Area musician and teacher faces lewd act charge

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Achi Ben Shalom, a fixture at El Cerrito’s Tehiyah Day School since 1985 and a singer-musician at hundreds of Bay Area bar mitzvahs, has been formally charged with committing a lewd act upon a young, female former student.

The Israeli-born teacher and musician is charged with a single count of violating Section 288(A) of the California Penal Code, which covers lewd acts upon a child younger than 14.

“We waited until the information was presented to us and our investigation was complete before we filed charges,” said Mark Peterson, deputy district attorney for Contra Costa County.

Peterson would not comment on whether there were any corroborating witnesses other than the young accuser, or whether the prosecution has any physical evidence against Ben Shalom. Commander Mike Regan of the El Cerrito Police Department told j. last month that he “did not believe” there was any physical evidence.

The deputy district attorney also would not answer questions about how long a prison sentence Ben Shalom is potentially facing, although documentation on the state’s Web site regarding Section 288(A) states that “any person who willfully and lewdly commits any lewd or lascivious act … with a child who is under the age of 14 years … is guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for three, six or eight years.”

His arraignment at Richmond Superior Court was scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 22, roughly three months after Ben Shalom was arrested at his El Cerrito home, and three weeks after the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office formally filed charges.

Ben Shalom, who has been on an administrative leave of absence from his position at Tehiyah since his arrest, voiced his innocence and insisted that any further comment be made by his lawyer, Harold Rosenthal. Rosenthal was in court this week and did not return j.’s calls.

The ongoing scandal has polarized the East Bay Jewish community — particularly those with Tehiyah ties — and has put Ben Shalom’s detractors and supporters at odds (arguing over Internet message boards and even face-to-face).

“If you can imagine it, for the people who have known Achi forever, this breaks our hearts,” said Estelle Frankel, a former Tehiyah parent, author and longtime friend of Ben Shalom.

“His reputation has been destroyed, and he was convicted in the court of public opinion before he was even charged with anything.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.