Over the past several months, The New York Times has published investigative stories focusing on Hasidic schools in New York which have been derided by critics including the Anti-Defamation League, who say the reports are fueling antisemitism as reported crimes against the Jewish people continue soaring.
The Times published yet another report on Feb. 20, this one focusing on Kiryas Joel Union Free School District located in the village of Kiryas Joel roughly 50 miles north of Manhattan. The community is made of almost entirely Hasidic Jews and the school district was established specifically for children with disabilities.
The report, titled “How Public Money Goes to Support a Hasidic Village’s Private Schools,” suggested that the taxpayer-funded school district was misappropriating its spending, which is already under a bureaucratic microscope by the state.
“I got the vibe that he was sent on a mission, and that mission was not to present a fair picture of the community or of the school district,” Joel Petlin said about Times investigative reporter Jay Root. “I spent literally hours and hours with the reporter explaining things, discussing issues, reviewing material, explaining how things work. And he really came to the table with a bias because he’s an investigative journalist with literally zero experience with education issues, with federal grant issues, with any coverage of schools, anything about the Jewish community… He came with an assignment, and that assignment was to find whatever financial dirt he could on the school district.”
“And I don’t believe that he uncovered anything that’s shocking. I mean, all of our transactions are aboveboard. Everything that we do is reviewed by the state. We have auditors that are constantly reviewing our program and reviewing our financial matters,” Petlin added.
Petlin, the superintendent of the school district, acknowledged one audit from 2009, which was highlighted in the Times report, after two members of its school board voted to spend tax money on a 30-year contract lease of a building from a private Jewish education organization rather than pay for new construction. Those two board members are also on the board of that private group. However, he stressed “that’s 14 years ago.”
Following the Times’ first reporting on Hasidic schools in September 2022, a project called KnowUs from Agudath Israel of America was launched to combat the paper’s portrayal of the Orthodox Jewish community. Its website blares a banner that there have been “12 New York Times articles against Orthodox Jews in 3 months.”
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In a press release following the story’s publishing, KnowUs slammed the now “18th article and counting” from the Times since September, calling it “prejudicial” and “seems determined to find a scandal” with no smoking gun.
“Is it nefarious or even surprising that when seeking to rent specialized school space, the district would do so from the nonprofit that supplies the majority of it in the district, and ‘provides schooling for most of the children in Kiryas Joel?’ Moreover, ominous innuendo notwithstanding, is it scandalous that the district repaired the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in the facility in which children with special education needs were learning?” KnowUs asked. “The Times seems offended by the very notion of doing business with Hasidic Jews… The New York Times portrays Hasidic Jews as ultra-religious, self-dealing caricatures, as black and white as the traditional garb they wear.”
The Times appears to have gone all-in on its emerging field of reporting that the paper created its own “Spotlight” webpage that archives the series of articles.
“It’s not journalism, but it’s good for business,” Petlin said. “They remove the paywall and the article they published to get more excitement about it. Some of the articles, they actually translate into Yiddish to try to get more people to read them from within the community. It’s a mission. It’s well beyond balanced journalism.”
Petlin drew attention to the Times’ tip line that was posted last fall after it published its first report on Hasidic schools, appealing to readers, “We want to talk to former students, as well as parents, teachers and special education providers and others with experiences with education in Orthodox and Hasidic schools as well as the Kiryas Joel public school district.” The paper is no longer accepting tips.
“There’s 700 school districts in New York State. And I’ve never seen The New York Times solicit for- obviously all the hateful comments, only things, you know, in the negative- for any other school district but this one, the Kiryas Joel school district, knowing who we are and what we do,” Petlin said.
Petlin told Fox News Digital that one of the school’s speech therapists asked him if she could reach out to the Times to defend the school district. He gave her the green light.
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In mid-November, Rochel Berman, a 25-year veteran at the Kiryas Joel school district, sent the following message to the Times, which was shared with Fox News Digital:
“I am a Speech therapist providing services in the Kiryas Joel UFSD. I can emphatically state that the Special Education system in Kiryas Joel is excellent. The children are all educated to the best of their abilities and are provided with excellent therapies including Speech Therapy, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Psychological Therapy. The care and concern for each child is inspiring and the staff often goes out of their way to help each child and provide the best possible services. The school administration is always looking for ways to help the children progress and they are willing to implement any program, such as ABA services, Vision Therapy, Training in Activities of Daily Living and others that would benefit the children. I have been a Speech Therapist for 39 years and I have worked in a number of schools including schools in NYC, on Staten Island, in New City NY and in New Jersey. I have been working in the KIryas Joel school for the past 25 years and can honestly state that they provide the highest quality level of service that I have seen. I am proud to be a part of their system.”
Several days later, she was contacted by Root, who authored the story on Kiryas Joel.
“He asked me very leading questions,” Berman told Fox News Digital in an interview. “He had an agenda. He kept saying, ‘I know they teach religion in the school.’ I kept saying, ‘I never saw them teach religion.’ He said, ‘I know they teach religion. I’ve been told they teach religion.’ And I explained to him… our whole district is special education. Our children range in age from three years to 21, and they function in age from three months to maybe six mentally. So we’re not teaching three-month-olds, four-month-olds, six month- they’re very severely handicapped children. If they can at all function, they go to their regular schools. These are very severely handicapped children.”
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Berman stressed that Root wasn’t nasty in their discussions but described him as being “persistently biased.”
“He kept going back to the religion and he kept going back to what people were being paid and who these people were,” Berman said. “He just couldn’t share anything good. And I told him, ‘You sound like a nice guy, but you’re listening with a biased ear. Maybe you get it from your office. I don’t know where you get it from, but you’re not hearing anything that I’m saying that’s good. You just keep asking me questions about things I’ve already answered… There’s a bias there.’ So he said, I don’t understand. There’s absolutely no bias at the Times.’ So I said, ‘Listen, you’re not hearing me… I’m telling you these things, and you’re just ignoring what I’m telling you.’ So we had conversations like that.”
Berman told Fox News Digital she spoke with Root on three separate occasions and their conversations ranged between 20-30 minutes. Nothing she told him made it to print.
The article drew focus on the son of the school board president who the Times reported “earns $178,000 a year as a ‘teacher aide/E.M.T.,'” painting an image of impropriety. While Petlin told the paper that the salary was justified due to additional duties he performs, Berman attested to Fox News Digital that the aide “literally works 24/7” and spoke about him to the Times reporter.
“We call him all the time,” Berman said of the school aide. “He visits every school every day. Every parent calls him when they need help. He’s an amazing person who gets things done.”
Berman alleged that Root was “very upset” at how the schools separated men and women, which is culturally normal in the Hasidic community and told him “if they were Muslims and Muslims also don’t mix, you wouldn’t write about that.” That complaint Root expressed wasn’t mentioned in the final report.
“It did not make the story because- we were talking about that and we were talking about the religion being taught in the school. And then on the last conversation, he said to me, ‘I found a different track to work on. I’m not working on those tracks anymore.’ I said, OK. And obviously the track was a financial track, so that was our last contact,” Berman said.
Root did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
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Petlin compared the Times story to the paper running a story about him running a red light based off of a photo from a street camera but omitting that a police officer was standing in the intersection waving him through because the traffic light was broken.
“I shouldn’t have to explain my answer, because it should be a non-story. But they made a story out of something that is not a story,” Petlin said. “And they, you know, they’re harping on some of the conflict of interest issues because they they they look sexy, but. They’ve recused themselves when they were supposed to.”
“There’s clearly an obsession… They really made a story out of nothing that I believe is just an attempt to embarrass the community,” he added.
When asked whether The New York Times was engaging in antisemitism with its reporting despite having numerous Jewish staffers on its payroll, both Berman and Petlin view the paper is targeting the most religious Jews.
“Hasidic Jews stick out. Like they stick out in terms of Jews,” Berman told Fox News Digital. “You can meet many Jewish people and not know they’re Jewish… so they bear the brunt of antisemitism. Like Israel bears the brunt of antisemitism. They stand out as Jews… These Jews are not part of their culture. They’re different. They don’t like different Jews.”
“None of them are Hasidic. None of them are orthodox. None of them live in the communities. None of them present the way that Orthodox or Hasidic Jews do. The violence that’s occurring to distinctively appearing Jewish people in Brooklyn is not happening to the Brians and the Elizas,” Petlin similarly expressed about Times staffers, specifically referring to reporters Brian Rosenthal and Eliza Shapiro who authored previous reports about Hasidic schools.
A spokesperson for The New York Times told Fox News Digital, “We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting, which was comprehensive and exhaustive, and stand behind its publication unreservedly. Our reporters gather news with sensitivity and care, and the criticism leveled here is inaccurate.”
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