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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Monsey - Jewish Man Accused of Bias Harassment At Finkelstein Memorial Library

SPRING VALLEY — A 33-year-old man cursed out a Finkelstein Memorial Library security guard and a police officer with racial epithets after he was removed from the Route 59 building on accusations he was being loud and annoying patrons, according to court papers and authorities.

Gal Vanunu is accused of punching security guard Vincent Abrahams across the left side of the face while yelling racial comments as Abrahams escorted him from the building on Route 59 about 3:05 p.m. on Saturday, the criminal complaints state.

The two wrestled, and Abrahams said he suffered cuts and bruises to his hands and knees, according to a criminal complaint.

When Officer Joseph Brown arrived in the library parking lot in response to the fight, Vanunu greeted him with racist comments and threatened to kill him, according to the complaint.

The disturbances led to four misdemeanor charges against Vanunu, who gave police an address in Seattle. He is charged with misdemeanor counts of third-degree attempted assault, second-degree aggravated harassment, second-degree harassment and disorderly conduct.

The aggravated harassment count involves bias-related actions or threats against a person, including based on race, religion or sexual orientation.

Vanunu is being held on $25,000 bail in the county jail in New City pending a hearing today before Spring Valley Justice David Fried.

The Spring Valley police chief and two lieutenants did not return numerous telephone calls about Saturday’s incident.

The library disturbance started with Vanunu becoming a nuisance inside the library by asking a woman personal questions, such as where she lived, and playing with her kids, said Randy Braun, the attorney for Finkelstein Library.

Acting Library Director Erica Grodin referred questions to Braun.

“She became concerned about safety and spoke to the security guard,” Braun said. “The security guard spoke to him and he became loud and belligerent. They gave him an opportunity to stop bothering the woman.”

Vanunu was asked to leave and did, but tried to get back inside, Braun said.

“There were some racially charged statements coming out of his mouth that was totally unacceptable,” Braun said.

The public screaming of racial epithets at the library and the silence on what happened won’t improve community relationships in Spring Valley, said Wilbur Aldridge, director of the Mid-Hudson and Westchester regions of the NAACP.

While Vanunu may not be religious, there already are tensions in Ramapo, he said.

“The incident is inappropriate and shows we have a lot of work to do in this community on race relations,” Aldridge said.

Aldridge said he and others are already concerned that tensions between religious Jews and other residents have increased in Ramapo over several issues, including housing, crime and control of the public schools, while attempts at some reconciliation have not worked out as of yet.

Several months ago in Spring Valley, up to 50 religious Jews surrounded family members of Village Clerk Sherry Scott after her 11-year-old daughter tossed a water balloon that hit a moving car driven by an Orthodox Jewish man.

Scott reported being bruised by members of the volunteer group Chaverim, which helps Jewish community members and does street patrols.

Two Chaverim members were arrested by the Spring Valley police after pressure from leaders of both communities and their cases are pending.

Chaverim representatives denied the volunteers were overzealous or did anything wrong, claiming the throwing of objects at cars is commonplace and they wanted the child’s parents to know what happened.

Aldridge said the lack of communication and action from elected officials and police give off the perception that the religious community in Ramapo gets special treatment.

“When people are not forthcoming with information, that leads to greater speculation about what happened and causes more misunderstandings,” Aldridge said. “Given the tension in relations between the religious community and people in Ramapo, especially persons of color, that only adds to the tensions.”

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