Teaneck Rabbi Accused of Sexual Contact With Two Underage Israeli Students

by Andrea Alexander (NorthJersey.com)
August 16, 2011

A Teaneck rabbi who founded an advocacy organization for disadvantaged children in Israel was charged Tuesday with having inappropriate sexual contact with two 13-year-old boys who stayed at his home, authorities said.

The FBI contacted Teaneck police and the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office after the teens complained separately to Israeli authorities, alleging that Rabbi Uzi Rivlin "had touched them in a sexual manner," Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said in a statement. One child stayed at Rivlin's Teaneck home in 2009, and the other boy stayed there last year, authorities said.

Statements outlining the abuse allegations that the children had given to police in Israel were turned over to the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit. Authorities charged Rivlin, 63, who is married, with two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child.

The children were brought to the United States through the Scholarship Fund for the Advancement of Children in Israel, an organization that Rivlin helped to start in the 1990s.

A former associate of Rivlin's rushed to his defense Tuesday. Rabbi Moshe Yasgur, who served as vice president of the fund until a few years ago, described Rivlin as "a good person" who was "always helping people.''

Yasgur suggested that the children's original report to Israeli police could have been "mixed up in translation," or that the teens had made an accusation because something had happened to them in Rivlin's absence, and they blamed the rabbi for not protecting them.

"I don't believe that he is a person who would ever engage in such activity,'' Yasgur said.

Rivlin was being held at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack with bail set at $175,000 and is scheduled to be arraigned in Central Municipal Court in Hackensack at 9 a.m. today. He was ordered not to have any contact with the boys or any children under the age of 18, and to surrender his U.S. and Israeli passports, authorities said. Relatives could not be reached for comment.

Yasgur said the scholarship fund that Rivlin led was established to provide financial support and advocacy for children who were disadvantaged and victims of terror. Children were brought to the United States in small numbers each year to participate in a summer camp program, staying with host families, including Rivlin. The organization helped hundreds of children in Israel.

Yasgur said Rivlin had done "extraordinary work.''

"We thought it was important to give them a taste of America,'' Yasgur said. "It was always about building the children up and giving them the self-confidence to move forward in life.''

"That is why it's so bizarre to me that this accusation is being made,'' he said.

Rivlin was also a teacher, but it was unclear where he worked. Authorities said he was employed at Congregation Beth Aaron in Teaneck, but Rabbi Larry Rothwachs said Rivlin was a member of the community but had never been an employee.

"The allegations are deeply disturbing,'' Rothwachs said. "It's horrific in any situation. ... It's unthinkable in the circumstances. I am still in a state of shock.''

Molinelli said investigators are trying to determine if any other Israeli children who stayed with Rivlin may have been a victim of sexual abuse.