Down a gritty dead-end alley in ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn, past a loading dock and a couple of dumpsters, a set of stairs leads up to a small room with bare walls and a dozen computers. The plaque on the door at Kollel L’Horauh calls the room a library. As a library, it has received $135,000 in congressionally mandated library subsidies. But there’s no librarian, and the room’s “collection” consists of a subscription to a single digital database of Jewish books that is not even available on all the computers. In [haredi] Brooklyn, not being a library is no barrier to receiving library subsidies.
The Forward reports:
Down a gritty dead-end alley in ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn, past a loading dock and a couple of dumpsters, a set of stairs leads up to a small room with bare walls and a dozen computers.
The plaque on the door at Kollel L’Horauh calls the room a library. As a library, it has received $135,000 in congressionally mandated library subsidies. But there’s no librarian, and the room’s “collection” consists of a subscription to a single digital database of Jewish books that is not even available on all the computers. In Brooklyn, not being a library is no barrier to receiving library subsidies. A Forward investigation has found that E-Rate, the federally backed library subsidy program, has committed $1.4 million to ultra-Orthodox religious institutions in Brooklyn that don’t actually qualify as libraries.
Nine such groups have received an average of $161,000 in commitments from E-Rate since 2010 — more than twice the average amount committed to libraries in New York State during the same period.
The library association legally tasked with serving as a gatekeeper for E-Rate eligibility in New York City chose not to exclude these ultra-Orthodox groups, which in some cases didn’t have librarians or card catalogs.
…Elsewhere in New York, another gatekeeper agency has taken a stand to block questionable libraries from E-Rate. In 2010, around the same time that the Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox groups were seeking to become E-Rate eligible, a “flurry” of ultra-Orthodox congregations from Rockland County, N.Y., applied to join an upstate library association and become E-Rate eligible, too, according to John Shaloiko, executive director of the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council.
“We didn’t want to take just any organization in when it believes it should get E-Rate when it’s not really a library,” Shaloiko [said]…
The Southeastern New York Library Resources Council is what the Forward calls the “gatekeeper” for the counties just north of New York City, including Rockland and Orange where large concentrations of haredim live in towns and villages like Monsey, New Square, and Kiryas Joel.
Worried about the legitimacy of the haredi libraries that applied, the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council structured new membership guidelines that required that libraries have online card catalogs, librarians with master’s degrees, and what the Forward calls “other criteria” before being allowed to join the Resources Council and become eligible for E-Rate money.
According to the Forward, the small number of haredi ‘libraries’ that sought to join the Resources Council after it toughened its membership guidelines all withdrew their requests when they realized what would be needed to qualify for membership.
This type of haredi looting of government programs meant to help literacy, to feed K-12 students, to provide low income housing, to subsidize higher education for low income students, etc. is allegedly widespread in haredi communities in the US. Similar frauds are widespread in haredi communities in Israel, as well, and there have been reports of similar problems in Canada.
For example, the US Government’s Pell Grant program was massively defrauded by haredim – primarily by hasidim – in the 1980s, and that fraud is documented – and highlighted – in Congressional reports and in the media. And Israel’s tax authority and its police made several well-publicized arrests of haredim who had committed yeshiva fraud, stealing subsidy money from the government by ‘enrolling’ fraudulent students or by creating fake yeshivas. These frauds – which are thought to be only the tip of the iceberg there – cost Israeli taxpayers millions of dollars.
You really can’t report on one haredi attempt to defraud a government without reporting that the other haredi frauds exist – you can’t, that is, unless you’re the Forward.
Read it all here.
[Hat Tip: Joel Katz.]