Thursday, October 03, 2019

Mythbusting group: Hundreds of KJ marriage licenses issued yearly 

An Orthodox Jewish advocacy group has obtained a listing of hundreds of marriage licenses issued for Kiryas Joel weddings each year to debunk a durable myth that Hasidic couples skip those civil records to appear unwed and qualify for Medicaid and other income-based public assistance.

Last year alone, the Monroe town clerk's office gave 479 licenses to couples soon to be wed in Kiryas Joel, plus 33 more for Hasidic couples whose nuptials took place in Brooklyn or Rockland County, according to a list shared by the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council that showed the names of the brides and grooms, their license and wedding dates, and the locations of their weddings.

That list, which OJPAC got from the town clerk's office through an open-records request, dated back to 2009 and showed high numbers of marriage licenses for Kiryas Joel weddings throughout that time, with the counts escalating as the village's population has rapidly grown. In 2009, the clerk's office issued 209 licenses to couples marrying in Kiryas Joel, or less than half of last year's total.

OJPAC co-founder Yossi Gestetner, who lives in Rockland County, says he requested the data after getting skeptical responses to a video his group posted in July to rebut the same misconception about Hasidim forgoing marriage licenses. The video said 98 percent of residents of Kiryas Joel and the Hasidic villages of New Square and Kaser live in households led by married couples, prompting critics to suggest people had lied to the Census Bureau about being legally married.

Gestetner said the no-license myth was widespread, cropping up in Facebook chatter and in conversation at recent public meetings in Rockland. He said it was one of several commonly accepted untruths about the Hasidic community that he hoped to dispel because they stoke the anxiety of well-intentioned neighbors of the Hasidim.

"This is a myth that normal, upstanding people repeat with confidence, as though it's true," he said.

He argued the notion that couples hide their marriages from the government was particularly pernicious because "it packages the Hasidic community as thumbing their noses at societal norms."

The Census Bureau estimated the median household income in Kiryas Joel in 2017 was $30,525, although the estimated mean, or average, household income that year was much higher at $46,506. In a post on its website last week, OJPAC touted that mean income as a 43 percent jump in average earnings in Kiryas Joel in just eight years.

The same Census Bureau statistics indicated that 57 percent of Kiryas Joel households received Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits — also known as food stamps — within the last 12 months, and 80 percent of residents had public health insurance, which includes Medicaid and Medicare.

The annual wedding tallies in Kiryas Joel don't necessarily signify the volume of couples seeking homes in or near the village, since some of those newlyweds may have settled in Brooklyn or Rockland. A more common yardstick for housing demand in Kiryas Joel is the number of girls finishing school, which last year was about 415.


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