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Bay Area Hebrew Teacher Charged With Molestation

A Jewish music, Hebrew and prayer teacher at a San Francisco Bay Area day school has been charged with molesting one of his students.

Achi Ben Shalom, 52, was arrested on the evening of Thursday, November 16, at his home in El Cerrito, a few miles north of Berkeley. Police said that the charge of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor arose from “a series of events” occurring at the Tehiyah Day School, an institution in El Cerrito that serves more than 300 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The alleged conduct took place over the course of a month in Ben Shalom’s office after school hours, authorities say.

The claims came to light when the girl finally told her mother of the alleged abuse, police said. Police withheld the girl’s name, age and hometown, and said they’re still investigating the case and ensuring that there were no other victims; thus far, there’s no evidence to indicate that there were.

Ben Shalom was taken to the Contra Costa County Jail in nearby Martinez, where he was freed the next day in lieu of $100,000 bail. In an interview with the Forward on Tuesday, Ben Shalom denied the allegations and said he was in the process of selecting an attorney. “All I can say at this point is that I deny all allegations and I plan to prove that in court, if there is court. … We hope to not even have to get there.”

His personal Web site says he was born and raised in Israel, where he studied guitar and taught music in Tel Aviv before moving to the Bay Area in 1983. He started teaching at Tehiyah in 1985.

“Music is a vehicle that takes you in both directions: merging with the whole and highlighting your uniqueness,” he is quoted as saying in his bio on the school’s Web site. “My musical activities are geared toward creating the sense of belonging to the whole — the community, as it supports us with our quest for a religious experience. At the same time, I find ways through music to help us find our own unique voice.”

Besides his full-time job at the school, he has been active with the Bay Area Jewish Song Leaders Network and with the East Bay Jewish Folk Chorus. He’s also the founder, guitarist and lead singer of a band called Adama, which, according to online postings and articles, has played its blend of Jewish musical styles at congregations, community centers and private affairs throughout the region. And on occasion he plays and sings with a bigger ensemble called the Shtetlblasters, offering a more secular repertoire.

The school, unaffiliated with any movement or denomination, is nestled in a quiet hillside residential neighborhood. The cost of attendance runs to nearly as much as $16,000 per year, but about a third of the students’ families receive some form of tuition assistance.

The school issued a statement saying that it had no notice of the charges prior to Ben Shalom’s arrest, and has been working diligently with the police since then.

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