Forward Thinking

Jewish Week Publishes Orthodox E-Rate Investigation

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

An investigation out today from the Jewish Week sheds more light on apparent Orthodox abuse of the E-Rate subsidy program, which the Forward first reported on last week.

E-Rate, a federally mandated subsidy program, funds internet and telephone connectivity for schools and libraries. The Forward investigation revealed that Orthodox institutions that didn’t actually qualify as libraries were nonetheless receiving large E-Rate subsidies.

The Forward’s story also showed that these Orthodox libraries had received far more in subsidies than the average library in New York, and that experts questioned the size of the allocations.

The Jewish Week story focuses on Orthodox schools’ use of E-Rate. The newspaper reports that 22% of all New York State E-Rate allocations in 2011 went to Jewish schools, which constitute just 4% of the schools in the state.

That amounts to $30 million in E-Rate subsidies in 2011. Much of that money went to ultra-Orthodox schools that don’t allow Internet use in the classroom, according to the Jewish Week. The story demonstrates that a handful of large Jewish schools received disproportionately high amounts of E-Rate subsidy.

The investigation is the first in a three-part series, according to the paper.

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Yes, Virginia, Hanukkah Has a Correct Spelling

By J.J. Goldberg

“Jewish Tech” blogger Rabbi Jason Miller asks a useful and important question in his Jewish Week column this week, namely: How do you spell Hanukkah? Unfortunately, he starts off with an incorrect premise, then looks for an answer in the wrong place and leads his readers on a bit of a goose chase. He ends up, strangely enough, in the right place.

Let’s start by acknowledging that the question looks odd in print, since in the course of asking, we have to spell it. Having said that, Miller gamely leads in the wrong direction and makes up an answer by asserting that there’s no correct spelling. “Since it’s a Hebrew word that is transliterated into English, there are several acceptable spellings,” he writes, quoting his own column from last year. He’s writing about it again this year, it seems, because “people still want to know if there is a consensus.”

He goes on to note the myriad ways of spelling “Gaddafi” (“or is it Kadhafi or Qaddafi?”) and concludes that our December Spelling Dilemma is the same chartless jungle. His solution: Go to Google, and see which spelling gets the most hits. Answers: Number 1 is Hanukkah, with 8,470,000 hits, followed by Chanukah with 3,390,000.

Well, those are the right answers, but the way we got there does the reader a disservice. Spelling isn’t a popularity contest. It follows rules. It may evolve over time, but it will still reflect a language’s historical evolution. As for transliteration, it’s a system of spelling with defined rules. There are right and wrong ways to render words from one alphabet into another. The fact that many people don’t know them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

The tough part about transliteration is that there are two different systems. Not three or four or many—just two. But that’s enough to make many people think there’s no system at all. So let’s look at the rules.

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