Historic New NYS Benefit for Yeshivos Gedolos


agudahAs a result of several years of efforts by Agudath Israel of America and the unwavering support of New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, rabbinical college students in New York State will, for the first time ever, be eligible to receive Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) grants.

Until now, needy rabbinical college students in undergraduate institutions were eligible for federal “Pell grants” to help defer the costs of tuition, but not for New York State tuition assistance grants. Now, under the new budget, yeshiva students will, for the first time, be eligible for TAP grants, as their counterparts are for similar state educational grants in New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois.

The new budget bill allocates some $9 million for TAP grants to rabbinical college students for academic year 2010-2011, and then envisions allocations in the range of $18 million in future years.

According to Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Agudath Israel of America vice president for community services, who worked assiduously to promote the idea that New York should follow the federal government’s lead in this area, the new policy will bring many millions of dollars to yeshivos gedolos and seminaries, and represents the most helpful new benefit program the yeshiva community has seen in years.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind was the first elected official to realize how important TAP is to needy yeshiva gedola students. The Assemblyman led the campaign for yeshivos’ inclusion for over three years, introducing the TAP bill in 2007, with the co-sponsorship of 42 other Assembly members.

The bill’s language was crafted by Agudath Israel associate general counsel Rabbi Mordechai Biser. There were a number of complex issues that had to be researched and resolved, and experts from across the country were included in the process of creating an acceptable bill.

Democratic Majority Conference Leader John Sampson received support in promoting the measure from State Senators Malcolm Smith, Carl Kruger, Jeff Klein, Eric Schneiderman, Diane Savino, Toby Stavisky , Shirley Huntley, Kevin Parker and Dan Squadron.

Helping making the TAP benefit happen in the state Assembly, under the leadership of Speaker Sheldon Silver, were Assembly members Helene Weinstein, Audrey Pheffer, Peter Abbate, Jim Brennan, Steven Cymbrowitz, Rhoda Jacobs, Alan Maisel, William Colton, Joe Lentol and David Weprin.

Governor David Paterson first included the TAP yeshiva-eligibility in his proposed January budget, encouraged to do so by a number of community askonim working closely with Assemblyman Hikind. They made the case for including all duly accredited higher education institutions in the TAP program, and the Governor embraced the idea as nothing short of equitable treatment for all students in such institutions.

Reacting to the inclusion of yeshivos in the TAP program, Assemblyman Hikind said “It has been an incredible z’chus to have been part of this historic accomplishment.”

Rabbi Lefkowitz, Agudath Israel of America chairman of the board Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger, the Belzer community’s Shimon Ostreicher and Shiya Ostreicher , and Monroe Satmar representatives Jacob Sofer, Berel Mittleman and Akiva Klein subsequently met with Democratic Majority Conference Leader Sampson, who expressed his commitment “to making sure that TAP is passed this year.”

More recently, Rabbi Lefkowitz and several of those askonim, along with Rabbi Dovid Oberlander and Yossi Menzer of the Puppa community, met with the Governor. The Agudath Israel representative told Mr. Paterson that “You are leaving the Governor’s office at the end of this year with a great educational legacy” and assured him that “you will always be remembered by our community for your pivotal role in this historic accomplishment.”

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president, congratulated the Governor and the legislature for “their recognition, even in these challenging times, that including rabbinical colleges in the state TAP program – just as they are included in the federal Pell program – is a matter of simple equity.”

Rabbi Weinberger, who visited Albany numerous times as part of delegations of askonim, praised Speaker Silver for putting the TAP yeshiva-inclusion into the Assembly version of the budget and thanked him for his leadership in not only this matter but many others of importance to the Orthodox Jewish community. Rabbi Lefkowitz also thanked Kiryas Joel Mayor Abe Weider, for “always being there whenever he was needed, and who came to Albany on a moment’s notice whenever askonim felt his presence was needed.”

Rabbi Lefkowitz had particularly warm words for Assemblyman Hikind who, according to the Agudath Israel representative, “was able to walk into Governor Paterson’s office or Senator Sampson’s or Assembly Speaker Silver’s and effectively convey the importance to the community of yeshivos’ inclusion in TAP.”

“And they responded to Dov,” he continued, “because of their deep respect for his integrity, his commitment to the community and the positive working relationships he has established with them over the years.”

{Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Thank you Dov. You were a great consistant shliach. Chazak viematz! Hazlacha raba in taking on future endevours on behalf of the klal.