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Criticism of rabbi’s salary may have been erased from the internet due to fraud, investigation claims



(JTA) — Did someone associated with the late Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein’s nonprofit pay a company to remove criticism of his and his daughter’s salaries from the internet?

That’s the question being raised by a recent Washington Post investigation into the allegedly fraudulent activities of a firm that launders clients’ online reputations.

The large organization Eckstein founded, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, raises funds from evangelical Christians and other donors for impoverished Jews. It also facilitates Jewish emigration to Israel, including from Ukraine. Eckstein founded the group in 1983, and died in 2019. 

But the issue of his compensation came up last week in a Washington Post expose about a company that allegedly makes baseless claims to protect the reputations of public figures. The Post reviewed nearly 50,000 records of the company, Eliminalia, documenting its activities on behalf of almost 1,500 clients over six years. Some paid more than $200,000 for the company’s services. 

In the Eckstein case, Eliminalia is accused of demanding that the publishing platform WordPress erase two blog posts criticizing Yechiel and Yael Eckstein’s salaries as excessive, on the fraudulent basis that the posts were plagiarized from other sources.

The blog posts were written by Geri Ungurean, whom the Post identifies as a 71-year-old retiree in Maryland, and who also appears to identify as a “Jewish Christian.” Both posts, published in 2015 and 2018, were titled “Why Christians should Not Give Money to Rabbi Eckstein of IFCJ.” 

Publicly accessible tax documents show Eckstein’s total compensation in 2018 was more than $700,000, and that his daughter Yael Eckstein, who then served as executive vice president, earned more than $400,000. In 2019, the year the elder Eckstein died, his total compensation jumped to roughly $3 million, which an IFCJ spokesperson, Shavit Greenberg, said was due to a death benefit paid out to his widow. The nonprofit’s revenue in both years exceeded $100 million. A Haaretz article published in 2017 also questioned the size of Yechiel Eckstein’s salary. 

The top salaries of Jewish nonprofit executives and their employees has long been a topic of discussion and concern among Jewish groups. In 2017, the Forward counted 18 CEOs who were earning more than half a million dollars. The introduction to the survey said that since the Forward’s previous survey of CEO compensation, “the gender gap at Jewish non-profits has only widened and a few non-profit executives are receiving extraordinary payouts.” This year, a survey of Jewish nonprofit employees by Leading Edge, which focuses on workplace culture at Jewish groups, found that fewer than half of respondents said their “salary is fair relative to similar roles at my organization.”

In a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Greenberg said the organization “has never engaged Eliminalia or any firm that engages in unethical practices.” 

Greenberg’s statement added that the organization could not say whether Yehiel Eckstein paid for the service himself — though it did not rule that possibility out. If Eckstein did have a role in hiring Eliminalia, it would have been well before the company’s alleged activity on his behalf took place: The Post article made clear that Eliminalia was hired on the Ecksteins’ behalf in 2020, more than a year after the elder Eckstein died.

“If there is a record of Rabbi Eckstein making such payment over five years ago, it was a personal decision made completely independent of The Fellowship,” Greenberg said. “Rabbi passed in 2019 and is the only one able to comment on the alleged payment to Eliminalia.”

Asked about the discrepancy in dates, Greenberg wrote via email, “The Fellowship nor our current president has ever engaged with Eliminalia and had never heard of the company until the article.”

The Post wrote the expose with the assistance of Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based consortium of investigative journalists. Forbidden Stories had obtained internal documents detailing Eliminalia’s methods. Eliminalia did not respond to the Post’s requests for comment, citing “business secrecy.”

Eliminalia’s techniques, according to the Post, include burying negative stories in search results by supplanting them with positive ones from fake news sites — a practice that media watchdogs see as unethical, but not illegal. What is illegal is another practice: making false claims to web hosts that content on their sites has been previously published by other outlets, and is therefore copyright protected and should be erased.

That, according to the Post, is how Eliminalia approached WordPress about Ungurean’s blog in 2020. Two companies claimed copyright of Ungurean’s 2015 and 2018 blog entries. According to the Post article, those companies show no sign of existing other than to make those claims.

Eliminalia was paid roughly $6,400 for the action, the Post reported. Ungurean shared emails with the Post from Automattic, WordPress’s parent company, that said the company ignored the requests, finding them suspect.

Nonetheless, the 2015 post disappeared. The 2018 post is still online. Automattic told Ungurean that someone using her log-in erased the 2015 post in January 2022. Ungurean told the Post she did not erase her content and believes her account was hacked.

The Post compared two searches on Yahoo for “Yael Eckstein salary,” one in October 2020 and one from last month. On the 2020 search, the 2018 blog post by Ungurean shows up fifth; last month’s search did not turn up the blog post in its first 100 entries. Among the top posts, however, is an advertisement entitled “Yael Eckstein: Salary, Spending and the Non-Profit Double Standard,” in which the younger Eckstein posits that non-profit executives should get salaries commensurate with the for-profit sector.

The post Criticism of rabbi’s salary may have been erased from the internet due to fraud, investigation claims appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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