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Relief Resources is only the latest politically connected Jewish organization in New York State to face censure for its coziness with politicians. Three former high-ranking officials with the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, including two of its former chief executive officers, were indicted in 2013 for taking kickbacks from a vendor that they then used, in part, to make political donations.
Since the 1970s, large portions of New York State’s massive social service apparatus have been reassigned from government agencies to independently operated not-for-profit groups — a version of the outsourcing shift common at all levels of government. Collectively, these not-for-profits receive billions in government contracts to care for the sick and the needy.
Supporters of this system argue that the not-for-profit organizations are more efficient than large government agencies and can better understand the needs of the communities that they serve. Critics point to the way that many of the not-for-profits have turned into powerful political machines that cultivate too-close relationships with the politicians on whom they rely for funding.
Jewish organizations have been particularly adept at building close relationships with government agencies. Most have no taint of impropriety attached to them. The New York Jewish social services agency FEGS, which helps the unemployed find new jobs, and the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, for example, received a combined total of $120 million in government funding in 2012 alone.
Meanwhile, on the streets of Orthodox Brooklyn, a lot of people have good things to say about Relief.
“They refer people to good doctors, professional doctors,” said Solomon Knophler, a member of the Bobov Hasidic community stopped on a Friday afternoon on 13th Avenue in Boro Park. “They guide them to the right places that they need.”
In 15 minutes of stopping Orthodox men and women on 13th Avenue, just a few blocks from Relief’s offices, more than half said that they had heard of Relief.
“It’s a very, very, very helpful organization,” said an ultra-Orthodox man who would only give his name as Abraham. The man said that he had worked at a school in Monsey, a heavily Orthodox town in upstate New York, and that he had frequently contacted the organization for references when looking for help for students there. “They always gave us top references,” he said.
Knophler said that the Moreland Commission’s investigation of Relief and subsequent coverage in the press had surprised him. “I know personally people who went to them, and I’ve never heard complaints,” he said.
Pelcovitz said that he refers people to Relief multiple times a week. Margaret Spinelli, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University and another member of Relief’s medical advisory board, also praised the organization. “I was very impressed with this group,” she said.