Orthodox Jewish Groups Exploit E-Rate Library Subsidy Program

Internet Cafes Get Cash. But What Makes Them Libraries?

Ariel Jankelowitz

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published February 05, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

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.

Ariel Jankelowitz

That wasn’t their only option. 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,” said Shaloiko, whose group serves as the E-Rate gatekeeper for a handful of counties to the north of New York City.

Prompted in part by concerns over the legitimacy of the ultra-Orthodox applicants, Shaloiko’s group drew up new library membership guidelines, requiring that area libraries have online card catalogs and librarians with master’s degrees, among other criteria, to join their association and become eligible for E-Rate.

The handful of ultra-Orthodox Jewish congregations that have applied to join the group since the adoption of the new guidelines have all dropped their requests after learning of the organization’s membership requirements, Shaloiko said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.