Rabbi accused of molestation may face new charges

A Petaluma rabbi charged with molesting a 12-year-old girl may face new allegations that he molested four students when he was a cantor and lay leader in Long Island, N.Y.

"We are informed and believe there are four additional victims," said Sonoma Country District Attorney Michael Mullins. "We are told they are the same age as our [alleged] victim here."

Rabbi Sidney Isaac Goldenberg has not been formally charged with any crime in Long Island, and has no criminal record.

His defense attorney, Stephen Gallenson, said the Long Island "complaints have nothing to do with touching or molestation."

He indicated the complaints involved alleged inappropriate comments only.

Goldenberg, 58, was arrested in Petaluma Dec. 16 on one charge of conducting a lewd act with a child, and two counts of annoying a child.

A bat mitzvah student of the rabbi's at Petaluma's Congregation B'nai Israel made the complaint.

The day after his arrest, he was released on $100,000 cash bail pending a preliminary trial Feb. 4.

Mullins said the Petaluma Police Department is preparing to interview the "potential additional victims" in Suffolk County, Long Island, where Goldenberg lived before moving to the Bay Area this summer to take his first pulpit at B'nai Israel.

But local investigators received three tips from a Long Island rabbi and one from the father of an alleged victim, according to Mullins. Police said they have turned up no evidence of other local cases allegedly involving the rabbi.

Deputy District Attorney Gary Medvigy, who is prosecuting the case, alluded to the new allegations at a bail hearing Wednesday. According to Mullins, the hearing was then "short circuited" by Gallenson, who requested it be rescheduled because his client had not been interviewed by a parole officer.

Such interviews are intended to help a judge determine the risk of an accused person fleeing. The parole officer generally conducts the interview in jail. In this case, however, Goldenberg was out on bail, and his lawyer, who would have facilitated the meeting, was out of town last week. The missed meeting was a "miscommunication," according to Gallenson.

The court granted Gallenson a continuance, and the bail hearing is now scheduled to take place the same day as Goldenberg's preliminary hearing, Feb.4.

Meanwhile, Gallenson said, the rabbi "is not doing very well."

Goldenberg was arrested in his home after the alleged Petaluma victim told a public school counselor the rabbi molested her between September and December while she was receiving religious instruction at Congregation B'nai Israel.

The arrest warrant alleges that the rabbi took her into his office, made lewd remarks, touched her breasts, and requested that she put her hands in his pockets.

Goldenberg has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

"He's disturbed by the allegations," said Gallenson. "He felt things were going well with this congregation. He's disturbed by the fact that he can't do his duties as a rabbi."

After his arrest, Goldenberg was suspended from the congregation with pay, and barred from praying there during religious school hours.

At press time, B'nai Israel's board president, Regina Wilson Seppa, said the congregation "was appraising the situation," deciding whether to fire the rabbi, who signed a three-year contract.

Goldenberg became a rabbi just over four years ago after running a small computer business. He was a lay leader at several East Coast congregations, and served most recently as a part-time cantor for six years at the Jewish Centre of Bayshore on Long Island.

At his last post, Goldenberg served as a Hebrew teacher as well as a cantor, according to the Bayshore Jewish Centre's Rabbi Steven Rosenberg.

Rosenberg said there were no allegations of sexual misconduct at his congregation about Goldenberg. Suffolk County Police detectives questioned Rosenberg last week, he added, though Suffolk County Police would not confirm they are investigating Goldenberg.

"I felt very comfortable with the way he dealt with kids. I never saw any inappropriate behavior with him," Rosenberg said of Goldenberg.

Police are continuing their investigations both in Petaluma and on Long Island. Mullins said he "is always concerned when a person accused of child molestation is out on bail."

If convicted of the Petaluma charges, the rabbi could face up to eight years in state prison.