Vox Tablet

How a Reporter Dispelled Myths About Ultra-Orthodox Jews Gaming the System

Batya Ungar-Sargon discusses her exposé on the tax rolls and funding cuts that fueled an ethnic rift in East Ramapo, N.Y.

September 8, 2014
(Original photo by Flickr/ThoseGuys119)
(Original photo by Flickr/ThoseGuys119)

Around the country, kids are settling into their classrooms for a new school year, unaware of the wars over curriculum, teacher evaluations, school funding, and other hot-button education topics. Just north of New York City, in the district of East Ramapo in Rockland County, one such battle has been brewing for nearly a decade, churning up racial and ethnic tensions as it goes. In 2005, the school board in East Ramapo underwent a change when Hasidic Jews living in the area voted enough Orthodox Jews into office to make them a majority. Yet by and large the children in the public schools the board oversees come from African American, Caribbean, and Latin American households, while the children of the area’s Hasidic Jews get private education. When the school budget was severely cut in 2009 and 2010, some community members said the board was siphoning money to support programs for Jewish kids at the expense of everyone else in town. Indeed, tempers grew so hot that some community members joined a lawsuit filed against the board in 2012. That suit is still making its way through the legal system.

Did Hasidic Jews in East Ramapo stack the school board so they could siphon money from public schools to subsidize their own children’s education at the expense of poor, mostly non-white children? That’s what Batya Ungar-Sargon wanted to find out. This past spring and summer she repeatedly visited East Ramapo to try to separate myth from reality. She wrote an in-depth investigative story about the school-district battles there for Tablet Magazine, and she joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to discuss what the mainstream media gets wrong in their reporting on East Ramapo, what it got right, and why you have to do the math, and visit cafés, supermarkets, and libraries to find out the real story.

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Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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