NEW YORK - "The day my daughter died, I decided to bury him," said Menachem Ellowich, an ultra-Orthodox resident of Brooklyn, referrring to Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzeira, a kabbalist from Be'er Sheva. A few weeks ago, a man armed with a knife tried to do just that.
Ellowich is trolling the Internet to find others hurt by Abuhatzeira - others who, like him, paid tens of thousands of dollars for broken promises. Meanwhile, his pile of papers is growing: printouts from charitable associations, taped conversations with the rabbi's representatives in the United States and with other victims.
Ellowich believes that his 24-year-old daughter died after Abuhatzeira cursed her. But if he cannot get the rabbi convicted of manslaughter, at least he wants to get back the $100,000 he paid for the blessing that would end his daughter's barrenness.
Ellowich first heard about Abuhatzeira in 2004 through a friend, Chezkel Roth. "I didn't know a thing about him except that his grandfather was the Baba Sali," Ellowich said.
The rabbi told Ellowich that to receive the desired blessing, he would have to bring him $100,000 within five days. "You have to believe in me," Ellowich quoted the rabbi as saying. "I'm a great righteous person and I promise you your daughter will have children and grandchildren. Her luck will change. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Don't tell anyone, just bring the money."
"I don't know how he does it, but I felt I had met an angel, or God Himself," Ellowich said. "I don't know how he hypnotized me. He probably makes a million dollars a day with that magic."
Ellowich said he borrowed money from friends, one of whom demanded $7,000 in interest. "Then I came to him with the check and he said: 'You're late, but I'll do it for you anyway.' With the check in his hand, he stood up with this hood over his face where you see only his lips, and said in a loud voice in Hebrew: 'I say to you, as you are standing here, that I, Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzeira, in the presence of Hezkel Roth and Menachem Ellowich and God, attest in the name of God that your daughter will be healed and will have children. You have nothing to worry about, it's in my hands now.'"
Shortly after the blessing, his daughter met a young ultra-Orthodox man. "When they got married, Rabbi Abuhatzeira sent a message through his sexton that the miracle would take six months," Ellowich said. But the months passed and nothing happened.
When the rabbi was next in New York, Ellowich went to see him to find out why the blessing had not been fulfilled. "He said to me, 'why didn't you invite me to the wedding? I told you then to come in five days and you were late. You brought the check at 3 P.M. Now you have to bring me another $100,000 in three days, and the promise will come true. You have a choice. Either bring me the money and you'll have a baby, or don't bring me the money and you won't. Her husband will leave her and she won't have children.' I didn't bring him the money. There were other people waiting in line, sick and depressed. He just takes control over you in a moment of despair, when you feel lost."
But eventually Ellowich gave in and decided to pay. "I took another loan and went with my brother to Israel, to Be'er Sheva. The rabbi told me, 'I promised your daughter she would have children and you have nothing to worry about.'" The rabbi gave Ellowich three bottles of wine and instructed him to drink one of them when his daughter gave birth to a son, as promised. "I'm keeping the bottle as evidence," Ellowich said.
Two years passed, and still no pregnancy. "When the rabbi came to New York, I went to his agent and asked to see him. He said, 'the rabbi doesn't want to hear from you any more.' I asked if my son-in-law could see him, and he answered, 'if your son-in-law wants to see the rabbi, he'll have to pay at least $500.'"
The son-in-law, Y., said the rabbi received him after a two-hour wait and took the check, which was made out to the "Avraham Avinu Association." He said the rabbi told him, "'If you want a son, go tell your wife's father to give me $100,000. If not, your wife will never have children.' He tore the check into three pieces, gave them to me and pushed me out the door."
Ellowich said his son emerged shocked and crying from the meeting and told him Abuhatzeira had cursed him.
The curse in action
When Y. got home, his wife urged him to tell her what had happened. When he finally did, she began to cry. "In March 2008, after I went to work, she died," Y. said.
"Ever since my daughter found out about the curse, she lost the will to live," Ellowich said. "She would cry all day. She started to hemorrhage, she was depressed. The day I found her on the floor in the bathroom, I called an ambulance, but they couldn't revive her. To the day she died, she carried the blessing around in her purse."
The doctors said her daughter had died of an aneurysm, but Ellowich disagrees: "Rabbi Abuhatzeira killed my daughter and stole the money."
Ellowich began a private war against Abuhatzeira, exploring and documenting the rabbi's modus operandi. "He tells people, 'I'm holy, I'm close to God.'" Ellowich said he has dozens of testimonies from people who say that within a few minutes, they were writing a check. He began taking a small tape recorder to his meetings with Abuhatzeira's agents. He also demanded his money back, to no avail.
He approached a Jewish newspaper, a local Jewish politician and finally, the police, who opened a case against Abuhatzeira.
Ellowich admitted he is afraid and believes he is being followed.
He even went to see the rabbi's brother, David Abuhatzeira, in Nahariya. "I don't speak to him, he's a rotten apple," Ellowich quoted the brother saying of the kabbalist. Ellowich said other Israeli rabbis also told him Abuhatzeira is a "bad man."
This year, for the first time, Abuhatzeira did not come on his annual December visit to Brooklyn.
Ellowich's story recalls the pattern of behavior by Abuhatzeira that Haaretz detailed in a series of articles in 1997: He tries to impress people, persuades them to write a check in exchange for a blessing, obtains more money and threatens a curse if necessary.
Another man said his father paid Abuhatzeira for a blessing, but the rabbi threatened that if he married the woman he loved, he would have defective children. "That man and his gangsters have to be stopped," the man said.
Meir G., from New Jersey, said he heard the rabbi could perform miracles. "When I met him for the first time, he described passionately how my life would change for the better. I was filled with joy and optimism. In summing up, the rabbi said these things would only come true if I paid him $100,000. At that point, it was impossible to refuse. That same day, I started sending him the money. At some point I couldn't go on, and Mr. Harman [Abuhatzeira's aide] threatened that if I stopped, 'your son will die.' I am a religious man and I took the threats very seriously. Since I met him, my life has been a disaster."
M.V., 38, from Brooklyn, never filed a police complaint. But he did supply an affidavit stating that he had given more than $500,000 to Abuhatzeira in exchange for the promise of a baby that was never born. M.V., who has since gone into bankruptcy, said his wife and father will not let him complain because they are afraid of a curse. "But I don't believe in the curse," he said. "If his blessings were a fraud, so are the curses."
M.V. said he met with the rabbi frequently in Be'er Sheva, and only slowly realized that his promises were hollow. "Abuhatzeira certainly has charisma. The way he says Kiddush, the way he preaches and sings, even the way he drinks whiskey and vodka with you."
M.V. said he approached the Israeli tax authorities but has received no response. "If the cases were closed [in Israel], apparently he knows who to bribe. But I believe that up there, he'll get what's coming to him."
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