The Aleh Foundation, a Brooklyn-based haredi nonprofit used the personal story and a photo of a disabled young child to raise money from potential donors but gave no money or support to that girl or her family, the parents of that little girl, Ayala Yakobzon, allege in a newly filed $5 million lawsuit.
Originally published at 10:33 pm CDT 9-11-2013
Scam? Haredi Charity Allegedly Uses Picture And Personal Story Of Disabled Brooklyn Girl To Raise Money But Uses None Of That Money To Help Her
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
A Brooklyn-based haredi nonprofit used the personal story and a photo of a disabled young child to raise money from potential donors but gave no money or support to that girl or her family, the parents of that little girl, Ayala Yakobzon, allege in a newly filed $5 million lawsuit.
The Aleh Foundation posted a photo of Ayala on its website and asked for money to help her.
"Ayala a beautiful, bright five-year-old [who] was born with spinal bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down. Aleh Foundation is here to help her family adapt their home to become disabled-accessible, and to ease their staggering financial burdens,” the accompanying website text reportedly read.
But Ayala’s parents’ lawsuit reportedly says the appeal was posted without their permission and is fraudulent.
“[W]ithout her permission…monies have been collected [by the Aleh Foundation] but have not been provided to her.… [Aleh] misuse[d]…photographs obtained under false pretenses and in furtherance of a fraud.…[Ayala] and her parents have suffered extreme humiliation and anguish [as a result],” the suit reportedly alleges.
The request for donations to help Ayala, which is no longer posted on Aleh’s website, reportedly asks readers to donate specific amounts of money for specific services it said Ayala needed, including $27 for a pet therapy session and $7,000 for special adjustable furniture.
A report in the New York Daily News claims that Aleh “raised $523,799 and spent $513,460, leaving just over $10,000 to distribute, according to financial disclosures from 2011, the latest year on record. Aleh Charity Navigator, a web site that tracks performance of non-profits, gave Aleh a woeful one-star rating.”
In actuality, Aleh raised $523,799 in that financial year. It spent $424,105 on program expenses, $37,557 on administrative expenses and $51,798 on fundraising expenses, leaving it with a $10,339 budget surplus for that financial year.
Program expenses are the cost of running programs – for example, the cost of food given to kids at a party and the cost of the clowns and other entertainment would be a program expense for an organization whose purpose is to entertain sick kids; the cost of textbooks and other educational material given free to illiterate young adults would be a program expense for an organization whose mission is to end illiteracy; an organization whose mission is to provide speech, physical and occupational therapy to brain-injured children would list the cost of providing that therapy as program expenses.
In late 2011, Aleh’s 990 IRS tax filing shows that it paid out $310,717 in grants and other assistance to governments, organizations and individuals outside the US. All of that $310,717 was apparently sent to its parent foundation in Israel – Aleh’s primary purpose – for “general support.”
Aleh spent only $44,377 in salaries, benefits and other compensation for US employees. Its office, insurance, and other operational expenses are all modest.
But because Aleh is not deemed to be adequately transparent by Charity Navigator, and because “general support” is apparently not viewed as actual programming – even though it may actually be used to pay for programming in Israel – Charity Navigator rated Aleh as a one star charity – making Aleh one of the worst charities in the US by its calculations.
But the only accurate way to determine if Aleh is corrupt or wasteful would be to obtain a certified third party audit of Aleh’s Israel parent organization.
Aleh’s US IRS filing states that its board reviews each overseas grant made and determines that the organization receiving it meets applicable US Government guidelines for overseas donations.
However, among what are probably reputable members of Aleh’s large board – the board that reviews those overseas grants – is haredi Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum – a convicted fraudster who has had repeated problems with government regulators, including the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC). Tannenbaum is “a member of the Board of Directors of the Guardians of the Sick, as well as many reputable organizations,” Aleh’s website claims.
Aleh’s US arm was founded in 1989 by haredi Rabbi Shlomo Braun has been endorsed by leading politicians, including New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Bill Clinton.
Update 3:47 PM CDT 9-12-2013 – The following comment was posted below and appears to be true:
As an employee for ALEH (Israel), allow me to set the record straight.
ALEH's network of care for severely disabled children in Israel officially broke off ties with the Aleh Foundation in Brooklyn, NY in January 2010.
At the time, a formal letter was sent to donors informing them of the fact that the Aleh Foundation no longer represents ALEH's activities in Israel.
ALEH (Israel) subsequently established a separate 501c3 organization [the ALEH Negev Foundation: non-profit ID# 30-0456686] to serve as its USA arm for tax deductible donations.
Charity Navigator was informed of the disassociation between the 2 organizations, and their current online rating reflects only the Aleh Foundation in Brooklyn.
ALEH's audited financial records for its activities in Israel are available for public record.
ALEH (Israel) bears no responsibility for any advertising, solicitations or publicity made from the Aleh Foundation in Brooklyn.
ALEH has always operated with full transparency and disclosure to our supporters, and for the benefit of the children it serves. Images and personal stories are not used without express permission of the parents and guardians.
It is very unfortunate that the similarity in names has led to a confusion between the two unaffiliated organizations.
Gmar Chatima Tova
Dov Hirth ~ ALEH