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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In fact, there are some indications that USAC has taken a hard look at the ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn libraries. USAC officials visited at least two ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn libraries last spring, one of them a collegial METRO member in Williamsburg, according to Joseph Klein, an employee of Steady Connections, Inc., a Boro Park-based vendor to some of the Orthodox E-Rate recipients.

“They wanted to see what it meant, libraries,” Klein said. “They don’t know about… how come they’re opening so many libraries.”

USAC would not comment on the visits. In an email to the Forward, USAC spokesman Eric Iversen wrote that “such activities would be part of ongoing, internal review procedures, and we don’t provide details about questions still in this kind of review phase.”

USAC also appears to have denied funding to a handful of Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox groups that have collegial METRO memberships and have applied for E-Rate. Congregation Uvlechtechu Baderech, in Boro Park, and Williamsburg’s Congregation Kol Torah, among others, have not received any commitments from E-Rate, despite each applying multiple times in recent years.

Rules enforced by USAC stipulate that E-Rate recipients can’t be reimbursed for wiring spaces that aren’t libraries — for instance, a synagogue or business with which they share space. When the ultra-Orthodox groups in Rockland County attempted to join the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council, Shaloiko was particularly concerned about the relationships between the libraries applying and the Jewish congregations that sometimes housed them.

“Is that E-Rate money being used just to equip the library, which is the room or series of rooms where the collections is, or are they using that money to wire the entire building?” he asked rhetorically. That, he said, was “one of my concerns always with some of the congregations” that applied to join his regional library association.

Losing Out

In June 1995, Arizona Senator John McCain introduced an amendment on the floor of the Senate that would have killed the nascent program that became E-Rate. Rising to the program’s defense was Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.


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