BOROUGH PARK — A Brooklyn nonprofit claiming close ties to local elected officials has been using the image and story of a physically disabled girl to solicit donations — but hasn’t shared a dime of the proceeds with her or her family, a new lawsuit charges.
The parents of Ayalah Yakobzon say in 2010 the Aleh Foundation in Borough Park posted a photo of their daughter on its website and asked for thousands of dollars in contributions to help her.
The nonprofit, which raises funds for disabled children in Israel, said in its pitch that the raised money would go toward special equipment and therapy to allow Ayalah “to live with dignity and stay in her home as she ages.”
But the girl’s parents, Shaul and Masha Yakobzon, say in a lawsuit filed Aug. 28 in Brooklyn Civil Supreme Court that they never gave the foundation their approval to ask for donations and they haven’t seen any of the collected cash.
“Her likeness and photographs of her have been wrongfully utilized in a full-scale advertising campaign seeking donations to assist her without her permission,” the lawsuit says.
The Yakobzons, who live in Midwood, are suing for as much as $5 million, accusing Aleh of fraud and demanding that the nonprofit take down the photos from its web site. They’re also suing its founder, Rabbi Shlomo Braun, and its administrator, Shlomo Berger.
As of Monday, Aleh’s website still had a page titled “Help Ayala” with a picture of the girl using a walker. The page describes “Ayala” as a “beautiful, bright 5-year-old [who] was born with spina bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down.”
The page also notes that Ayala’s family moved from Israel to New York so she could receive better care.
The website has different contribution amounts to pay for various furniture for the girl. One donation is for $7,000 for an adjustable table and chairs. Other donations are for therapy sessions.
Howard Wexler, a lawyer for the Yakobzons, could not be reached for comment.
Berger and Braun did not respond to requests for comment.
Aleh began in 1984 in Israel, according to its website. Braun opened a fundraising office in the United States in 1989.