Lakewood, NJ – the financial Pillaging of a Bucolic Little Town’s School District Using the Ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva Handbook

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Lakewood schools to close? Parents told to make ‘alternate plans’

Above: What can be done to improve relations between Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities?

LAKEWOOD — The township’s public schools may close Monday as a result of the financial pressures facing the district, where officials say money will run out before the end of the next school year.

Administrators said on the district website that parents should make “alternate plans” for their children. School leaders called it a “precautionary measure” due to the “unknown fiscal situation.” 

Last week, the Lakewood school board approved a 2019-20 budget that the district doesn’t have the money to fund. Its lawyer and several administrators also went to court Wednesday to plea for help, saying the district cannot afford to keep schools open beyond March.

Special education and transportation account for about 40 percent of the public schools’ expenses. The district enrolls about 6,000 students, but also is responsible for costs of transportation and certain services for Lakewood’s more than 30,000 private school children.

Administrators have sought Trenton’s help in closing the school district’s growing budget holes, using combinations of grants and loans.

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Is Rise Up Ocean County, FB Page Anti-Semitic; and if Not Does Labeling it as Such Condone the Behavior it Criticizes?

The stranger that dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself… You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measure and weights, or in quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin… (Leviticus 19:34-36)

Dear Readers:

This following is being written in response to the decision to label the “Rise Up Ocean County” Facebook page anti-Semitic. We believe that decision gives credence to the behavior that has led to the creation of that page and diminishes the reality of true hatred for Jews.

https://www.app.com/story/news/politics/ocean-county/2019/02/21/freeholders-oppose-and-condemn-creators-rise-up-ocean-county/2936185002/

We admit that we do not always like what is written on that page. We do see comments by the vast audience that are sometimes unsettling in their rhetoric and the clear dislike if not hatred they impart. But we do not feel the page is anti-Semitic.

We do not view the page’s commentators/administrators as anti-Semites. Rather, we know the difficulty they face crawling woefully unbalanced on the fine line between scrutinizing and condemning, being critical and being angry or expressing resentment versus hatred.

The anger sometimes expressed on that page is not, as we see it, anti-Semitism. It is also not unexpected. One can be angry at members of a group that parades its religion like a badge of honor using it to extol virtue and excuse all manner of behavior, without being anti-Semitic. That was not an anti-Semitic trope.

Mere mortals have an impossible task discerning between the members of that community who are some of the best human beings this world has to offer and the less palatable when both are cloaked in the pageantry of religious zealotry.

And most of us are… mere mortals.

Is it Anti-Semitism or is it Just Plain Criticism?

And if Those Under Scrutiny Wave Their Judaism Like a Red Flag Before a Bull, are the Critical Ones Really Anti-Semites?

Is the Commentary Really Anti-Semitic?

Should the Flag-Bearers Not Be Accountable for the Controversies They Create While Using their Zealous Religious Observance as a Shield?

IT IS NOT ANTI-SEMITISM, IT IS A DEMAND FOR ACCOUNTABILITY DESPITE ALLEGED RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE NOT BECAUSE OF IT.

Several weeks ago a famed Satmar Rabbi demanded in Jihadi-like fashion that his members disregard the laws of the State of New York with regard to the education of children. He condemned the army service required by the State of Israel and he extolled the virtues of his community. That speech was wholly anti-Gentile. It was, for all intents and purposes a demand for his people to be entirely intolerant of others. He was praising his community for its exclusion and the protections the literal walls of that community seem to offer. He did not acknowledge the criminal behavior of any of its members, nor did he even recognize that there are laws, other than those of his Satmar tenets. His speech reflected shades of Stalin, Napoleon and even the leaders of ISIS, though without the call for martyrdom and the final G-d is Great yelled by his followers.

And when non-Jews look at that speech, the clothing he wears and the vastness of his following, what are they to think when the greater Jewish community is not criticizing him, is not demanding accountability? The greater Jewish community is either complacent or complicit. What comes after that is irrelevant. 

In fact, the Satmar who follow his tenets to the letter do not get condemned because the finances and the voting power of that community are far too vast for anyone to have the audacity to call him out. And, because condemnation is labeled anti-Semitism there is an additional very sticky risk. Rise Up Ocean County’s answer to that is unmitigated gall, not anti-Semitism, even if it is not the perfect answer. 

Consider this:

A family cannot pay for its 7 children but continues to have more children, to abundance, and then demands social services pay for those children because their father is not working; he is studying. Is that family acting responsibly and unselfishly? If you cannot pay for your own children, don’t have any more children. It should not matter if you are Jewish, Muslim, Christian Scientist or whatever.

But if you so choose to have more children and you are thusly criticized or even ostracized, the fault is yours and it is you who should be held accountable. Wearing the garb of a religious Jew should not shield you from criticism.

A school that supposedly educates children who cannot by graduation complete complex math problems or speak a sentence of English is not actually educating its children. It is depriving them of a future, and the rest of society productive members. It should not matter if the school is a Yeshiva, a Church or a family home-schooling its children. A certain set of standards should be met to which all parents are held accountable in a country that calls itself a Democracy, unless that Democracy wants to become a radical indoctrinated theocratic regime. The United States was founded on a principle of separations between church and state for a reason. As such, secular education should come first and religious education second so that each member of society can somehow contribute to that society. The alternative is unsustainable. That is not anti-Semitic, it is a fiscal, social and societal reality.

A religious school that accepts PELL Grants, and other College Grants but does not actually offer a B.A. an Associates or any other degree for that matter is committing fraud. To criticize a Yeshiva and hold its members and financial beneficiaries who are illegally taking grant money intended for a college education, without actually offering that education accountable is not anti-Semitism.  That this is happening with vast incidence within the ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva system is an embarrassment to all Jews. To acknowledge it, to target it and to raise this issue is not anti-Semitism. PELL and other college grant money is designed to allow children who otherwise cannot afford to be educated, opportunities toward a better and more productive future. Those who are doing otherwise with that money are thieves and fraudsters, whether they are Jewish or otherwise. To label someone who brings this to light an anti-Semite is to create true anti-Semitism.

The owners of a private home that is converted into an alleged house of worship for the purposes of avoiding taxes are committing tax fraud. A family that has 15 children and home-schools those children and then calls the location a school is committing tax fraud if the not-for-profit tax system is used as a means to avoid taxes. 

The conversion of private homes into quasi Yeshivas or houses of worship (shtibles) for the purposes of avoiding taxes under the 510(c)(3) not-for-profit/tax exempt status is epidemic in areas of ultra-Orthodox concentration to the the detriment of every other member of the same community. To raise this as an alarming trend is not anti-Semitism. To say that it breeds contempt amongst those members paying their full share of taxes is not anti-Semitism. To say that it is outside of the structure of a law-abiding community is not anti-Semitic. To say that it needs to stop is not calling for the extermination of Jews. It is calling upon members within that community or those in charge of governing the society at large to make changes. 

And when that private home stands next to 5 other similar homes, none of which is actually a legitimate house of worship, such that the rest of the neighborhood’s taxes are increased, one would expect the neighbors paying more money to be resentful. They are being forced to give to a charity they did not choose, Jewish Zealotry. Should we not hold those members of society who are creating this unimaginable inequality as they flaunt their religious belief system to account because they are Jewish? Can anti-Semitism always be the fall-back position?

A family that lives on social welfare and uses the food stamps for items not deemed covered by food stamps or uses the health benefits card to travel to the shopping mall  is committing a fraud. That this is happening with alarming regularity within the ultra-Orthodox community speaks to the skewed moral compass of members within that community not those who raise the issues and condemns them. This is not anti-Semitism, nor should that term be used to shield behavior that is harming everyone. Admittedly, decent members of that same community are being held to account for their brothers and sisters. Are we not our brothers’ keepers?

A school that employs its teachers partially off the books to avoid reaching the maximum earning allowed is evading taxes on every level. When the teachers then do not fully declare their income and furthermore live off welfare and social benefits as if they only earning partial income, they are committing a crime. Not only are they perpetrating a fraud but they are harming every truly needy member of society for whom the benefits are no longer available. That this is a practice institutionalized within the ultra-Orthodox community, encouraged as a growth strategy is a tragedy for every Jew and for society at large. To make that comment is not anti-Semitic it is anti the institutionalization of criminal behavior. If that behavior reflects the mindset of a particular group, then the group should be condemned, regardless of race, religion or political bend. If anti-Semitism is an unintended consequence of that scrutiny it is the responsibility of every Jewish member of society to address the problem or we must accept the outcome.

A community that was once a quiet bedroom community but starts to grow and grow without actual planning for infrastructure and land-use such that people cannot get from one place to another without a car accident stopping traffic on a daily basis, is being wholly irresponsible. That this community is growing exponentially because of the “fruitful multiplication” practices within the ultra-Orthodox mindset is not an “anti-Semitic trope.” It is a reality. The exponential growth is unsustainable and needs to be curbed is not an anti-Semitic statement. 

That irresponsible behavior breeds resentment is the responsibility of the members of the community who act with impunity and disregard for others. Perhaps the  members of that community who support this behavior and their leaders should stop making claims that their behavior is excusable because it is religiously grounded. Perhaps they should be held to the same standards as the rest of society. Perhaps the sense of entitlement needs to be met with resistance. There is no excuse for illegal, fraudulent, exclusionary, entitled or otherwise unacceptable behavior, religious or otherwise. To use religion as a shield is to insult every responsible, law-abiding and considerate Jew however he or she dresses or observes his or her belief system.