Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Oh No... Not Again!

I can’t stand it anymore. I almost wish the target of this investigation was Modern Orthodox. Because I know I will be accused of bashing Charedim again and I’m  tired of it. As well as being battered by the right wing for my publicizing it.

But I am not the one publicizing it. At least not as much as the New York Times whose readership is a tiny bit larger than mine. Many of them Orthodox Jews – some of whom are my readers. My purpose is not to publicize it. But as an Orthodox Jew I consider it my obligation to condemn it in no uncertain terms.

Yet another fraud perpetrated by a religious figure has taken place in New York City. From the New York Times
One of New York City’s largest providers of special education services to preschoolers with disabilities illegally diverted millions in taxpayer financing to a girls’ religious school, summer camps and a kosher supermarket owned by the group’s officers and board members, state auditors said on Monday…
 After subpoenaing more than 13,000 checks from the agency’s bank, auditors said they gave up counting after the first 1,549 checks they reviewed turned up $5.8 million in what they said was fraudulent spending over a six-year period when Island Child billed the state and the city more than $27 million…
 Island Child, in Far Rockaway, Queens, paid nearly $2 million to Bnos Bais Yaakov, a nearby school for Orthodox Jewish girls, of which the auditors said Rabbi Samuel Hiller, the assistant executive director of Island Child, is both dean and an owner. Another $877,000 went to various Jewish summer camps, two of them tied to Mr. Hiller, and more than $330,000 in non payroll checks went to Mr. Hiller himself, the auditors said…
 Auditors cited what they said were many other improper or fraudulent expenses, including $200,000 in construction, $12,000 to two jewelers, $235,000 to credit-card companies, $44,000 to “cash,” and nearly $200,000 to five fictitious workers…
Reprehensible. That is the word used by New York State Comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli about taking for personal use taxpayer dollars meant for special-needs children.

I’ll say it is. But that is not all it is. It is also a major Chilul HaShem – a desecration of God’s name!

I have no clue who Samuel Hiller is. Maybe he is Modern Orthodox even though his beneficiary was a Bais Yaakov. Anything is possible. But his acts are no less a Chilul HaShem.

I am even willing to give him the benefit of the doubt – that none of these diverted special needs funds were actually used for personal gain – even though it does seem that way from the Times article. Let me even stipulate that every penny he diverted was to help fund religious schools and camps.  

We all know how desperate Jewish education is for funding. And we all know that there is just not enough money to do it through tuitions or fundraisers.  School deficits are constantly increasing while revenue to the schools are decreasing… or staying the same… or even best case scenario increasing but not keeping pace with increased budgets!  Sources of revenue like tuition are at maximum levels. Parents are squeezed for every extra dollar they have.

There are very few parents these days that aren’t on at least a partial scholarship. Donors and fundraiser are not able to make up the shortfall. Teacher – most of whom are underpaid - deserve to get paid. On time and in full. They have to eat too. And pay the same bills the rest of us do.

So I can understand the pressure on those responsible for these budgets. How can anyone with a heart tell a dedicated teacher there is not enough money to pay them on-time.

Rabbi Hiller probably felt this pressure. He may not be a bad person. He may in fact be a very caring person – which may account for his grievous ways. Desperate people do desperate things. He saw a way to get his teachers paid – even if it wasn’t so Kosher. I understand all of that. But what he did is still reprehensible and a Chilul HaShem.

Stealing money (via fraud) designed for charitable purposes in order to fund religious education and camps is Gneiva. It is a violation of Jewish law to steal money from anyone.

It pierces the depths of my soul to see special needs money go to a religious girl’s school, no matter how badly they needed it. Even worse to a camp. And if all the allegations are true then it is beyond disgusting that he wrote checks in the amount of $12,000 to two jewelers!

What makes this even more outrageous is the fact that people like this do not learn from the mistakes of others. It’s not like this has never happened before. Regrettably it has. Far too many times. Has he never heard of the Spinka Rebbe? Or those rabbis from Deal, New Jersey? In both of those cases fraud was perpetrated against the government – and in both cases it was for a ‘good cause’ and not for personal use.

How stupid and arrogant does one have to be to think that he is not going to get caught. Even if in some sort of perverted altruistic way he is willing to take a chance knowing he might get caught but in his desperation to pay his teachers he did it anyway, Doesn’t he realize that he is not the only one going to pay a price, here?

We all pay a price… the special needs kids who didn’t get the money they needed. The taxpayer – which includes all of us – Jew and non Jew alike. And perhaps most importantly the entirety of the Jewish people.

His actions embarrass us and make Judaism look devious, self-serving, and crooked. That is not what being a light unto the nations is all about. God did not make us His Chosen people for this purpose. It is therefore a Chilul HaShem. Didn’t he realize that all this might happen?I guess not. Did he think he was smarter than those who tried it before him and got caught? I guess so.