Aron Rottenberg at Tuesday's meeting
NEW CITY — Arson attack and burn victim Aron Rottenberg stood before the Rockland County Legislature on Tuesday to publicly speak in support of an individual's right to pray where he or she chooses.
"I'm greatly honored to be here tonight and to bring you a message of peace and good will," Rottenberg said. "I believe a person should be able to engage in prayer in the privacy of his or her home or in a synagogue, church or mosque of his or her choice."
Rottenberg was severely burned May 22, when an incendiary device exploded as he wrestled with 18-year-old Shaul Spitzer outside Rottenberg's New Square home. Bandages were still visible on his arms as he spoke Tuesday.
The 43-year-old plumber and father of four offered the invocation at the start of the Legislature's meeting after being invited by Legislator Joseph Meyers, D-Airmont.
Meyers later attempted to have his colleagues request a full FBI investigation into the attack on Rottenberg, along with other alleged incidents against the New Square man and his family in the months preceding the attack.
Meyers tried to introduce a resolution during the "new business" portion of the meeting to have the Federal Bureau of Investigation become the lead investigators, saying the agency possessed the resources, staff and experience to "investigate violations of federal law and claims of breaches of civil liberties under the difficult circumstances of this case."
But some legislators questioned whether the resolution could be brought up for a vote because new-business items are typically limited to requests with immediate deadlines.
Some questioned the need for such a resolution since the FBI is said to be involved in the case already.
The Journal News reported June 3 that the FBI was working with Ramapo police on an investigation into the attack. Ramapo police said the FBI was assisting and would not take over the case, and that the FBI was also looking to determine if federal crimes had been committed and, if so, whether to pursue them.
Other legislators said the matter was for law enforcement, and not the county Legislature, to address.
"If we as the leaders of Rockland cannot take a stand ... if we can't step up and say, 'Yes, FBI, would you please take the lead in this,' then who will do that for Mr. Rottenberg?" Meyers said.
Legislator Phil Soskin, D-Monsey, said the police were already involved and Legislature action wasn't needed.
"Anybody who lives in the Village of New Square does so voluntarily," Soskin said. "They have their own rules just like the people down in Pennsylvania, the Amish. We respect them. They respect us. This is an internal matter. When violence takes place, it becomes a matter for law enforcement."
Meyers said he was concerned that his resolution would never be brought to the floor for discussion if it were sent to a committee.
Legislature Chairwoman Harriet Cornell, D-West Nyack, suggested it should go before the Public Safety Committee, whose chairman, Legislator Jay Hood, D-Haverstraw, said he would bring the matter up for discussion.
With that assurance, Meyers said he thought the matter could wait two weeks. He had earlier expressed concern that as time passed, witnesses would be harder to find and the case against the person or people who attacked Rottenberg would be harder to pursue.
Spitzer, the man charged with attacking Rottenberg, is a butler at the home of New Square's Grand Rebbe David Twersky and the cousin of the village's deputy mayor. He pleaded not guilty in Rockland County Court to charges of second-degree attempted murder, second-degree arson and first-degree assault.
Rottenberg filed an $18 million lawsuit June 14 in state Supreme Court in New City, claiming Twersky endorsed several months of intimidation and violence directed at his family in response to Rottenberg's praying at the Friedwald Nursing Home instead of the New Square synagogue, where Twersky presides.
The lawsuit, in which Spitzer is a co-defendant, says that between September and May, the Rottenberg family was a constant target; Rottenberg's daughter was expelled from a village yeshiva and the family received several threatening telephone calls and had car windows smashed on numerous occasions.
Twersky's attorney has said the lawsuit is baseless.
In other business Tuesday, the Legislature voted 14-0 to adopt the $65 million 2011-12 Rockland Community College budget after a public hearing brought no comment from the public. Legislators Gerold Bierker, R-Bardonia, Ed Day, R-New City, and Robert Jackson, D-Nanuet, were absent.