Busy with New Square and the tax cap

So here I am, trying to find the time to blog something about the world not ending or about the John Jay report on sex abuse.

But I’m been swamped with the horrible New Square arson incident and the increasingly likely possibility of a property-tax cap here in old New York.

Hey, I’m a generalist.

So, what can I say? The truly interesting thing about Harold Camping’s “judgment day” prophesy is what it says about the media these days. When Camping made his last end-times prediction, I believe in 1994, hardly anyone heard about it. Who really cared?

But in 2011, Mr. Camping became perfect fodder for the 24/7 media machine to chew on. Everyone got in on the act because it was easy and goofy, perfect blog and Twitter material. Some academic should (and probably will) look at how much media face-time was given to a previously unknown evangelist with a small following.

The John Jay report is a more serious matter. I’ve read about it, but still haven’t had time to read the report.

There seems to be a general sense of…disappointment…with the report’s findings. After all these years of study, the culprit was the “free love,” anything goes culture of the 60s and 70s?

That’s a theory that has been floated since the crisis broke in 2002, so it does seem a bit stale and something of a let-down.

Some have questioned the independence of the researchers, since the Conference of Catholic Bishops helped fund the work. The bishops shouldn’t be surprised by this reaction, especially given what I understand to be the ho-hum findings of the report.

But if the researchers say they were independent, and they do, it’s hard to dispute them.

So…I’ve been talking to people about his awful incident of violence at New Square, the Hasidic enclave in Rockland County.

It’s a sad story, by any measure.

There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that a man was openly harassed for months because he did not attend the community’s primary synagogue. The question at hand is whether he was attacked and severely burned as a result of this sanctioned harassment.

It’s always been extremely difficult to get people in New Square to talk about…anything. But there are such bad feelings about Sunday’s violence that some, a few, are speaking out.

I had a conversation Monday with a woman, a “New Square mom” she called herself, who was furious. She could not believe that the New Square leadership had not condemned the attack. She said that her children did not know what to believe about their community.

She also compared living in New Square to living under al-Queda. Really.

She spoke to me anonymously. To do so otherwise, she said, would result in being shunned and having her home vandalized.

She said that her family could not leave New Square because the community’s leadership would spread lies about them to the leaders of any community they would try to go to.

“There are normal people here,” she said.

We’ll see where this story goes.

Checking in on the East Ramapo schools

The Forward is weighing in on the ongoing Orthodox/non-Orthodox tensions in the East Ramapo school district.

The article focuses on the recent resignation of school board President Nathan Rothschild, who was subsequently charged with felony mail fraud, and an investigation of the district by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.

Here is the Forward’s “nut graph” or a brief introduction to a very strange place:

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Just 40 minutes from Manhattan, East Ramapo is an ethnically diverse school district in the heart of Rockland County. The district encompasses two centers of the county’s burgeoning Orthodox population: the Hasidic enclave of New Square and the Orthodox hamlet of Monsey. Though members of the Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities in the district largely send their children to private religious schools, they held five of nine seats on the East Ramapo Board of Education until the board president’s recent resignation. Four of the five are Hasidic.

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The article doesn’t even mention that the board recently removed long-time Superintendent Ira Oustatcher or that the district is in terrible financial straits.

The board recently approved a budget proposal that would cut 89 jobs and still raise taxes by 7.53 percent, one of the largest increases in the region.

Yikes.

The photo is of a recent protest, outside the district offices, of the slipping quality of education.

Jewish paper: Worries of ‘violence’ in East Ramapo

The venerable Jewish newspaper The Forward looks this week at the tensions in the East Ramapo school district — including the possibility of “violence.”

The article, while not terribly long, gives you a pretty good sense of what’s at stake:

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Although Orthodox Jews in the predominantly Jewish upstate New York villages of Monsey and New Square send their children to private religious schools, six of the eight elected members of the Board of Education of the East Ramapo Central School District are Orthodox. A ninth, who recently resigned and has yet to be replaced, is also Orthodox. Some non-Orthodox community members allege that the Orthodox members of the board support the religious schools at the expense of the public school system — claims that the Orthodox board denies. But people on both sides agree that anger over the issue is running high.

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The article focuses on whether the school board sold the Hillcrest Elementary School building to a yeshiva at a below-market rate. But it looks at this question in light of all the strange, internal pressures building up in the school district.

The writer, Josh Nathan-Kazis, quotes board President Nathan Rothschild, an Orthodox Jew, extensively. Rothschild says a few notable things, including that he sees himself as a representative of the private-school community.

About the non-Orthodox community losing control of the school board, he says “If you don’t get up and vote, then you deserve what you get.”

Nathan-Kazis writes that several people he interviewed are concerned about the possiblity of violence breaking out. He also quotes Antonio Luciano, a retired New York Police Department lieutenant who was defeated in the May school board elections, as saying that students have been reprimanded for blaming East Ramapo’s problems on “the Jews.”

The district is 56% black and 27% Hispanic.

It’s a pretty bleak picture overall.

Rothschild, who has served on the board for 15 years, explains why he is not running again: “You have no idea how demoralizing it is to sit at a meeting and be beat up by everybody. They say things that have parts of truth in it, and maybe more than just parts of truth. It’s a demoralizing thing. I don’t think anybody wants to go through that. I think we’d all love peace.”