New York magazine recently had an article, “Them vs. Them,” which is cringe-worthy for the Jewish community.
East Ramapo, N.Y., has a huge ultra-Orthodox population that generally wishes to be left alone by outsiders. Several years ago, they had difficulty obtaining services for their special-needs children, so to facilitate the process they began running members for the local school board. They ran as concerned taxpayers, since the overwhelming majority of their children attend private yeshivas — the district has 8,000 public school students and 19,000 enrolled in private school.
Because of the Orthodox voting strength, they quickly had a majority on the board. Once they held the majority, they started slashing school budgets.
The two members of the board who are not in the Orthodox bloc resigned in January, citing intimidation and a lack of information about financial matters.
According to the Journal News, any hint of taxes for the schools is crushed at the ballot box, while “public school staff, academic programs and extracurricular offerings have been slashed” by the board’s majority, but reimbursements are being approved for families enrolled in yeshivas that use public special education services. The plan, it seems, is to lower the tax burden on the majority that doesn’t use the schools anyway, starving those schools in the process.
There was a proposal to eliminate Kindergarten as a cost-saving measure, but because state law requires Kindergarten, the program was reduced to the bare minimum half-day. Graduation ceremonies were also eyed as “superfluous,” along with most sports programs and extracurricular activities.
The New York article states that cuts in the high school are so severe, there aren’t enough classes for students to take so they can graduate on time.
Shortly after the New York article came out, school board president Daniel Schwartz resigned after less than a year in the position.
In the past, Schwartz spoke of a “crisis” of anti-Semitism in the school district, and said he and others in the Jewish community have every right to run for the board, and stated “You don’t like it? Find yourself another place to live, because this is the United States of America.”
Those who speak out against “the bloc” report being targets of “vitriol” and comparisons to the Nazis.
There are calls for a state takeover of the system, and investigations into the sale of two public school buildings to yeshivas at sweetheart rates. Meanwhile, the school board has become a clash of the ethnicities. The public schools are 56 percent black, 27 percent Hispanic — with the vast majority of the board being ultra-Orthodox.
Also part of the backdrop is a report by the New York Jewish Week in February that many ultra-Orthodox schools in New York have received a total of $30 million in Federal funds for Internet technology, even though students do not have computer access and the communities try to suppress use of the Internet. One East Ramapo school was mentioned in the third part of the series.
You want to be left alone so you can preserve your insular version of Judaism? Fine, build your community. But in areas where you have to venture out into the larger world, there is still a responsibility to the stranger in your midst, and the charge to be a holy nation.
Whether some of the financial shenanigans with the schools are improper or merely have the appearance of impropriety should not matter — a few thousand years ago, at a place called Mount Sinai, we were told to be better than that.
Questionable behavior like this hurts the entirety of Klal Yisrael by association and plays into the worst stereotypes — it’s doing the anti-Semites’ job for them.
Yes, former president Schwartz. This is the United States, where we have the freedom to live a Jewish life, but with that freedom comes the responsibility toward the greater community (HaShem had something to say about that, a few gazillion times in case anyone was slow to get the concept). What the school board is doing is hurtful to the non-Jewish population in East Ramapo and harmful to the Jewish community worldwide.
Considering that this despicable conduct comes from those who hold themselves up as pious and righteous, this type of behavior smells about as kosher as an Alabama sausage factory.