So there is another shanda, disgrace, emanating from former Chabad of Poway Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein’s complicated scheme to steal money from taxpayers and generous employers. Caught up in it is another Chabad rabbi, Yehuda Hadjadj of Chabad of UC San Diego, who pleaded guilty on Wednesday to conspiring with Goldstein to line their pockets with money fraudulently obtained from Qualcomm.
Qualcomm was co-founded by two Jewish entrepreneurs who are pillars of our community — Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi . It has a matching program for charitable contributions made by its employees to eligible nonprofit organizations. Qualcomm doesn’t contribute to religious organizations. So knowing that, the two Chabad rabbis arranged to have a contribution made to the Friendship Circle of San Diego, a nonprofit organization formerly controlled by Goldstein.
One donor, not identified in court documents that outlined Hadjadj’s guilty plea, initially contributed $4,900 to the Friendship Circle of San Diego, an organization set up to benefit people with disabilities.
Thereupon Hadjadj returned $4,400 to the unnamed donor, who nevertheless requested that Qualcomm match his $4,900 sham “contribution” to the Friendship Circle. Once the money was received from Qualcomm, Goldstein sent two-thirds to Hadjadj and kept one-third for himself.
Enlisting other “donors” in the scheme, Hadjadj in this manner raised $40,000 for Chabad at UC San Diego, according to U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman and Suzanne Turner, the FBI’s Special Agent in Charge in San Diego.
Goldstein was sentenced January 4 by U.S. District Court Judge Cynthia Bashant to a term of 14 months in federal prison beginning February 23. Hadjadj faces sentencing on April 18.
There may be antisemites who will try to suggest that the action of these two unscrupulous rabbis is somehow illustrative of the entire Jewish community. Of course, such a charge is obscenely untrue. No group has been hurt more nor more outraged by Goldstein’s and Hadjadj’s malicious thievery than our fellow Jews.
Yes, the perpetrators of this crime were Jews, but so too were some of the victims as well as the U.S. attorney who has overseen the prosecution, Randy S. Grossman. We are outraged by Goldstein and Hadjadj smearing our people’s good name. That’s why so many of us were relieved that Judge Bashant ordered Goldstein to prison, instead of giving him recommended probation, and why we believe Hadjadj also deserves to serve time.
Just as the Jewish people generally ought not be to blamed for the actions of these miscreants, neither should the network of other Chabad rabbis throughout San Diego County be tarred with the same brush. All of us in our community know Chabad rabbis who are devoted to the Jewish people and the community at large and are as dismayed as we are about their former colleagues’ transgressions.
The Friendship Circle of San Diego has been transferred out of the hands of the Goldstein family of Poway and will be administered in Carlsbad following protracted negotiations, according to my sources.
Rabbi Yossi Rodal of Chabad of North Carlsbad will serve as the Friendship Circle’s executive director. Born and raised in Milan, Italy, he is married to the former Muka Eilfort, daughter of Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort of Chabad of La Costa. Muka Rodal will serve as program director.
The Friendship Circle’s board of directors will be chaired by Barry Galgut, with Rabbi David Smoller of the Chabad Hebrew Academy serving as its president; Cherri Cary, secretary; Elisheva Green, treasurer; and the following board members: Lyn Zanders; Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah of Chabad of San Diego State University; Rabbi Eilfort; Rabbi Yossi Tiefenbrun of Chabad of Pacific Beach.
Elisheva Green, who had resigned in protest when the Friendship Circle was controlled by Rabbi Goldstein’s family, and is now serving on the new board, said in a notice to supporters:
“We will have a COVID-compliant meet and greet for you to welcome our board and the Rodals in February, followed by a Shabbat Together Program for our friends on February 17 and 18. Your past support made it possible for us to help so many — you added meaning, love, companionship, and enriching life experiences for our Friendship Circle participants. With your continuing friendship, support, confidence and G-d’s blessings our Friendship Circle will positively impact many lives by including those with disabilities in our community. This is a time to heal and a time to grow. With your support and friendship, we will have a great new beginning.”
If there is anything to be learned from this shameful episode, it is perhaps that the system should be re-examined by which Chabad rabbis establish themselves as shlichim in neighborhoods and then must find ways to finance themselves and their congregations.
Perhaps from the very outset of establishing a congregation, there should be first established a strong, independent, fiscally conservative board of directors with the power to assure integrity and, if necessary, to remove a rabbi found to be dishonest or found to have engaged in acts of moral turpitude. This is the way most congregations in other denominations of Judaism police themselves.
Donald Harrison is editor emeritus of San Diego Jewish World, where a version of this piece was first posted. San Diego Jewish World is a member of the San Diego Online News Association.