A high-ranking member of the Shuvu Banim Hassidic community, led by Rabbi Eliezer Berland, was recorded saying that the rabbi lied about his health to raise money from followers.
In the recording, obtained by Haaretz, the acolyte, who is familiar with the state of Berland’s health, is heard saying in 2017 that the rabbi’s claim of a leg amputation as the reason for the fundraising campaign “never happened. It was advice to collect money, simple as that.”
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Berland himself was heard saying in another recording that the campaign, was to “do business” and “make money.” On another recording made about that time, he said: “They’re going to make me a medical document because we’ve declared everywhere that they’re going to amputate my leg, just the donor of the leg didn’t come, so meanwhile we’ve postponed it. Meanwhile a little more money can be made. So we declared that they’re going to amputate the rabbi’s leg. People are already donating legs.”
Berland launched the campaign in 2017, shortly after he was released from prison after serving time for indecent acts and assault. In a recording released at the time on social media, he said he was issuing “a fateful call on all of Jewish people before a leg amputation.”
The recording was deleted from the community’s Facebook page about 10 months ago, when an investigation was launched against the rabbi on suspicion that he was swindling the terminal ill by making false promises of cures. An indictment was issued charging Berland with aggravated fraud, among other things. Berland is now in prison until the end of legal proceedings against him.
As part of his fundraising campaign, Berland explained that his doctors has diagnosed “a serious infection and poisoning” in his leg and that they intended to amputate it. To avoid this, he said, $1 million was needed for a specialist abroad and another $1 million for “security.” “We are $2 million in the red,” Berland said. Then he continued, speaking of himself in the third person: “The rabbi cannot hold the Melaveh Malka,” referring to a special meal after the Sabbath, “he cannot pray, he needs to sit all the time because of the terrible pain that attacks him every second and every thousandth of a second.”
Berland announced that “every girl and boy child and every teenage girl and boy over the age of 16 must raise a thousand shekels ($300).” He also suggested that his followers take out loans to fund their donations. This money, he said, had to be raised in two or three days “so they won’t have to amputate the rabbi’s leg.”
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The rabbi asked that the money be transferred to a non-profit organization headed by one Barak Barber, also a suspect in the alleged swindle. According to the indictment, Berland used the account as a “revolving door,” depositing money from various sources and withdrawing about 1.5 million shekels ($460,000) to pay lawyers and other expenses.
Berland also allegedly used about 700,000 shekels from the account in 2017 to pay his lawyers, tens of thousands of shekels for a media adviser and hundreds of thousands of shekels for security (from 2017 to 2019). He allegedly used another non-profit organization to conceal income of 138 million shekels for 11 years, and laundering about 54 million shekels.
Berland has claimed that his health has been poor ever since he was extradited to Israel in 2016, arriving in a wheelchair to hearings in that year. Judge Joya Skappa-Shapira said at the time: “If his health is so poor, it’s a little strange that he chose to travel the world. Not for nothing did he present no medical document, either from Holland or Morocco, because apparently he felt good, and only when he came to Israel did he not feel good.”
Contrary to Berland’s claims that he was in such pain that he could not stand, immediately after his release in 2017 he returned to his routine, and was filmed dancing at dozens of events throughout the country.
The prosecution reportedly intends to sign a plea agreement with Berland in the current case, and now, too, his lawyers claim that he is in poor health and should be released from jail. As part of the plea bargain he is to plead guilty to some of the charges against him, pay a fine of 2.5 million shekels and compensation of between 5,000 and 10,000 shekels to the people he scammed.
He will also be sentenced to an abbreviated prison term of one year and two months. In reality, Berland will not be imprisoned because after subtracting time served and one third of his sentence, he is expected to be released after the plea bargain is approved.
The Shuvu Banim community did not respond.