Many of the wives of Goel Ratzon, the self-styled spiritual guru arrested nearly two years ago for terrorizing and abusing them and their children, are still suffering hardship despite the millions of shekels the state has spent on their rehabilitation.
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Ratzon's 17 wives and their 38 children have received more than NIS 3.4 million in government aid through the Social Affairs Ministry, an unprecedented sum that is far beyond what is usually granted abused women who leave their homes. The funding covered such things as removing tattoos and covering debts of several hundred thousand shekels.
But many of the women are still in economic straits and some are blaming the ministry.
A senior Social Affairs Ministry official said it's possible the aid should have been more measured.
"It's true that the purpose of this assistance was to rehabilitate the group, but there's a very fine line between rehabilitation and 'I'm entitled to everything,'" the official said. "In this case, it's clear that while the ministry meant well, the women viewed it all as self-evident. Not long ago, one of them sent us a parking ticket she got and insisted that we pay it."
But Menahem Wagschal, the ministry deputy director general who coordinated the operation to rescue the women and children from Ratzon's clutches, said the ministry felt a responsibility to them after so drastically disrupting their lives.
"The question of why these women and children were deserving of far more resources than other battered women and children came up often, even in the ministry," said Wagschal. "The reason we decided to do this was that we, as the state, intervened in their lives and opened the wound, so we felt a degree of responsibility. In retrospect, everyone knows we were right in this and saved their lives."
Ratzon's trial for sex offenses and other crimes is continuing in the Tel Aviv District Court.
After the police operation that freed the women and children, the state spent some NIS 2 million to house them in shelters and with host families. It also paid large sums for psychological treatment at a clinic that specializes in former cult members and for after-school programs and summer camps.
Some NIS 500,000 was spent on removing tattoos bearing Ratzon's likeness from the women's bodies. Another NIS 180,000 went toward academic and vocational training for some of the women, with other such requests still pending. Additionally, Ratzon had pressured the women to take out personal loans to provide him with cash, and some NIS 300,000 was allotted to cover these debts.
The women also got help from the Housing and Construction Ministry, which recognized them as a special case and granted them NIS 1,850 in monthly rent subsidies. Five were granted public housing. The women were also exempted from paying the fee to change their children's names, all of which contained the Hebrew letters gimmel-alef-lammed, based on Ratzon's first name.
Since the women could not return to what had been their home, all their belongings, ranging from clothing to appliances, were packed and stored in a Tel Aviv warehouse. Some of the women claim that many of their things were damaged or stolen while in storage, and as they try to start new lives, they must do without some basic items that the ministry refuses to replace.
The Tel Aviv municipality and the Social Affairs Ministry said in a statement that the women themselves packed their things and had access to the warehouse whenever they wanted it.