(JTA) — A follower of Rabbi Eliezer Berland, an accused sex offender who fled Israel, drowned in Belgium while swimming in a river near Antwerp.
The body of Nissim Levy, 27, was buried last week in his hometown of Ashkelon, the news website ashqelon.net reported Saturday.
Levy was in Belgium to be near Berland, head of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary. Last year Berland fled Israel amid allegations that he sexually assaulted at least two female followers, including a minor.
Berland, who is living in a southern suburb of Amsterdam with scores of his supporters, apparently was in the Antwerp area for the weekend.
Israel has requested his extradition from the Netherlands, where Berland was arrested last month at the airport upon his arrival from South Africa. Since fleeing Israel, he has taken up residence in the United States, Switzerland, Morocco and Zimbabwe, often with dozens of followers.
Levy’s body was sent to Israel with help and funding from the Shomre Hadass Jewish community of Antwerp, according to the Hebrew-language Behadrei Haredim news website.
His family also contacted another Jewish community, the haredi Orthodox congregation Machzikei Hadass, for assistance, the website reported, quoting an unnamed member of Shuvu Bonim who claimed that the congregation declined to help.
Rabbi Pinchas Kornfeld of Machzikei Hadass denied the claim, telling JTA, “The deceased’s family asked us for assistance and we offered to cover all expenses for burial in the Benelux, but we also said that we would need a third party to cover the costs attached to sending the body to Israel, which are substantial.”