Musician gets new start at Ner Tamid

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Achi Ben Shalom is moving forward.

Two years ago, Ben Shalom was accused and eventually acquitted of sexual misconduct, charges that cost him a job at Tehiyah Day School — where he worked for 20 years — and threatened his popularity as a musician at Bay Area bar mitzvahs and with his band, Adama.

Now, nearly a year after his acquittal, the 54-year-old has bounced back, and in May took over a newly created job as the marketing and program director at Congregation Ner Tamid, a Conservative synagogue in San Francisco.

Beverlee Hassid, co-president of Ner Tamid, said she and the congregation’s board of directors were aware of Ben Shalom’s case when they hired him, but have confidence in his character and work ethic.

“Being a Jewish community means that people get to have another chance,” Hassid said. “I want him to have a new start in life. Congregation Ner Tamid is prepared to give him that.”

Ben Shalom is grateful and excited for the opportunity. He echoed Hassid’s sentiment, saying, “Leaving the past behind will be most helpful for me, the community and the future.”

Ben Shalom was accused in 2006 of committing a lewd and lascivious act on a girl younger than 14. He was acquitted of that charge in August 2007; however, he was found guilty of assault and battery — meaning that the jury found inappropriate touching did occur, though of a nonsexual nature.

Since that time, Ben Shalom has worked as a freelance musician from his East Bay home, transcribing a variety of music, including several songs for a not-yet-published book about Jewish Renewal music.

Meanwhile, he diversified his résumé with a certificate in event and meeting planning from San Francisco State University.

He found his way to Ner Tamid when he began playing guitar and singing at the congregation’s Kabbalat Shabbat services several months before being hired as its marketing and program director.

Ben Shalom’s music and academic experience demonstrated to congregants and board members that he would be a welcome addition to their staff, Hassid said.

“He’s such a hard worker, and so eager to learn and to do whatever it takes,” she said.

Added Ben Shalom, “They were welcoming to me — it was a very easy transition. Immediately I felt at home.”

The congregation’s membership is aging, Hassid pointed out, which is partly why the board created Ben Shalom’s position. His primary responsibility is to create and publicize programs for the area’s young adult community in an effort to expand and revitalize the synagogue’s membership.

Ben Shalom wants to support and promote existing programs, such as “Prayer Home Companion,” a storytelling series Rabbi Moshe Levin modeled after Garrison Keillor’s public radio show.

Ben Shalom has planned a tribute July 19 to Israeli folk music and dance. Later in the fall, he hopes to hold several classes and other educational opportunities.

“What I would like to do is turn Ner Tamid into a center of adult education, where people can come for classes and contemporary services,” Ben Shalom said. “We want to have a little bit for everyone.”

Marchers welcome

San Francisco Voice for Israel, one of several Jewish groups marching in this year’s S.F. Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, June 29, will assemble on Beale Street between Mission and Folsom at 11:30 a.m. Organizers suggest participants look for the Israeli flags.

Signs and placards specially made for the parade by pro-Israel marketing and advertising firm BlueStarPR will be available for marchers.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.