Many people have had their credit card number stolen by a scammer. Some have had their identities used by a fraud on social media. But what if a highly skilled con-artist convinced countless people that he was part of your family as he pathologically lied, seduced, stole, and left a wake of destruction, moving from one mark to the next? This is what the Leviev family has been dealing with for years, when a man named Shimon Hayut convincingly posed as a sibling in their family of nine children.
This story made headlines last month when The Tinder Swindler, a true crime documentary came out on Netflix. More popularly known by the name, Simon Leviev, Shimon pretended to be a son of diamond mogul and Orthodox Jew, Lev Leviev, to con women on Tinder and trick businesses into giving him money. Chagit Leviev, CEO and President of Leviev Corporation USA, sets the record straight in an exclusive interview with Jew in the City. Not only does their family have no affiliation to Shimon, she explains how his behavior and his attitude towards money is an anathema to the values she was raised with.
Chagit mentions that she knew a documentary about Shimon would be released because he had been posting about it on social media. Chagit was unaware that she and her family would be featured as well. Their names, photos and website information were all displayed in the film without their permission. Additionally, the documentary begins with it seeming like Shimon is actually part of their family. The reveal only comes later on in the film, leaving many viewers to falsely believe that they are related.
The Leviev family does not seek attention, and tries to live a modest, honest life, but Shimon and Netflix have tarnished their name. Chagit says many “people are still sure that there is a Leviev sibling who goes out there and leaves debts behind him.” Once criminal activities have been made in their name, it is hard to counter that they were victims of a con.
Within the last couple years Netflix has streamed shows such as Unorthodox and My Unorthodox Life which tell one-sided stories of people who unshackle themselves from religion in pursuit of a secular lifestyle. This time they tell the unfortunately true story of an ex-haredi con-artist who financially ruins the lives of those around him, including the Leviev family he pretends to be part of.
When Shimon’s story became public, it negatively affected the Jewish community. Chagit says, “when someone is showcased from a specific community, people tend to believe that everyone from that community acts the same way.” Chagit expresses that a criminal like Shimon does not represent an entire people. She says, “If there is one rotten apple it does not represent all Jews.” Then again, she believes a criminal like Hayut must be brought to the forefront so he can be stopped.
Despite the hardships Chagit and her family are going through, she finds inner strength from the examples her parents set forth. Lev and Olga Leviev, Chagit’s parents, were born in Uzbekistan when it was part of the Soviet Union. Jews were not allowed to openly practice Judaism, which included rituals like circumcision and observing Shabbat. Lev would motivate people to keep and practice Judaism despite the danger it could put him and his family in. Chagit’s grandfather was a mohel (a trained expert who performs circumcisions) and he would travel to different cities every month to circumcise the babies.
The Leviev family made their way to Israel, and Lev built the first mall in Tel Aviv. While most Tel Aviv residents do not observe Shabbat, Lev decided to keep the mall closed on Saturday despite the hefty financial losses such a decision came with. The residents did not support his decision and they protested outside of the Leviev house. Despite the pressure he received from locals and the media, he kept the mall closed in honor of Shabbat, and it became the “most successful and biggest mall in Israel,” Chagit says.
Upon reflecting on this story, Chagit says “religion kept us grounded,” and it made her and the Leviev family recognize which values they should uphold first. She says, the “if I didn’t keep Shabbat, and I would definitely be working on the weekend.” Judaism “gives you the boundaries to live your life” to the fullest.
Chagit says she “couldn’t be more blessed to be raised the way she was,” for she was taught about humility and how true happiness comes through acts of selflessness. Her parents are the best examples, having founded over “400 Jewish schools in Europe” says Chagit. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, also blessed Lev that he should be successful and do shlichut (bringing Jews to Judaism). This showed Chagit “how to best make a positive impact on the world” and help the broader community.
The Leviev family will continue to live a modest and upstanding life and try to stay out of the limelight as much as they can. They filed a criminal complaint against Shimon, and they are currently working on a civil lawsuit. The money that they will collect from Shimon will be donated to his victims.