Every day we should hear
at least one little song,
read one good poem,
see one exquisite picture,
and, if possible,
speak a few sensible words
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Governor Cuomo, we are delighted to know that you have an intimate and ongoing dialog with our poor Hasidic neighbors who happen to be living throughout one of the richest States of these United States. I speak of the State of New York and given that you are its Governor I have four issues that I would like to raise with you.
Your father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, backed the creation of the Kiryas Joel school district in 1990, which helped the community tap state funding for special-education students. In 2010, you told one of the two chief rabbis of the Satmar Hasidic sect that you “did a lot of work” at Kiryas Joel as U.S. housing secretary under President Clinton because of the connection between the village and your father.
We use the word ‘poor’ when referring to our Hasidic neighbors because as you know, Governor Cuomo, 93% of the population in Kiryas Joel are supposedly in need of Medicaid and other government services. The ‘poverty’ situation is not yet as bad in Rockland County but it is climbing as rapidly as the population grows. In Monsey and Spring Valley the percentage of the population receiving Temporary Assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (aka food stamps) and Medicaid is now 61.6% and 52.9% respectively.
Why do I care about my neighbors’ ‘poverty’? I care because it’s people like me who are paying for it.
With such alarming statistics may I inquire why one of your main campaign themes in your re-election bid did not address the apparent catastrophic and rapidly growing ‘poverty’ in the communities of Kiryas Joel, New Square and Kaser? Because of ‘poverty’ in these Hasidic communities the taxes on those of us who are ‘non-poverty stricken’ residents in Orange and Rockland Counties have spiraled out of control and are threatening to drive us out of our homes and out of the State or into actual poverty.
Why do you remain silent on this issue?
Why have you not stated your plans to correct this deplorable and worsening situation? This is the United States, Mr. Cuomo, and we are living in one of the highest taxed States in the nation. In fact Rockland and Westchester Counties are in the top four taxed counties in the whole nation. Given that fact why is it that under your administration the residents in Kiryas Joel, Kaser Village and New Square are supposedly living at poverty levels that would make a third world nation look prosperous?
Why hasn’t this question attracted the attention of your administration?
2) The Rights of Women
Governor Cuomo, you made a key theme of your campaign the dignity and equality of women in our male chauvinist society. May we ask why there are no women in this photo-op with these ‘poor’ constituents? I understand that in your election campaign you accused your opponent, Rob Astorino, of not being supportive of equal opportunities for women in NY State.
Do you raise issues of women’s equality in your continuing discussions with our neighbors?
Congresswoman Lowey claims that she drives a Ford and rattles in it across the Tappan Zee Bridge fearing that at any moment she might fall through a hole into the Hudson River while on her way to her frequent visits with the poor in Haverstraw. Yet, a few towns over from Haverstraw there is a community where there is an issue about women even sitting in the front seat of a car let alone driving it across the Tappan Zee Bridge.
As a self-declared champion of women’s rights, why hasn’t this been at the forefront of your agenda?
3) Public School Education and Common Core
During your meetings with our neighbors do you ever discuss the breakdown of the educational opportunities being provided to the minority children in East Ramapo? The Hasidic-controlled school board says the budget for the public schools is approaching destitution levels and they are therefore cutting out programs offered to the public schools except perhaps for your Common Core.
Many of our local politicians have been advocating for the East Ramapo School District parents for some time, including State Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, and Senator David Carlucci. Like you Governor Cuomo they are all Democrats so why are you not listening?
If you have sufficient time to sit down periodically with a group of our Hasidic neighbors why are you unable to sit down with a group of parents representing the 9,000 East Ramapo children whose education is being destroyed by a Hasidic-controlled school board? These parents could have helped in your own personal education as to how the current school aid formula is destroying that school district and you would have had an opportunity to explain to them why you haven’t done anything about it.
Did either you or Congresswoman Nita Lowey advocate with our Hasidim friends how their management of the East Ramapo School District might change to result in an increase in funding going into the public school system?
After all, given that you and Congresswoman Lowey are supportive of Common Core programs and its testing standards being applied to the children of East Ramapo, do you not think that those children deserve to be given an education which would fit them to meet these standards? Are you insisting on application of the Common Core standards in Yeshivas? Do you even care what is being taught in Yeshivas and whether children educated in Yeshivas will ever be able to support themselves in a modern internet driven economy?
Could you please explain why, in one of the top four highest taxed counties in the United States, the children of East Ramapo are receiving an education that would make a third world nation feel ashamed? The only statement we have seen from you on education was a mailer which said that Rob Astorino wanted to teach the children of East Ramapo how to shoot guns and that an Astorino victory in the last election would put a gun down every hallway in our local schools.
Do you really believe that? Do you seriously expect me to believe that?
Meanwhile you appeared in your own ads on television outfitted in sartorial splendor, perfectly coiffed, while seemingly inferring to the parents of East Ramapo that the best solution to their problem is to have a teacher like you, or perhaps your girlfriend, take over what the East Ramapo School District is increasingly failing to do.
4) Violation of Local Laws
Governor Cuomo, did you by any chance share with our Hasidic neighbors that they are frequently accused of violating numerous laws in Rockland and Orange Counties particularly those to do with housing and zoning laws? As a result of your personal experience in closing down a corruption investigation known as the Moreland Commission and your experience in hiring a criminal defense attorney, you know what it means to be accused of possibly being in violation of the law.
Were you able to share with our neighbors what steps you would advise them to take to disprove accusations that they are ignoring zoning laws? Why is it when someone has the courage to speak up or write about the problems in our neighboring community they are accused of being anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic?
The sad thing is that our local community in New Square is described in Wikipedia as a place where “four Hasidic men created a nonexistent Jewish school to receive $30 million in education grants, subsidies, and loans from the U.S. federal government. The men were convicted in 1999. In October of that year all four men received prison sentences ranging from 30 months to 78 months. Two other suspects who were indicted left the United States. President Clinton commuted the sentences of the men out of clemency”.
It has been pointed out that “Satmar,the biggest faction of Hasidim, are split between two brothers. You, Mr. Cuomo received the backing of both leaders when you won election. In the first year in office, you fulfilled a promise you made to one of the grand rabbis, Aaron Teitelbaum; you pushed through a bill that gave theological undergraduate students, including those studying at Yeshivas, access to millions of dollars in state grants“. Why, Governor Cuomo, could you not show a little bit of the same “Clintonian Clemency” for the minority public students in the East Ramapo School District and provide LEGAL access to $30 millions in additional State grants for our Hasidic neighbors who control the School Board to use for improvement of the public schools? It can’t be that you feared it would be diverted to Yeshivas?
Sadly it is now too late for you to come to East Ramapo, Governor Cuomo. But if you HAD come with that check in your hand it would have been a ‘Picture Worth Another Thousand Words’!
[Picture is of Cuomo with Satmar Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum taken in Williamsburg, NY.