents he said they also suffer."
Eltern der Glaubensgemeinschaft "Zwölf Stämme" im Interview - Schwaben Radio - nachgehört | 5.12.2013, 14.36 Uhr[Parents of the religious community "Twelve Tribes" are interviewed by Schwaben Radio]
*musical intro* The best from the Swabian Radio as a podcast

Reporter: The point of meeting is the farm store in Klosterzimmern. This is a public store where bread, tea and cosmetics are available to purchase. More and more members are joining the group. Interview by Cheri and Stefan Pfeifer whose two children are also in foster care since the police raid in September.
Stefan: The worst is that we haven't seen our children very much and know that they would also like to see us more but the Child Protective Services are very strict about our visitation.

Reporter: It's been three times they've seen their 12 year old daughter and 9 year old son since then. For each an hour and only under strict surveillance. At the last meeting in Nördlingen, their mother, Cheri was shocked at the state of her children.

Cheri: They only want to return to their parents and they were not abused! The suffering that they are enduring right now is out of proportion to what they accuse us of doing to them.

Reporter: However the former sect members have told us, and the TV reports have showed us, children who are beaten and being abused very badly. Small children who are beaten in dark cellars with switches. Stefan Pfeifer, who is on the elders board of the Twelve Tribes says regarding these accusations:

Stefan: The film that was shown was a propaganda film. And it contains partial truths which we do not want to deny but it also contains many lies and the whole reason behind this is that they want to destroy the community.

Reporter: Stefan Pfeifer does not deny that the children were beaten but that was not done systematically, but only when the parents say that it is necessary.

Stefan: To raise children properly, you have to set limits. It's been hundreds of years that children have  gotten spanked on their butts. It didn't hurt anybody to bring up children to a certain age when the heart of the children turn towards the parents completely - to which they don't need spankings any longer.

Reporter: But even spankings are not allowed by our laws in this country. The basics of raising children is the same for everyone in the community. They refer to the bible regarding this, says Stefan Pfeifer.

Stefan: This is from the bible. We read this and believe it is the right way and we see ourselves confirmed in this as we see our children to be wonderful and they love us and their good fruits prove to us that this is a good method. We are happy for a higher court to check into that. However, in the meantime, the children are supposed to be with us and not somewhere else with strangers where they don't feel secure.

Reporter:  Four children have returned to Klosterzimmern. For some, the courts have decided to  keep in foster care. For others, the decision has yet to be made. Though the many members of the sect have announced that they will continue to fight in court,  it will still take months until the children have a permanent home. However, what the current well-being of the children is - that every party seems concerned with - is really a hard question to answer.

In addition to these two audio stories, I had a news story from passed to me entitled "Wie frei ist die Religion?" [How free are our religious rights?] It can of course be run through Google Translate from German to English - just keep in mind that "switch" is translated as "tail" for whatever strange reason and there are hiccups in bringing over everything. The last paragraph closes things out with the current state of affairs concerning the Twelve Tribes' bid towards homeschooling quite well:
Wittreck, an attorney, was is skeptical: "The German government has been so far in my opinion well advised to proceed and remain restrictive against home schooling." He pleads for public school: "Children should be confronted there with the whole of life."

I have also been notified of a new documentary by Erika Fehse that is a 45 minute documentary due out in Germany on April 7th on ARD entitled Wer seine Kinder liebt, der züchtigt sie…[Those who love their children, physically chastise them...] you can see the trailer for it here:

The basis of the documentary was the book "Die geprügelte Generation – Kochlöffel, Rohrstock und die Folgen" [The spanked generation - wooden spoon, cane and the consequences]

I am nervously looking forward to this. I'll be recording it to watch when the children are not around and hopefully will be able to give an update on it then. It will not be directly discussing the Twelve Tribes, but I am sure it will be discussing the consequences of corporal punishment which is key to understanding why the rulings are as they have been in this case.

If you've not been following along on my blog, you will want to read part 1, part 2 , part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10,  part 11, part 12, part 13 and part 14 to be better informed on this issue.

06 February 2014

Lev Tahor Homeschooling Case - part 2

Tanakh and heart - photo by J. Stahl

If you are unfamiliar with Lev Tahor, you may want to start here where I previously blogged about the community and their ongoing hearings in Canadian courts.

Here is the follow up from January 20th forward:

The girls study a limited Jewish curriculum, not nearly as extensive as the boys’. As a result, “the girls do better with secular studies,” said Goldman, the father of six girls. “They’re not as obligated to [do Jewish] studies as the boys.”

“Lev Tahor boys receive much less secular education [than] the girls, because they have [a] bigger burden of Torah studies,” explained Nachman Helbrans, one of the group’s spokesmen.
“We’re more old-fashioned,” Goldman acknowledged. “We go to the sources. We don’t believe in any compromise. We think it’s authentic Judaism. We want to go backwards. We understand that our great-great-grandparents were smarter than us.

“We can see in the old literature that the people were very, very clever. They saw that to serve HaShem, there’s no need to make a compromise.”

On the 29th of January, Ontario police and provincial  police raided the sect again for further information. source  According to an officer from Sûreté Du Québec, search warrants were issued Wednesday night with assistance from Chatham-Kent police and OPP. source  Shortly after 5 p.m., cars carrying eight Quebec police officers, and two Chatham-Kent cruisers, arrived at the Lev Tahor settlement with two warrants and no explanation about what they were looking for. source

Legal counsel for the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect told The Canadian Press that investigators arrived at the residences in the evening, searching for computers and electronics in connection to an ongoing criminal investigation. source The raid comes days before an Ontario judge is set to decide whether 14 children ages several months old to 16 years old, can remain with their parents in Chatham, or be placed in foster care in Quebec... source

No information was provided by either Chatham-Kent police or the Quebec authorities due to the sealed warrant. source

Quebec youth protection authorities allege the group forces 14-year-old girls to marry men over the age of 30, feeds children anti-psychotic drugs and isolates its members. source

The community denies any mistreatment of the children and says they were already planning to move out of Quebec. source  “It is simply discrimination and we are screaming to the world, ‘SOS’ ” said Rosner. He said late Wednesday that the officers removed baseboards in the home. He said that officers told him an Ontario court approved the search order. source

Before the court case that was due to be heard on February 3rd, there was a great deal of talk about one of the issues being heard in the court case involving a child who had been seen at the doctor's office with bruising on her face.

Chatham-Kent Children's Services apprehended the children on Dec. 12, 2013 when one child was seen by an ER physician for what appeared to be a bruise on her face. source

The lawyer for Lev Tahor is gathering medical documents to explain bruises discovered on two children from the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect. source

We then received news that the court case had been adjourned until April due to seeking this medical information.

A temporary care hearing was expected to continue Friday, but was adjourned to allow sect lawyer Chrisopher Knowles time to collect medical information, Knowles tells CTV News he’s been waiting for medical records from a Montreal doctor...

However, we also received news that the ruling was still expected to go ahead on February 3rd, and that there was a mother in the community that had written an open letter to media outlets and the community.

The ruling was expected Feb. 3. Also last week, a mother from the group who had two of her children, both under five, removed for five days and returned, sent an open letter to media outlets decrying harassment by authorities.

 A mother in the Lev Tahor community who is the subject of a child protection proceeding sent a letter to media outlets Friday afternoon decrying the actions of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services and calling out for help.

 The letter discusses the family’s struggle since leaving Quebec in November, amid an investigation into alleged child neglect. The woman also talks about alleged religious persecution by the children's services workers.

I also discovered a story buried in the papers about a neighbor describing her attempts at making acquaintance with the community.
Penney recalled the weekday in November when her eyes first fell on the strangers she still doesn't know.

"I didn't know what to think when the two Greyhound buses and a school bus arrived."

People, all in black clothes, poured out of the vehicles carrying pillows, blankets and green garbage bags, she said. "There were no suitcases."

In the meantime, the spokespeople for the community and their lawyer went on the offensive about the allegations of child abuse and educational neglect.
“There’s no reason why children have to be taken away from the parents if there’s no concerns, no evidence in an investigation that started two years ago. We’ve been under microscopes for six months. There’s no evidence at all, nothing, zero,” says Lev Tahor spokesperson Uriel Goldman. “Why should they take away children? Especially to send them back to a hostile organization that was really, really against us just because we’re not the same as them.”

“We do claim, again and again, all the allegations against us are false. We’re talking about an investigation of 18 months with very serious allegations,” says Lev Tahor spokesperson Uriel Goldman. “Allegations like this have to be proven on the first visit. After so many months of months, hundreds or thousands of hours spent by officials, why has nothing been found? Everybody is very angry. It was understood from the beginning that we have a fight.”
Child protection services spoke out as well.
Child protection authorities in Quebec have documented what they say is evidence of neglect, psychological abuse, poor dental and physical health and a substandard education regime. Three social workers testifying in a Quebec court described a community ridden with foot fungus because of strict limitations that force the women to wear socks at all times.

 The community was under investigation for issues including hygiene, children's health and allegations that the children weren't learning according to the provincial curriculum.

Social workers from Quebec's Youth Protection Department had also described how one of the children targeted to be removed was married at age 14, two years younger than the minimum legal age in Canada.

Evidence at a hearing spoke of feet funguses, beatings with sticks, mental illness, arranged marriages for girls as young as 14 and less-than-adequate education standards.

Then the news broke after the court decision was made.

An Ontario judge has upheld a Quebec ruling ordering 13 children in the Lev Tahor sect to be surrendered to child welfare authorities.

However, the children will remain in Chatham-Kent with their families pending a 30-day appeal period.

But Ontario Court Judge Stephen Fuerth ordered Monday that the children — with the exception of a 17-year-old who is also married and a mother — be returned to Quebec to the care of child welfare there.

"It would be impractical at best and potentially harmful at worst if the society were now required, in the context of the need to protect the children, to conduct a separate and new investigation into all of the issues currently before the Court of Quebec...simply because the parents have decided as a tactical manoeuvre to absent themselves from Quebec in order to frustrate the process of justice that had started," Fuerth said in his decision.

Justice Stephen Fuerth said the move to Ontario was “consistent with flight” and “fuelled by fear of apprehension of the children.”

The judge has put a 30-day stay on the order to give the families a chance to appeal, during which Chatham child protection workers are allowed to randomly visit the community to check on the children.

The 13 children belong to three families. A publication ban prohibits identifying them. The community denies all allegations and has said it is the victim of a Zionist smear effort.

 The decision means the 14 children will be sent back to Quebec child services. The order is stayed for 30 days so an appeal can be made. During that time, the children will stay with their families and cannot leave Chatham-Kent.

Another appeal is set Feb. 20 in Quebec of its order to apprehend the children, which the Chatham court was asked to enforce.

If no appeal is filed, the children will be removed and placed in foster care.

Knowles said he is not sure there are grounds for appeal at this point, but he said his clients will consider all of their options.  "We just received the judgment, there’s a lot in there, so we need to decide whether there are any appealable issues," he said.

In addition to all of these updates, there was a story that ran in the Montréal Gazette about two members that have since left Lev Tahor. Definitely give that a read when you have a chance.

A struggle to adapt to life outside the Lev Tahor sect

01 February 2014

The Twelve Tribes in Germany - part 14

Photo by A. Stahl

This Friday, I was pointed in the direction of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald from 2008 called "Spare the rod and spoil the...", which is available in archives, about the Twelve Tribes.

What is echoed there as it is here over and over in the courts and on the Twelve Tribes website is:
...If a child disobeys these rules or fails to respond to an adult, he or she is hit on the bare bottom or hand with a 45-centimetre, reed-like stick, one of which is kept above the door ledge in every room.
"One spanking generally consisted of three to six hits," Klein says, with the rod regarded as "an instrument of love, not punishment".
Sydney Morning Herald, March 24, 2008 "Spare the rod and spoil the..."

There is another article from two years ago that was in the Augsburger Allgemeine which states that some small children were being hit with a switch for up to four hours at a time. The authorities knew and held back because there was not enough evidence. 
I had done a little digging and was sent in the direction of a PDF that documented the long stay of the Twelve Tribes from around 2000 through 2006.

The Twelve Tribes came to Germany via a couple that went to the US and visited a commune in the US and wanted to begin a similar commune in Germany. The group began with a dozen or so members, some of them American Tribes members, and some of them German, who began camping out after selling their worldly goods.  If I understand the documentation correctly, this commune was in Bremen.

A second commune was then established in Baden-Würrtemberg. This is when all the trouble with members homeschooling began. The commune in Bremen moved to Klosterzimmern in 2001 and began homeschooling their children. It was in June-August of that year that the school district was informed of the situation and mediation was put in place (as usual) to get the children into public or private schooling.  By October, the Twelve Tribes had racked up fines in the figure of 2,000€ per child concerned. 
By February of 2002, there was a press conference in the Bavarian Parliament and this discussed the compulsory school laws that are in place in Germany and Bavaria, and how the Twelve Tribes members were not in compliance with that law. By May-June, a deal was reached that if the children went to school, the fines would be forgiven. In October, the police came to ensure the children would attend school and escorted them there.  It went downhill from there.

In March 2003, new fines were put into place. By December, there was a new letter from the ministry of education that went unanswered. Thirty more members moved from the Munich commune into the Klosterzimmern commune, bringing more children.

In the summer of 2004, several fathers were to be imprisoned due to contempt of court. (not paying the fines and not sending children to school) In July of 2004, the parliament in Donau-Ries met to discuss the removal of custody of the children involved. In August, there were 18 parents that the court found in contempt of the law and ordered to be jailed.

On the 15th of October, the Twelve Tribes held a press conference and invited the heads of the German Homeschool movement. Ingrid Günther of SCHUZH showed up and spoke on their behalf.  By the 18th, seven fathers were locked up in jail for contempt of court. On the 21st, members of the sect protested outside of the Landratsamt against the fines imposed upon them.

In November, the authorities wanted to take the mothers concerned in the case into coercive detention for further talks. (I'm assuming due to the nature of the Tribes to bait and switch when it comes to this sort of thing) The authorities then decided to suspend the judicial hearing on the fines that were imposed on the families and forgive the debt.

By the 17th-20th of January 2005, the Twelve Tribes got their go-ahead from the authorities to have their long-wished private school. 

The rest is history.

Last year, Wolfram Kuhnigk stepped in using his position as a reporter at TV/Radio station RTL to get into the Twelve Tribes and investigate the claims that had been made against this group in Germany for the last fourteen years. He lived with the sect for two weeks and very carefully documented everything that he found. [This has been discussed at length on my blog and you can find this information via the links at the bottom of the page.]

 I'm finding now via Focus and the Augsburger Allgemeine that the lawyer representing the Twelve Tribes wishes to prosecute him for breach of confidentiality and filming in secret. They claim that the investigation into these claims are already in progress and ready to prosecute.  Secret film and sound recordings are forbidden by law and punishable under Section 201 of the Penal Code with a heavy fine or a prison sentence of up to three years.

Without this recording, those children would still be in the Twelve Tribes and their parents would simply be fined for every month that they are not in school.

In the meantime, the campaign to paint the authorities and reporter Wolfram Kuhnigk in a bad light is out in full force on the Twelve Tribes' website. I won't be linking there as they do not need any more hits on their page, or any good press. Seriously, some of the news coming out of there is so distorted that former members are having a lot of difficulty reconciling what they know of their family's situation with what is being presented online as reality.

I'll be crossing my fingers and saying my prayers that the judges see through this smoke screen and dismiss these charges as frivolous in the light of everything that they are finding out has occurred in the commune.

If you've not been following along on my blog, you will want to read part 1, part 2 , part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10,  part 11, part 12 and part 13 to be better informed on this issue.