Little Sign of Change at Syrian Charities After Scandal

Has Oversight Group Made Progress Bringing Transparency?

Change? Rabbi Saul Kassin, chief rabbi of Congregation Shaare Zion, in Brooklyn, was at the center of a money-laundering scandal in the Syrian Jewish community. A group that promised new transparency has yet to produce tangible results.
getty images
Change? Rabbi Saul Kassin, chief rabbi of Congregation Shaare Zion, in Brooklyn, was at the center of a money-laundering scandal in the Syrian Jewish community. A group that promised new transparency has yet to produce tangible results.

By Seth Berkman

Published June 05, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

An organization that declared its intent to bring transparency to charitable donations in Syrian Sephardic Jewish communities has gone silent three years after its inception.

Shortly after the July 2009 arrests of three prominent Sephardic rabbis who had used charity funds in a money-laundering scheme, the Sephardic Community Federation instituted a compliance plan for charitable organizations and announced that nearly 20 groups had adopted the guidelines or were considering doing so.

But the organization declined to comment on how the committee was progressing. Over the course of weeks, multiple calls to the SCF’s executive director, Avi Spitzer, were not returned, nor were calls and e-mails to Eli Greenberg, who is a partner at the law firm Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz and a driving force in the initiative.

New York City Councilman David Greenfield, a former SCF executive vice president, would not speak on the record about the SCF and suggested contacting current SCF members. Shortly after the arrests, Greenfield proclaimed that the SCF would take unprecedented steps to certify that Sephardic charities operate at the highest legal and ethical standards.

“I would hope that they have a very good reason for their actions,” said Mark Charendoff, former president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, referring to SCF. “But certainly, if their purpose is to bring greater responsibility and greater sincerity, one would say, minimally, they should start by modeling that behavior themselves.”

Rabbi Saul Kassin, chief rabbi of Congregation Shaare Zion, in Brooklyn, was the most prominent figure arrested in the 2009 federal sting known as Operation Bid Rig. After pleading guilty in March 2011, Kassin was eventually sentenced to two years of probation. In all, 46 people were arrested, including a host of rabbis — among them a pair of New Jersey Sephardic rabbis: Edmond Nahum, rabbi of Deal Synagogue, and Eliahu Ben Haim, leader of Congregation Ohel Yaacob, in Deal — plus politicians and even a trafficker of human organs.

Kassin’s arrest shook the Sephardic communities of both Deal and Brooklyn, which are known for their wealth and extensive charitable donations. As a result, Greenberg was tasked with leading an independent committee to oversee not-for-profit organizations in those Sephardic Syrian communities. The accounting firm of Loeb & Troper was to certify guidelines set forth by Greenberg’s committee. Representatives from the firm did not return calls from the Forward.

By April 2010, between four and six Sephardic organizations had adopted the guidelines. At the time, Greenberg said 15 others were considering them and that he hoped to eventually have 40 groups. The guidelines included a code of ethics, as well as policies relating to conflicts of interest, document retention and the protection of whistleblowers. The initiative also aimed at diminishing cash transactions between charities and donors; however, there were no clear legal ramifications for not abiding by these rules.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.