Inside the cult of a man's world at the North Queensland Jesus Group
The Daily Telegraph
January 10, 2011
IT'S a secretive community that works on the philosophy of "what's yours is mine". It is led by a self-proclaimed prophet who demands followers pray three times a day and convinces women their role is to serve their husbands.
Members give up access to their own money, they are stripped of the ability to make decisions and are told if they leave they will go to hell.
This is life inside the North Queensland Jesus Group, a quasi-religious cult of about 150 run by Sydney man Dawid Daniel Yosep Abishai Yokannan Landy-Ariel.
The group has communes in Cairns, southern Queensland and the NSW town of Parkes, but its existence has remained largely a secret.
For the first time, an ex-member has spoken about the 28 years she spent on the inside, painting a picture of an organisation that tries to use mind control to recruit and rule the lives of followers.
Tamar Joha said Mr Landy-Ariel presides over a community dominated by men and in which women are inferior. All females are required to wear headscarves from the time they are toddlers and violence against women goes unchecked.
Ms Joha, 47, said members are encouraged to allow the group to access their bank accounts so money can be pooled and shopping is done only when a strict shopping list is approved by one of Mr Landy-Ariel's appointed group leaders. They are only allowed a limited number of clothes which must be purchased from charity shops.
The mother-of-nine said adults would physically discipline any children in the group, not just their own, which had led to some abuse and bullying.
Members must take a biblical name within weeks of joining, learn the ancient Aramaic language and study spiritual guidelines written by Mr Landy-Ariel.
Women learn their role is to serve their husbands, men are told they are not allowed to shake hands with women and mothers are expected to give birth at the commune.
Mr Landy-Ariel has denied he dictates how members live their lives, but said individuals abide by the group's rules out of "respect" for him as the "founding father".
He said he did not condone or authorise violence and said it was pregnant women who chose homebirths.
He claimed he started the community almost 40 years ago to create a "healthy, creative environment" where members could experience the teachings of Christ and that members were free to leave.
He said the group was only "secretive" because members "mind our own business and take care of our own affairs".
It's not a description that fits well with Ms Joha's memory, or that of other ex-members who have also told of their experiences.
Ms Joha and her ex-husband Levi Joha, 52, have six sons and three daughters. Only one of them was born at a hospital due to complications.
Six of the children have the genetic physical and mental disability fragile X syndrome.
Ms Joha said that despite discovering she was the carrier of the faulty gene, the group did not allow contraception, with Mr Landy-Ariel believing birth control would lead to teenage pregnancies and promote adultery.
MR Landy-Ariel, 58, began the group in Cairns in 1972. It also has houses in Redfern and Hebersham. By his own admission, Mr Landy-Ariel did not undertake any formal religious training and has not registered the community as a church with open records as he believes in the total separation of church and state.
The majority of children who have grown up in the group have received most of their education through home schooling. No females have finished high school beyond Year 10 or attended university, although several have obtained TAFE qualifications.
Ms Joha grew up in Sydney before joining the group when she was 17 after her brother came back from a trip to North Queensland and told her about the commune.
She said she was a bit "lost and rebellious" and thought it would be fun to experience something new.
"I thought I would go there for a year or so and check it out," she said.
"Try a different way of life and then come back to Sydney with a good story to tell."
But once there the group's - and in particular Mr Landy-Ariel's - influence became overpowering.
"It was a lot different to what I expected," she said. "Everybody just kept saying the same things over and over until that became your way of thinking. That's what the group does, everything that he says becomes the truth, nobody has their own mind."
Ms Joha finally fled to a women's refuge three years ago, initially taking only her youngest disabled son. Four of her sons, all sufferers of fragile X, now live with her.
She fears her children left in the community will marry early, become pregnant quickly and may suffer physical abuse.
She also fears for their education after one of her daughters, who is not disabled, recently sat a national NAPLAN exam that showed her numeracy and writing were below the minimum national standard.
Mr Landy-Ariel has 13 sons and three daughters by a number of women. He claims he does not approve of polygamy, but admits he once took a second wife because he believed the woman he was married to could no longer have children.
Another former cult member said she met her future husband, a group member, when he travelled to India aged 18.
She described the group as "male-dominated", with women not being allowed to make decisions and remembered that Mr Landy-Ariel had to approve any book, video or music.
She said she did not get to name her first four children, with her husband and Mr Landy-Ariel choosing the names.
She said finances were controlled by Mr Landy-Ariel and his group leaders. She said she once begged her husband to buy clothes for their children but he refused unless he had approval.
Ms Joha recalls one incident in the early 1980s when her disabled son dirtied his pants.
"I had four young babies and was breastfeeding one of them," she said. "All of the disabled boys had problems going to the toilet."
The incident was reported to the group leader and it was decided that Ms Joha would have to be punished for being a "bad mother". Punishment involved having the can that everyone used as a toilet emptied over her bed and being made to clean it up.
A MALE former group member said he had assaulted his wife while in the group after being taught that it was the correct way to behave. The violence ultimately led to the breakdown of his marriage and he has since left the group.
Another former member said Mr Landy-Ariel and his appointed leaders read all the incoming mail.
Some community members accused Ms Joha of several outbursts while she was in the group. Ms Joha does not dispute the incidents, but said they were rare occurrences and in response to one of her disabled children being tormented or treated badly.
Ms Joha is currently seeking legal advice and is considering suing the group and Mr Landy-Ariel for damages.
Mr Landy-Ariel declined to answer any questions about any of the allegations.
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