Shocking, disappointing and troubling are a few of the words used by faith and community leaders in reaction to news that a former Chabad of Poway Rabbi, who survived gunshot wounds suffered in a deadly attack at the synagogue last year and emerged as a pillar in faith and a voice of peace for the entire nation, pleaded guilty to running a decades-long tax fraud scheme through their house of worship.
The Chabad of Poway said the news of former Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein's admission of guilt brought great pain to the synagogue community.
“Following the attack on our synagogue last year, when we were frozen with shock and fear, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein brought us together and inspired our community. That was the Rabbi Goldstein we knew. That was the Rabbi Goldstein the world came to know,” a statement from Chabad of Poway read in part. “Yet, we’ve since learned that Rabbi Goldstein violated the law, contradicted what our synagogue stands for, and transgressed the very moral and ethical rules of the Torah he taught.”
Goldstein admitted to his involvement in intricate schemes involving the misuse of at least $6.2 million in contributions and donations to the Chabad of Poway that were reported for tax breaks and then returned to the donors after Goldstein took a rake.
The U.S. Attorneys Offices said Goldstein had been preparing a guilty plea to related charges since 2018. Evidence of his involvement in the scams date back to the 1980s.
In the days and weeks after the deadly April 2019 shooting at the Chabad of
Poway, Chabad congregants and the larger San Diego community heard Goldstein’s voice calling for peace, love and prayer. His voice was amplified nationally when he took a trip to the White House and addressed the nation at the press podium with President Donald Trump at his side. And when Vice President Mike Pence made an unannounced stop in San Diego in June of last year, he visited Goldstein at his synagogue.
Now people like Becki Kovacs, who lives in the neighborhood next to the synagogue, are praying Chabad of Poway congregants keep their faith and focus on the higher power.
“I know it's going to be heartbreaking for them, but hopefully it doesn’t cause them to lose their faith,” Kovacs said. “We have to keep our eyes on what is right… not putting everything into the faith of a person.”
The Chabad of Poway said it was first made aware of the allegations against
Goldstein nine months ago. At that time, Goldstein was dismissed as rabbi and was removed from all duties at the synagogue. The Chabad of Poway said it was unable to disclose its decision at the time because it would have interfered with
the U.S. Attorney’s investigation.
Goldstein, 58, is scheduled to be sentenced in October. He faces a maximum
five years in prison, but he is unlikely to serve any time at all partly because of his service to the synagogue and community before and after the shooting, as well as his cooperation in the case.
“How do we reconcile this heartbreaking reality with the good Rabbi Goldstein accomplished during his decades of service? How do we separate his unethical and unlawful behavior from his many positive contributions to our community? We will surely struggle with these questions for a long time to come,” Chabad of Poway’s statement continued.
“Despite these challenges, we are resolved to move forward together and to distinguish between Rabbi Goldstein’s own misdeeds and the timeless ethical and moral Torah teachings he helped connect us to. We will continue to serve G‑d with joy, to heal and grow stronger, to share acts of goodness and kindness, and to ensure that Chabad of Poway renews its role as a beacon of light and source of inspiration for the greater Poway community and beyond.
We hope and pray that Rabbi Goldstein finds the professional help that he needs and makes amends to our country and to the people he has hurt. And we pray that the Goldstein family find the healing they so deserve.”
The Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters said the news of Goldstein's plea agreement was “terribly shocking and troubling,” and said the former rabbi’s
decisions “violated everything that Judaism and our movement stand for.”
Poway Mayor Steve Vaus told NBC 7 he was shocked, disappointed and heartbroken for the Chabad of Poway congregation when he first learned the news.