A family photo of Aron Rottenberg
Ramapo police detectives did not investigate last fall, when Aron Rottenberg's family called police eight times in less than two months to report vandalism and intimidation. The family said they were being targeted for Rottenberg's decision to worship outside the Hasidic village. Detectives got involved in May, about a week before the arson attack that burned Aron Rottenberg over 50 percent of his body.
The pattern of intimidation revealed in Ramapo police reports should pique the interest of federal agencies, including the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. The freedom to pray where one wants without suffering violence is a civil right.
The record shows that Ramapo police failed to notice the growing threat to the Rottenbergs, even though police have said that detective investigations are warranted not only for serious crimes, but for patterns of criminal activity.
Ramapo town officials failed further, as Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence parrotted assurances that the attack was an "isolated incident."
Federal law enforcement, which doesn't rely on the community's amazing ability to turn out the vote, could launch the clear-eyed investigation that is needed, and that Rottenberg deserves.
Rottenberg has said that he began praying at Friedwald House to help his friend being treated for cancer at the nursing facility. Jews are required to form a minyan, a quorum of 10 Jewish males, to fulfill religious obligations, including prayer.
The decision drew the ire of the Skver sect's dynastic leader, Grand Rebbe David Twersky. Orders were issued by the rabbi, and a Beth Din, or rabbinical court, demanding all residents pray only at the community synagogue. While others returned to the main synagogue, Rottenberg stayed at Friedwald.
Soon, his house's windows were smashed; his daughter's schooling was threatened; crowds gathered on the street outside his home. Then, on May 22, he confronted a man carrying a rag soaked with flammable liquid, and was severely burned. Rottenberg remains hospitalized in Westchester Medical Center, where he underwent surgery on Tuesday.
Shaul Spitzer, 18, of New Square, who works in Twersky's home, has been charged with second-degree attempted murder, first-degree attempted arson and first-degree assault. Spitzer, a cousin of New Square Deputy Mayor Israel Spitzer, remains hospitalized with severe burns to his hands.
Even the family's attempt to hold a press conference in the village after the attack was met with pushback; a resident shouted down family members' statements and said Rottenberg had been wrong to "do against the rabbi."
Twersky spoke publicly about the incident last week, decrying the attack, but not mentioning the victim or the accused by name. "The use of force and violence to make a point or settle an argument violates Skver's most fundamental principles," the rabbi told students on May 26. Rottenberg and his family have called the apology too little, too late.
Another New Square man who prayed at Friedwald, David Fromowitz, this week told The Journal News that he, too, was targeted. Crowds gathered outside his home yelling for him to leave; he discovered two potatoes stuffed in his car muffler. He moved out of New Square this week, into nearby Monsey. "I'm not a fighter," Fromowitz told The Journal News. "I'm just going to get out of there and give my kids a real Jewish life and not a terrorist life."
Detective Lt. Mark Emma of the Ramapo police told The Journal News that "there may be federal crimes involved" and that his department would not rule out assistance from the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI.
Both agencies should seize the chance to ensure that freedom of worship applies to all.