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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(page 4 of 8)

“There are many [for-profit] kiosks, but these kiosks are very expensive,” said Yankel Schwartz, a spokesman for Kollel L’Horauh. “That’s why we opened a digital library.”

Kollel L’Horauh — a kollel is a communal study center for religious scholars — is headed by David Markowitz, a gabai, or religious organizer, at Aaron Teitelbaum’s main synagogue in Williamsburg. Markowitz established Kollel L’Horauh in an office building he owns on Williamsburg’s Kent Avenue.

In order to qualify for E-Rate subsidies, Kollel L’Horauh needed to be a member of METRO. But joining METRO, even as a collegial member, requires a site visit to inspect the applicant’s facilities. At the time it applied to join METRO, Kollel L’Horauh had no facilities at all.

“It was a problem,” Schwartz said. The organization was going to set itself up using E-Rate money, but it had to show some sort of facility to METRO in order to get the E-Rate money.

Schwartz’s solution? “We found people who [would] loan us some money,” Schwartz said. The group then used the funds to set up a facility for the purposes of its METRO site visit.

So Kollel L’Horauh opened long enough to secure METRO approval, then closed for renovations. The E-Rate subsidies came through, and the space reopened in the summer of 2012 with “10 to 12” computers, according to Schwartz. The group has received $176,000 worth of commitments from E-Rate, $137,000 of which has already been paid out. Schwartz said that 20 to 30 people use the facility each week. Some of the computers are loaded only with Web browsers; others have access to a large paid database of Jewish books called Otzar HaHochma.

A small room on a floor of offices, Kollel L’Horauh looks less like a library than do any of the other ultra-Orthodox collegial METRO members receiving E-Rate subsidies visited by the Forward.

Others, like Kollel Avreichim and another library in a building across the street from Aaron Teitelbaum’s main synagogue, did resemble libraries, with books and tables for study.

One Satmar community activist defended the notion that the library near the Satmar synagogue should be eligible for E-Rate. “The library is a library, even though it has different books,” the activist said. “There’s books there, there’s computers there, there’s everything in there [that the community needs], and there’s no reason this should not be included in the intention of this act. The reimbursement should be out there for all [communities’] libraries.”


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