Copyright 1994 The Hearst Corporation The Times Union
August 30, 1994, Tuesday, THREE STAR EDITION
SECTION: CAPITAL REGION, Pg. B2
LENGTH: 853 words
DISSIDENTS ALLEGE FRAUD, HARASSMENT IN KIRYAS JOEL VOTE
OPPONENTS OF A SPECIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT FOR THE DISABLED SAY THEY WERE STONED,
VILIFIED AND DISENFRANCHISED
BYLINE: JOHN CAHER;
BODY: A 79-year-old man and
his son, dissidents in Orange County's Hasidic enclave, claim that they were
insulted and stoned after making good on a threat to vote against the formation
of a special school district.
An 18-year-old woman,
voting for the first time in the July 25 Kiryas Joel
referendum, contends that her vote was stolen by an elections volunteer who
reached into the voting booth and cast a ballot in favor of a public school for
Several other residents of
the village of Kiryas Joel people who had made it known prior
to the election that they opposed the special district claim that when they
showed up to vote they were told their registrations were missing, and were
Those and other allegations of vote fraud
and intimidation are the latest charges to rock Kiryas Joel.
The allegations form the basis for a complaint filed Friday by dissidents who
contend that iron-fisted leaders of Kiryas Joel subverted the
principles of democracy to get their own way. Kiryas Joel is
home to about 12,000 people, virtually all of them members of the ultra-Orthodox
Satmar sect of Judaism.
The complaint, lodged with the
state Education Department, alleges that village leaders manhandled the election
and, at least tacitly, encouraged supporters of the school district to harass
opponents. School Superintendent Steven Benardo called the charges ''just
''There were so many government agencies
supervising the election that you could trip over them,'' Benardo said. ''The
police were there. The sheriff was there. No one that I know of saw anything
that could possibly be construed as inappropriate.''
official with the Orange County Sheriff's Department confirmed that deputies
were present at the election. He said there were no arrests.
Bill Hirschen, Education Department spokesman, said Kiryas Joel leaders have until Sept. 13 to respond to the
allegations. He said the matter will be investigated over the next two months,
and the department's legal staff will eventually present the commissioner with
any evidence that is uncovered.
At the center of the
controversy is a public school for disabled children.
It was created in 1989 when Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and the state
Legislature allowed Kiryas Joel to secede from the local
school district and form its own district. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court
called the district a violation of the separation of church and state. Cuomo and
the Legislature promptly approved new legislation to skirt the Supreme Court
ruling and sent the matter back to Kiryas Joel for a
villagewide vote and the election of a school board.
no one's surprise, the school district, which never stopped operating despite
the Supreme Court ruling, was re-created and its Board of Education was
re-elected. Opponents of the school district claim that the outcome was
The complaint was filed by six residents
who opposed the public school district and call themselves the Committee for No
''Persons were accompanied into the
voting booth and stripped of their right to vote,'' according to the complaint.
''Other persons were threatened and scared away from the polls and still others
were able to vote only after enduring considerable undue hardship.''
Kiryas Joel religious leaders have
warned residents to shun the approximately 300 dissidents, or ''infidels,'' who
banded together in the mid-1980s when Grand Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum installed his
son Aaron as chief rabbi, and promoted several allies as village leaders.
A few years ago, one resident, Joseph Waldman, ran for the
school board without the blessings of the rabbi. He lost the election and was
thrown out of the synagogue, and his six children were expelled from the
religious schools in Kiryas Joel. It took a court order to get
Recently, the village came under the
scrutiny of the U.S. attorney's office, which is investigating allegations of
fraud in the way Kiryas Joel used federal funds. The resident
who allegedly tipped off federal authorities and started the probe, Yosef
Hirsch, was labeled a ''muser,'' or informer, and contends that his house was
stoned and that a banner was placed on top of the local shopping center
declaring that his name should be ''banished from the face of the Earth.''
The complainants, Waldman among them, claim that they were
discouraged from running. They included in their complaint affidavits from 10
residents, all of whom publicly opposed the special school.
Jacob Samet said he and his handicapped 79-year-old father, who
had both publicly opposed the special school district, were confronted and
insulted by students. Samet said his head was cut when he was hit with a thrown
Eighteen-year-old Tzpora Feldman, attempting for
the first time to exercise her right to vote, said she asked for help in
operating the voting machine.
''The volunteer came in
to assist me and she pushed the 'yes' button and then quickly pulled the curtain
open and told me in Yiddish I was done and to leave,'' Feldman said in her