Johannesburg -- The fugitive Israeli rabbi who fled to South Africa after allegations that he sexually abused women in his country had been hiding in the luxurious Pecanwood Estate at Hartbeespoort Dam all along.
The estate owners said they had found out only on Monday that the elderly man had beena fugitive.
“I am shocked. I was hiding a criminal in my house all along. The robe the rabbi is wearing in the photos on Internet was left in my washing basket,” said Celia Strydom.
Eliezer Berland fled Israel two years ago after allegations against him surfaced. He travelled to various countries and arrived in South Africa in April.
Berland had already been living in Pecanwood for a few days when Strydom leased her house to him and his wife in May.
His son, wife and grandchildren rented another house in the estate. Rent for both the houses was R40 000 a month.
“I found it strange that they were able to afford the rental for so long, given that rabbis mostly live on contributions,” Strydom said.
At the end of the month, Strydom refused to renew the lease because of the state her house was in.
“One day when I had to get into the house, I found that they had more books than a library. There were Bibles and religious books sky-high in the house and in the passage… It was an unbelievable sight.
“The children were writing on the walls. They (ran) every heater and air conditioning 24/7 – even when no one was home. In a month that they were at my house my water and electricity bill was R4 000. I just wanted them out of my house”.
Rina Grobler, of Accommodation4Golfers, the estate agent who leased out Strydom’s house to Berland and his wife, said the rabbi and his son’s rent was being paid by a “Jewish gentleman from Johannesburg”.
Grobler took in the rabbi and his wife when Strydom refused to renew their lease.
She said the rabbi’s many visitors would walk on the golf course. When a golfer approached in a golf cart, they would jump into it.
“When the guy who ran the golf course approached them, they hit him with their Bibles. I had to stop the rabbi from having visitors because of the complaints.
“One time I went to the house and there were about 20 people there who asked whether I had more blankets as they were sleeping over.”
She said the last straw for her was when the entourage tampered with the electricity box during a power cut.
Grobler said she had spent a lot of money repairing it.
She refused to renew the lease after two months, fearing that the tenants would burn down her house.
Grobler said that not only did she have to repaint the house, but some of her furniture was damaged too.
The rabbi was arrested in the Netherlands on Thursday, a day after he fled from South Africa.
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