Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Family of New Square arson victim files $18 million lawsuit against rabbi
ROCKLAND COUNTY, NJ — As he lays in a hospital bed with third degree burns over half of his body, Aron Rottenberg, 43, has filed an $18 million lawsuit against the Grand Rebbe of the Hasidic Jewish community in the Village of New Square, and against a young man who allegedly targeted Rottenberg because he chose to pray outside the main synagogue of the tight-knit and ultra-insular village in Rockland County.
"It's a very painful sight, to see a man who for no reason other than where he wants to pray literally now bound, bound almost in a sheet you'd say, tightly bound to his body which covers skin grafts over 50 or 60 percent of his body. The man is in extraordinary pain yet finally got him to smile yesterday because getting him to laugh is too painful and he said to me 'I am going back, whenever I am released, I'm going back to live in my house'," defense attorney Michael Sussman said at a press conference in his Goshen, NY office.
Rottenberg was allegedly attacked in the early morning hours of May 22 when Shaul Spitzer, 18, came rushing towards Rottenberg's home with a incendiary device. Rottenberg confronted Spitzer, who was reportedly attempting to throw the fire bomb into the home. Spitzer was also injured in the incident.
Spitzer has been charged with attempted murder and is named in the lawsuit. The lawsuit also alleges the assault was ordered by the powerful leader of the religious community, Grand Rebbe David Twersky, 70. Spitzer lived with Rabbi Twersky and would not have acted if he was not ordered by Rabbi Twersky, according to Sussman. Sussman also says there had been several threats on the family by members of the group with Rabbi Twersky's knowledge.
"Everything going on in that community is with his approval. Here there was a pattern of six or seven months of violence against this family," Sussman said.
Joseph Waldman says he understands the harrassment because it has been happening to him for years in the village of Kiryas Joel, near Monroe, NY.
"Same situation Mr. Rottenberg went through could have happened to me. They torched my car three times, my house," Waldman said.
In a separate lawsuit filed in federal court, Waldman and others are asking to dissolve the current government in the Village of Kiryas Joel following decades of religious discrimination by strong and politically-protected village leaders.
This lawsuit comes after a synagogue was closed more than a year ago at the hands of Congregation Yetev Lev D'Satmar of Kiryas Joel, Inc., which represents the Village's majority religious faction, according to Waldman.
The complaint also alleges threats against the "dissidents" group, including disparate treatment in property taxation, selective enforcement of village ordinances, fraud and corruption in village elections and harassment and enforcement towards the "dissidents".
In the Village of New Square, no one would comment on the impending lawsuit. Ramapo Police Department squad cars could be seen patrolling the area. Rottenberg's wife, Ruth Rottenberg, told PIX11 just days after the fire bomb incident that the police department was no help for their family of five who had been sleeping inside the home when Spitzer arrived.
"I expect we will file a broad lawsuit which deals with the powers that be in that county. It's not going to be limited to the Ramapo Police agency. There are other powers that be in that county who know full well what's going on, who have enabled this behavior," Sussman said.
Since the incident, the Rottenberg family has not been back home. The family continues to get threats from the people in the community they once called their own, according to Sussman. Rottenberg and Spitzer remain at a local hospital getting treatment for their injuries.