Is He Beacon for the Jews of Lithuania?

Activist Harley Felstein Leaves Trail of Critics and Questions

Cleaning Up: Reve. Mindaugas Diksaitis, right, a volunteer associated with Harley Felstein, leads a group cleaning up a Jewish cemetery in Lithuania.
courtesy of harley felstein
Cleaning Up: Reve. Mindaugas Diksaitis, right, a volunteer associated with Harley Felstein, leads a group cleaning up a Jewish cemetery in Lithuania.

By Paul Berger

Published July 30, 2012, issue of August 03, 2012.
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“That’s not true,” Schlein said. According to Maryland’s Solicitations Act, a contribution is defined as the sale of a ticket with a charitable appeal. “Even if he didn’t sell a ticket at all,” Schlein added, “the fact he is trying to sell a ticket requires registration.”

Schlein sent Felstein a notice in June asking him to register. “We’ll be taking care of that,” Felstein said in a follow-up interview.

The Lithuanian Jewish Heritage Project has applied for, but has not yet obtained, recognition as a tax-deductible charity from the Internal Revenue Service. Meanwhile, with help from an already established tax-exempt charity, Felstein is advertising his series of fundraising concerts, under the title “Music of The Vilna Ghetto Experience.” They will be performed at high-profile venues in September, including the National Museum of American Jewish History, in Philadelphia, and the Center for Jewish History, in New York.

The concerts will be performed by the Embassy Series, a not-for-profit musical group that plays at diplomatic events “to promote international cultural understanding through excellent musical performance in unique settings.” The Washington-based group has its own tax-deductible status with the IRS.

In order to allow people to make tax-deductible contributions to the Sunflower Project, the Embassy Series has agreed to accept money for ticket sales and to pass profits on to Felstein.

The arrangement is “not completely unusual,” said Ellen Aprill, a tax specialist at Loyola Law School. “While people are waiting for an exemption to come through they can ask other charities” to accept money on their behalf.

Felstein is selling advertising in concert programs for up to $1,750 and concert sponsorship for up to $5,000. His letter soliciting contributions for the concerts promises donors they can make payments “to The Embassy Series (501C3), securing your taxable write-off receipt.”

However, an accompanying payment form says checks for advertising or sponsorship should be made payable to the Lithuanian Jewish Heritage Project. Only ticket purchases should be made payable to the Embassy Series, the letter instructs.


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