Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Agudath Israel Makes Last-Minute Push For Legislation

With just seven scheduled days left to the legislative session, a lot of work still needs to be accomplished. Formal negotiations on final bills have not yet taken place between the legislative leaders and the governor.


One of the issues involves medical devices and procedures. More than 20 members of Agudath Israel of America fanned out across the Legislative Office Building and the state Capitol building last Wednesday, pressing four assemblymen and three senators as well as office staff of two senators and two assemblymen to pass legislation that would make it easier for patients to get a Dexcom device even if it is not for Type 1 diabetes, and have insurance pay for the device.

A rare disease called Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD) is a metabolic liver disease that causes hypoglycemia and other issues that use of a Dexcom device would help make life easier for patients. The group also called on lawmakers to alleviate the shortage of service providers.

“One of the obstacles keeping people from becoming direct service providers (DSPs) is that every provider needs to be fingerprinted for every agency they work for,” Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudath Israel’s government relations director wrote. “That means that if a provider – who has already been fingerprinted for multiple other agencies – is asked to temporarily fill in as a provider for a different agency, he or she cannot do so until they are again fingerprinted, and receive the results, which can take several weeks.”

Silber offered a solution: “Provide all agencies with access to the central state [fingerprint] database. Once a person is fingerprinted for the very first time, any agency would be able to check the database and ascertain that the prospective provider has a clean record. This would help families with children who have special needs access the care they require.”

The delegation also met with Terry Prat, assistant counsel to the Governor; Alyson Grant Tarek, assistant secretary for human services and mental hygiene; and Michael Mastroianni, assistant secretary for education.


Rabbi Delivers Prayer at Assembly Session

On Thursday, May 18, Rabbi Moshe Taub, spiritual leader of the Queens-based Young Israel of Holliswood, delivered the opening prayer of the Assembly session. It is a rare occasion for a rabbi to be called to the rostrum to deliver the prestigious prayer. Sponsoring his appearance was Assemblyman David Weprin, who attends services at the rabbi’s synagogue.

Rabbi Moshe Taub, spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Holliswood.

Rabbi Taub focused his remarks on freedom and the antisemitism Jews experienced as immigrants in the mid-1600s, when Manhattan was New Amsterdam, under the Dutch rule of Pieter Stuyvesant, called by Rabbi Taub a “rabid antisemite.”

A complaint to Stuyvesent’s Dutch superiors about Stuyvesant demanding payment from a Jewish immigrant for repair to a wall (located at present-day Wall Street). As Rabbi Taub told it, “The man received a response that told Pieter Stuyvesant that in these new colonies all will be judged as humans no matter race, creed or nationality. This all began in New York state. We plead to our almighty G-d, creator of Heaven and Earth, we open with profound gratitude from our hearts and deep within the thanksgiving of our souls for our democracy to beseech you. Oh G-d, that we . . . shall never tire or take for granted, the gift and blessing of our freedom and democracy.”

After his remarks, Rabbi Taub spoke to The Jewish Press about why he chose that specific topic to focus on at this time.

“Most don’t know that when the Jewish immigrants arrived, Pieter Stuyvesant was a rabid antisemite. They fought him hard,” Rabbi Taub said. “When Pieter Stuyvesant saw the Jews wanted to have ritual slaughters, he said you can only do it if you slaughter pigs. That’s how bad it was. It was Asser Levy and a few others who wrote letters to the Dutch Indian Stock Company to complain. Pieter Stuyvesant argued his case, saying how the Jews will ruin this colony. Obviously, we won their approval and that’s the first time we have in writing that no matter our differences, no matter your race, no matter your creed, in this new world there will be freedom. It was a reminder during this divided time that we have returned to that.”

After Rabbi Taub stepped down from the rostrum, Weprin told his colleagues about Rabbi Taub’s background.

“Rabbi Taub, who grew up in Toronto, Canada, was appointed rabbi of the Orthodox community in Buffalo at the age of 24. He also ran the Buffalo Vaad Hakashruth, building it up to an international kosher council and certifying products in five continents,” Weprin said. “After 12 years in Buffalo, he moved downstate to Holliswood where he serves as the senior rabbi. He also served as a weekly columnist and chief rabbinic editor of Ami magazine, a New York-based international weekly with a readership of more than a quarter million worldwide. Rabbi Taub has served as the executive of the Rabbinical Council of America and many other organizations. He was the principal of Telshe Yeshiva in Riverdale, The Bronx, a renowned and prestigious Talmudic institution, and still teaches in schools in the New York City area. He is also the senior Talmudic instructor at Shevach High School, an all-girls school in Flushing, Queens. He is the father of five, four girls and one boy. His wife, Nechama, works in the nursing home industry.”

Rabbi Taub, a history buff of sorts, also became philosophical during our interview.

“We are all living in some future generations past. Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it,” Rabbi Taub said. “We tend to forget the blood that was shed for our freedoms and how easy it can be taken from us.  We’re given freedom of religion from G-d. The Constitution is a negative document that states the government shall not infringe on our religious beliefs.”

Rabbi Taub, 45, made the seven-hour round trip from Queens to Albany and back just to deliver the three-minute prayer. There is a $75 honorarium given to clergy to cover travel expenses. He is married with five children. His book on American history will be coming out in the fall.


Cutting the Cord

Many homeowners and apartment dwellers are cutting the cord – the cable cord, that is. As cable rates increase, many television enthusiasts are opting for streaming services. Cable companies are mandated to collect a cable franchise fee. That fee is supposed to go to support community media or public access programming to pay for equipment and supplies, but not salaries. The fee is only a few cents on the bill but it all adds up. The franchise fee has continued to dwindle for several years, alarming the operators of the community media outlets in the state are located in the five boroughs, Suffolk, Albany, Schenectady, Schoharie, Ontario, Westchester and Putnam counties. Community media outlets in Chautauqua and Dutchess counties have gone dark in recent years. The operators of the other community media outlets fear they will suffer the same fate if they don’t recover the franchise fee from some other source.

The groups are turning their attention to streaming and broadcast satellite services. The legislation reads:

“An act to amend the tax law, in relation to establishing a tax on direct broadcast satellite services and video streaming services; and to amend the state finance law, in relation to establishing the community media reinvestment fund. It will impose an excise tax on entities providing a direct broadcast satellite service and video streaming services.”

The legislation will ensure that, as video programming viewership expands and migrates from traditional cable services to satellite and video streaming services, that migration does not result in reduced support for and investment in local video programming responsive to the unique needs and interests of New Yorkers, including public, educational, or governmental access television programming. The Community Media Reinvestment Act will impose an excise tax on entities providing (1) direct broadcast satellite service or (2) video streaming services other than cable service (as defined by the federal Cable Act) to customers or subscribers in New York state. This excise tax, which mirrors the 5 percent franchise fee imposed on cable television operators, consists of a five percent tax on the gross receipts that direct broadcast satellite service providers or video streaming service providers derive from providing video programming to New Yorkers.

The act also creates a Community Media Reinvestment Fund, in the joint custody of the Commissioner of Taxation and Finance and the Comptroller, where the revenue collected from this tax will be deposited. The commissioner may retain up to 10 percent of the money in the fund each year for operating expenses. The money collected in the Community Media Reinvestment Fund will disburse 20 percent of revenues collected, less operating expenses, to the state general fund; 40 percent of revenues to municipalities in the state; and 40 percent of revenues to entities responsible for operating and administering public, educational, and/or governmental access channels in the state (community media centers.) As gathered from the research directed by NYCAM, taxing digital media goods and services would generate at least $250-500 million annually in new tax revenues for New York immediately.

The bill is being pushed by the Alliance for Community Media of New York. Assemblyman Michael Benedetto (D – Northeast Bronx) and Senator Kevin Parker (D – Flatbush, Brooklyn). The measure is tied up in committee for now.

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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].