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.
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To join METRO, a library must have a full-time employee with a Master of Library Science degree, a catalog of its collection and an annual budget to buy information resources. If an institution doesn’t meet these criteria, however, it can still join METRO as a “collegial” member. “Collegial” members, according to METRO’s bylaws, are organizations that “do not meet all the criteria for Full membership.”

The Keap Street institution, which files with E-Rate under the name Kollel Avreichim of UTA Admin Offices, is a so-called collegial member. So are the vast majority of the roughly 20 Orthodox groups that have joined METRO in recent years.

METRO does not allow its collegial members to vote on internal METRO issues. But their collegial membership is still a membership — so collegial members are eligible for E-Rate.

The Forward has identified nine ultra-Orthodox groups that are collegial members of METRO and have received commitments from E-Rate for subsidies from 2010 through 2012.

METRO disavows any role for itself as a gatekeeper for E-Rate via its policies on collegial members. “I think it’s somewhat out of our jurisdiction to make those kinds of judgments,” said Jason Kucsma, METRO’s executive director. “What we do here is we verify our membership against our own internal criteria.”

That’s not the New York State Education Department’s understanding of METRO’s role. Federal law, in fact, holds the NYSED responsible for determining a library’s E-Rate eligibility. But the department said in a statement to the Forward that E-Rate eligibility “is handled at the local and regional level” by library associations like METRO.

Confronted with each agency pointing the finger at the other, Kucsma acknowledged, “There’s a gap there.”

The Satmar Internet Boom

Last winter, Aaron Teitelbaum, one of two rebbes who claim the leadership of the Satmar Hasidic community, decreed that Satmar children with Internet access at home can’t attend his community’s schools. In so doing, he set off a boom in the Williamsburg Internet café business.

Teitelbaum opposes Internet use, yet he recognizes that some computer access is necessary for his followers. As such he has encouraged the establishment of community-run Internet cafés where Satmar Hasids can access the Web. Some of the cafés are for-profit businesses. Others, like Kollel L’Horauh, the small room at the end of the gritty dead-end alley, take E-Rate subsidies to provide not-for-profit versions of the same service.


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