Chabad of Poway by the Forward

Leader of Chabad of Poway-affiliated nonprofit resigns, alleging continued foul play

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The former executive director of a Chabad of Poway-affiliated charity has resigned from an advisory role at the nonprofit, saying she believes the disgraced rabbi who used it to defraud donors is still involved behind the scenes.

Elisheva Green’s resignation, at least the third by a board member of the nonprofit, the Friendship Circle of San Diego, is the latest indication of a community divided and struggling to move past its former leader’s scandal.

Rabbi Mendel Goldstein and Rabbi Yehoshua “Shuie” Goldstein, whose father Yisroel Goldstein is awaiting sentencing for tax and wire fraud, have maintained control of the institutions they inherited from him, including the Friendship Circle, which serves children and adults with disabilities in the San Diego Jewish community. Their refusal to give up the Friendship Circle has caused concerns that money donated to the charity will instead go to fund Chabad of Poway, a synagogue foundering amid a mass exodus from appalled community members.

In August, the Forward reported that the independent board that was brought in to stabilize the institutions had resigned, though board members declined to say why.

Another Poway leader resigns, says disgraced rabbi is operating behind the scenes

But no resignation will ripple farther in that community than that of Green, who is also the Friendship Circle’s widely respected co-founder.

In the letter, Green wrote that Mendel Goldstein had been promising since July of 2020 — when his father’s crimes became public — to yield control of the Friendship Circle to a group of founders, major donors and volunteers. (Prior to the investigation, Yisroel Goldstein had full control of both entities.) Instead, Mendel, who replaced his father at the pulpit of the synagogue, passed control of the Friendship Circle to his brother, Shuie.

The Goldstein sons’ failure to deliver on their promise caused Green to think their father was still involved behind the scenes.

“After 14 months of being repeatedly lied to and attempting to pursue multiple recourses to regain control of the FCSD, I cannot remain part of the fiction that the current main mission of the FCSD is to provide services to those with disabilities. It isn’t,” Green wrote.

Instead, Green continued, the primary goal of the nonprofit is to provide income and employment for Shuie Goldstein — who has no prior nonprofit leadership experience or training, according to Green — and his family.

“He continues to spend down those funds while providing almost no programming or services to FCSD’s special needs community,” Green wrote.

Mendel Goldstein did not return a message left on his cell phone Tuesday evening. Calls to the Friendship Circle of San Diego Tuesday evening were not immediately returned.

Lyn Zanders, a former Friendship Circle board member who said she was unceremoniously removed from the board in the last year, said Green’s influence on the Friendship Circle could not be measured.

“Friendship Circle is a wonderful organization,” Zanders said. “It’s served so many young kids and adults with special needs. She’s the heart, of the organization. If she leaves, it’s a heart attack.”

Green in her letter cited in her letter a “large unearned severance package” Shuie Goldstein was seeking from the Friendship Circle board. Zanders said Goldstein was asking for around $140,000, more than triple his annual salary. Goldstein’s wife, Devora, is the Friendship Circle’s executive director.

Green declined comment to the Forward through an intermediary.

Yisroel Goldstein, who founded Chabad of Poway in the mid-1980s, came to national attention after a shooting at the synagogue killed a congregant and injured him in April 2019. At the time, the rabbi was already cooperating with a sprawling FBI and IRS investigation into his multimillion-dollar fraud scheme. That investigation has implicated more than two dozen co-conspirators, including severalcongregants and a pair of other local religious leaders who have not yet been identified, and returned at least 11 guilty pleas so far.

Another Poway leader resigns, says disgraced rabbi is operating behind the scenes

One of Goldstein’s grifts exploited corporate donation matching through the Friendship Circle. The rabbi would solicit donations from congregants who worked for Fortune 500 companies, including San Diego-based Qualcomm. Goldstein would then return the donation to the congregant — with a receipt allowing them to claim the full amount as a tax deduction — and keep the donation for himself. This netted him at least $134,000, according to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California.

The U.S. attorney has recommended probation for Yisroel Goldstein, who stepped down from the synagogue in November 2019.

Author

Louis Keene

Louis Keene

Louis Keene is a staff reporter at the Forward. He can be reached at keene@forward.com or on Twitter @thislouis.

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Leader of Chabad of Poway-affiliated nonprofit resigns, alleging continued foul play

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