More than a few crumbs

By Geoffrey Paul
April 21, 2011

Having spent the first days of Passover in an American venue of kosher excess - 24-hour food of such variety, quality and abundance that it becomes almost impossible to accept a small portion, the wine bottles piled high with an invitation to help yourself - it came as a real shock to open the New York Times to a front page splash, based on a Census Bureau report, that the poorest village, town or city in the US with a population of more than 10,000 is the Satmar-dominated ultra-orthodox community of Kiryas Joel, less than an hour's drive from New York City. Seventy per cent of its 21,00 residents live in households whose income is below the federal poverty threshhold. The women marry young and have many children. The median age in Kiryas Joel is 12. Many of the boys will follow in their fathers' footsteps and spend their days,not working, but in religious studies.

All of which intrigued the New Yirk Times reporter. If things, according to the Census Bureau, were so bad, how come they had thriving schools and a first-rate medical centre with a highly-developed welfare system for over-burdened mothers? If you visit Kiryas Joel, you won't find people starving or a lack of pushchairs, kids' bikes or even cars. How do they do it ? Well, in the first instance, in any election, federal or state, Kiryas Joel can be counted on to vote as a solid block for favoured candidates. When it comes to handing out funds for education, health or programmes, these favoured candidates are unlikely to forget Kiryas Joel. Most unlikely. Then there's the matter of the local poultry slaughter house which has a throughput of 40,000 chickens a day. Since the community owns it, it rates as a not-for-profit enterprise. And the major matzo bakery which produces 800 tons of matzo a day? That belongs to a local shul and is equally a charitable enterprise.

They certainly know how to count their chickens in Kiryas Joel,,,which reminds me, it must be time to go and have a bite or two to eat.And a glass of wine, of course.


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