Police:10 more families complained of abuse by cult leader

Ramle Magistrate's Court extends leader's remand by 7 days.

haredi family 248 88  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
haredi family 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Ramle Magistrate’s Court on Thursday extended by seven days the remand of a man suspected of physically abusing the children of parents who sought out his assistance, and teaching these parents to use the same violence as part of a system of “extreme discipline.”
Though they wouldn’t give an exact number, police said Thursday they have received complaints from at least 10 other families who say they fell victim to the Ithaka Group, led by Shai Abramov.
The affair first came to light following the arrest two weeks ago of a teacher from Netanya accused of beating and starving her 10-year-old son. Under questioning, police discovered that the boy was beaten as part of an educational method the mother said she learned from Abramov, a Netanya resident.
Abramov and his wife were arrested late Tuesday night after officers from the central district of the special police investigative unit Yamar received a tip that Abramov was hiding out in Haifa’s lower city. After staking out the house for several hours, Yamar officers busted in and arrested the two.
Abramov’s wife’s remand was also extended by seven days on Thursday.
An additional suspect was arrested by police on Thursday and he will have a remand hearing at the Ramle Magistrate’s Court on Friday. Police say the man, a 43-year-old associate of Abramov’s, is accused of tampering with the investigation against the alleged cult leader.
Ch.-Supt. Asher Avri, who is heading the investigation, said that at the moment they are pursuing charges against Abramov in relation to the beating of the 10-year-old boy in Netanya, and the possibility that he led classes in which he instructed parents on how to physically assault their children.
Avri said that Yamar investigators do not believe that Abramov is mentally deranged or insane and that “as far as our assessments have gone so far, we believe that this man was perfectly sane and aware of his actions.”
Avri said that while the investigation of Abramov only began following the arrest of the Netanya mother, they believe that there are at least 10 other victims. Avri wouldn’t give an exact number, but he did say that at least 10 complaints have reached police, some directly and some by way of the Israel Center for Cult Victims.
Avri said police are still undecided on whether or not to refer to Abramov’s group as a cult, though the Israel Center for Cult Victims said Thursday the group has all the classic makings of a cult and that “over the past 3-1⁄2 years, over 20 families have come to us to complain about Abramov.”
“We very much believe that this is a cult,” said Rachel, an employee of the center.  “First off ,because of the mind control he exerted over the people he dealt with, but also because of the way he professed to have special supernatural powers, something that is very common with cults.”
Rachel added that Abramov claimed that he spoke to invisible figures who gave him advice on how to instruct people, and that their wisdom could not be questioned. He also reportedly used this purported wisdom to threaten his alleged victims, telling them that if they did not follow his advice, they would suffer terrible misfortune.
Abramov would reportedly tell them that he could see visions of such tragedies happening if his words weren’t followed.
Rachel said it is wrong to presume that the people who allegedly fell under Abramov’s spell were weak-minded, saying, “we see in all of the 80 or so cults in Israel that it isn’t just weak people who fall in. It is often very strong, intelligent people who are going through a crisis or some sort of change in their lives.”
“They are looking for answers and someone exploits this.”
Abramov is a rather shadowy figure, with police saying that he lived in a number of places in the North before moving to live with family in Netanya a year ago. On a cached version of the Ithaka Web site Abramov describes himself as a 40-year-old married father of three and a former educator in the Israeli school system, but the Education Ministry has no record of him having been employed or accredited by it.
He did, however, often go to school and offer his educational services and propose that schools hire him to assist children.
The Israel Center for Cult Victims said Abramov was originally namedAbramoff. He then changed it to Abramov and finally last year to“Maayan,” in the wake of a number of civil lawsuits filed against him.The Israel Center for Cult Victims said they actually hired a privateinvestigator to find Abramov six months ago, but could not locate him.
The Ithaka Web site, which has been shut down by the authorities,described Abramov’s “journey” to discover “a guidance system” to helppeople handle the “wide spectrum of challenges dealing with humanbehavior.”
The Web site says Abramov’s methods are particularly well-suited forat-risk children. It also featured a link to Abramov’s book, which istitled The Guide to Love.