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In late-night visits, and surrounded by dozens of followers, Berland frequently shows up at Israeli hospitals across the country, unattended by staff, to bless the sick, according to footage uploaded by his followers. But getting back to them after consulting with Berland, Natan says his mentor is confident he can do it. It would cost NIS 20,, he says, vowing that the woman will be brought back to life.
After they balk at the price, Natan puts Berland on the line. There will be a miracle. In a statement to the TV station, associates of Berland insisted that his religious services do not cost money. Activists who have spoken to The Times of Israel in the past have cited several cases of followers who, they say, have sold their houses or have been plunged into debt for these benedictions, in what they argue is tantamount to extortion by a cult-like leader with undue influence over his followers.
The donations — provided by ostensibly consenting adults for a religious service — are not illegal under Israeli law. In a recording recently obtained by The Times of Israel, which is punctuated by derisive laughter by his followers, Berland boasted of exploiting a woman who donated tens of thousands of dollars.
After evading arrest for three years and slipping through various countries, Berland, 81, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault, as part of a plea deal that included seven months of time served. He was freed just five months later, in part due to ill health. Since then, he has resumed his activities as the leader of the Shuvu Bonim community, an offshoot of the Bratslav Hasidic sect that has been disavowed by the broader Bratslav dynasty.
Men gather to pray during a demonstration in support of Eliezer Berland outside the court in Lod, Central Israel on July 26,