“'Is this a scam?' I asked. Gavriel gave me a wary glance. 'Not at all,' he said. 'The rebbe doesn’t allow any more scams.' There’d been problems in the past, with fraudulent use of government programs. Four men, including Gavriel himself, were given prison sentences, ranging from several months to six years. Three other men had fled the country to avoid prosecution. We’d learned our lessons." And then Gavriel went on to explain to the hasidim how to cheat the government and steal public money.
Above and above right: An official modesty sign in New Square, New York
Writing in the Forward, Shulem Deen explains how brutal many teachers in New Square, the Skvere hasidic village in Rockland County, New York, are to their students and how students fail to behave in any way we would consider normal unless they are physically beaten.
Substitute teachers and regular Mishna teachers at the Sqvere yeshiva there make only $9 per hour and have no training. Many are, from what I've heard, not even qualified to teach the Jewish religious subjects like Talmud. But they teach anyway, in part because Skvere operates much more like a destructive cult and a Mafia-like criminal enterprise than it does like what we would consider a religious organization or community.
At any rate, the poverty of New Square, caused in large part by the intentionally completely deficient education system New York State and Rockland County turn blind eyes to, spurs crime, as Shulem Deen makes clear in an excerpt from his forthcoming book. Here is an excerpt of that excerpt:
…The meeting was held on the first floor of the school, in a room that served as a conference room for village officials and, each Wednesday morning, as “village court,” where a judge ruled on traffic violations — rolling through stop signs, or parking overnight on snow days, or driving down Washington Avenue at seventy-five miles per hour to get a last-minute mikveh dip before the siren announced the start of the Sabbath.
Now we sat seven men in the room, six Mishna teachers along with Gavriel Stein, the same one who’d had us fill out rezemays a few months earlier.
“The government,” he said, “has a program for tutoring students.” Title something or other. “They’ll pay thirteen dollars an hour.”
“Thirteen dollars an hour?” all except me asked in unison. The others seemed to think the amount was pitiful. I thought it sounded just fine. We were getting only nine for our Mishna classes.
“Thirteen dollars an hour is what the government pays. You can set your own rate and get the rest from the parents.”
In the corner, a large American flag hung on a pole, incongruous behind this assemblage of black hats and long coats.
“Is this a scam?” I asked.
Gavriel gave me a wary glance. “Not at all,” he said. “The rebbe doesn’t allow any more scams.”
There’d been problems in the past, with fraudulent use of government programs. Four men, including Gavriel himself, were given prison sentences, ranging from several months to six years. Three other men had fled the country to avoid prosecution. We’d learned our lessons.
Gavriel looked around to make sure we all understood.
“Because this is a government program, you’ll have to fill out progress reports,” he went on, looking around at our bemused faces. “For each student, you fill out a sheet describing how the student is doing. You’ll need to be creative. Write how the student is doing in math, or in English, or social studies —”
“We’re tutoring math and English and social studies?”
Gavriel looked at me as if I were a child. “Of course not,” he said. “But the government doesn’t pay for religious studies.”
I looked at the other men sitting around the table, but none of them seemed concerned. I was terrified. In my mind, I could see it all unfold. A knock on the door at dawn. Handcuffs. An ill-fitting prison jumpsuit.
My options, however, were few, so I signed up for the program. Five boys each day, all between the ages of nine and thirteen. Laws of returning lost objects. Laws of oxen falling into pits in the roadway. Laws of the Sabbath. Laws of oxen goring cows. Laws of prayer. Laws of oxen goring cows fallen into pits during prayer.
And then I wrote the progress reports:
Mendy is improving his multiplication but still has trouble with division.
Chezky’s spelling seems to have worsened.
Yanky’s penmanship has vastly improved due to the practice worksheets.
There were no multiplication tables, no practice worksheets, and no improvement or deterioration in any of those subjects. I was handing in phony progress reports, with my signature, getting paid for something I wasn’t doing.
“How can we be doing this and not be concerned?” I asked my friend Chaim Nuchem, who occupied the tutoring room next to mine with his own rotation of students. But Chaim Nuchem only shrugged.
“You think they’ll come looking?” he asked.
I looked at him dumbfounded. Hadn’t we learned? People were going to prison. Others were fleeing. Families had been destroyed. The community shamed in the papers. Clearly, someone came looking.
Chaim Nuchem laughed. “Those guys took millions. We’re making thirteen dollars an hour. You think the government cares?”…