Thursday, December 8, 2011
NJ - Harassment complaint against rabbi allowed to go on
TEANECK — A Municipal Court judge ruled Wednesday that there is probable cause to continue proceedings against a rabbi accused of cursing a township resident for his pro-Palestine stance.
The judge ordered the complaint against Rabbi David B. Schwartz to proceed and also ordered that he not have any contact with Richard Siegel, who filed the harassment complaint, or his family.
Siegel accuses Schwartz of going to his Elm Avenue house on the morning of Nov. 5 and shouting curse words, while he, his wife and their 6-year-old daughter were inside.
"It was startling and alarming,'' Siegel told the judge during the hearing. "I looked out the window, and I recognized the man … and he was shouting the F word over and over again."
Schwartz, who lives on River Road, declined to comment, but his lawyer, Michael Goodman, said his client recognizes the gravity of the situation and recently wrote an apology letter to Siegel and his family.
"I just had a discussion with the complainant and indicated that the letter of apology was a sincere apology, and I asked him to reconsider whether he wishes to continue with the complaint,'' Goodman said after the brief hearing. "I'm hopeful that everything will ultimately be adjusted, and Rabbi Schwartz regrets the incident."
Siegel said he's not sure whether he believes Schwartz is truly sorry, noting that after the complaint was filed, he ran into the rabbi in his neighborhood again.
"His behavior subsequent to the incident shows me his apology is not sincere,'' Siegel said, noting that he received the apology letter on Tuesday, a month after the incident.
Siegel told Judge James E. Young he noticed Schwartz staring at him and standing in front of his house for several months. He said they exchanged words on one occasion.
"He accused me of being an anti-Semite, which I resent, because I'm Jewish,'' Siegel said.
After Siegel called police on Nov. 5, officers who responded found Schwartz on North Street with his dog, according to the police incident report. When asked about the episode, Schwartz acknowledged he had shouted at the home.
"Mr. Schwartz stated that he did yell at the residence and he was exercising his right to free speech just as the resident was doing placing bumper stickers on his car located in the driveway of the Elm Ave. residence,'' the incident report states.
Siegel, a songwriter, said his car bears several decals, including ones that read "Free Palestine, End Occupation" and "Stop USA Aid to Israel." He said he doesn't practice Judaism but grew up in the faith.
In his apology letter to Siegel, Schwartz states that he "lost it" and recognizes that he and Siegel have the right to free speech in a "non-combative manner."
"As a rabbi and as an observant Jew, my language was inappropriate," he wrote. "I can assure you that I do not intend to ever utilize those words again, and am sorry that the entire incident occurred.''
Schwartz is a board member for the Union for Traditional Judaism, a Teaneck organization dedicated to promoting the principles of traditional Judaism.