A group of ultra-orthodox Jews who moved from Canada to a remote part of Guatemala a few months ago to find religious freedom have now been forced to leave their homes after conflict arose with local villagers there.
The Lev Tahor settlement in the San Juan la Laguna, which is about 93 miles west of Guatemala City, saw the Jews abandon their homes and board buses for the capital after weeks of tension with the local community, Al Jazeera reported.
A leader of the Lev Tahor sect in San Juan, Rabbi Uriel Goldman, said that most Guatemalans were friendly towards the Jews but an aggressive minority of local motivated by politics chose to push the group out.
"I don't understand why they don't want us, we're doing nothing bad here," Goldman said to Reuters adding that the city’s Elder Council issued an ultimatum to the Lev Tahor threatening them with cutting of their water and electricity if they did not leave.
"They also warned us they would remove us from the village by force," he said.
Last week, the town’s Elders Council voted to force the religious group to leave the area because some members of the sect have been accused of ill-treatment of indigenous residents and tourists to the area according to the Associated Press.
The villagers turned hostile and decided to expel the group because the Jews refused to greet or have physical contact with the local community, Miguel Vasquez Cholotio, a member of the Elders Council said.
"We felt intimidated by them in the streets. We thought they wanted to change our religion and customs," he reportedly said.
The Jews who began coming to the country in March from Canada due to clashes with authorities there said that verbal abuse, threats to cut off power and eject them by force was the last straw for the group to pack their bags and leave.
Founded in the 1980s by Israeli Shlomo Helbrans, Lev Tahor which means "Pure Heart" in Hebrew practices an austere form of Judaism and believes that technological trappings such as television and computers are bad and must be avoided with members of the group’s daily life being steeped in religion.
The group with rejects the state of Israel because it views the Jews as a people who must remain in exile has won the admiration from some Jews for its devoutness but others condemn it to cult-like sect. After being evicted by the locals of San Juan, Lev Tahor now hopes to find land elsewhere in Guatemala to resettle more than 200 Jews in the community and build about 30 houses, Goldman said.