Skverer hasidim in New Square believe Aron Rottenberg, who lies in his hospital bed fighting for his life with burns over half his body, got what he deserved for crossing the Skvere Rebbe. "There is a saying in the Bible, 'Watch out when you play around with your spiritual leaders. You can get burned.'"
The Journal News story that goes with this video has some very important information, including the following:
There were about 50 New Square residents watching the news conference. Of the people the Journal News spoke to and quoted, three blamed the victim for the violence because the victim had gone against the orders of the Skvere Rebbe:
Early in the news conference, a six-year New Square resident, Shulem Sofer, began screaming that Sussman was lying. He yelled out that Rottenberg broke the community's rules and that it was justifiable to try to burn down Rottenberg's home, but not to injure the man.
"The rabbi never said to do fire to people," Sofer screamed in a high-pitched voice. "It's anti-Semitism. It's anti-New Square."
Sussman countered that people in the United States are free to pray where they want, but Sofer said he followed the grand rebbe's rules.
"I am from Jew land," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Rottenberg's son-in-law, Moshed Elbaum, asked Sofer what his father-in-law had done wrong. Sofer replied, "It's the wrong thing to go against the rabbi.”…
Menasha Luftig, 33, said that Rottenberg knowingly angered the community.
"He abused us more than was done to him," Luftig said. "We told him a few times not to go against the rebbe. Mr. Rottenberg was ready to fight. There is a saying in the Bible, 'Watch out when you play around with your spiritual leaders. You can get burned.' "
Ezrel Zarkowsky, 25, said he received great support from Twersky and the community when his 2-year-old daughter was killed in a traffic accident before Passover.
"This is not just a village; it's a family," he said. "Mr. Rottenberg came, and his whole goal was to split this family."
The lone voice supporting Rottenberg, who is in a hospital in serious condition with burns over 50% of his body, blamed the Skvere Rebbe for the violence:
But Pinches Dirnfeld, 26, who attends Columbia University, blamed [the grand Rabbi or Rebbe of Skvere, Rabbi Duvid] Twersky for letting the violence get out of control and said he looked forward to leaving New Square.
"This kid couldn't have the means nor the courage to do this all by himself," Dirnfeld said. "He must have had help. I don't think the rebbe determined what happened. But he knew there were terror attacks carried out in his name and did nothing about it, so I hold him responsible."
Note that Dirnfeld is an atypical resident of New Square: he has a secular education. Most New Square men have secular educations that stop by 8th grade (if that) and those educations are exceedingly poor. Indeed, many New Square residents who do not work in jobs that mandate regular contact with non-Jews or non-Orthodox Jews have difficulty speaking English. Their vocabularies are very limited, and they struggle trying to express even simple concepts.
This makes them dependant on the community, which is under the Rebbe's control. They cannot simply walk out of New Square because anywhere they could go in America where Yiddish is the spoken language is a community with behavior patterns similar to New Square, and in which they will often be viewed as traitors or even heretics because they chose to defy rabbinic authority.
And for those who want to join a Modern Orthodox community or become secular or follow one of the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, the hurdles are even higher. They are ill-prepared (or completely un-prepared) to cope with secular society. They do not have high school diplomas or English fluency or math skills. They may be functionally illiterate. The do not know the mores or behaviors accepted in secular society. They have no idea how to behave in a restaurant, how to order food, how to tip. They don't know how to shop for clothes or rent an apartment. They don't know how to find a job, and there are very few jobs they are qualified to do.
Because hasidim do not watch television or read secular novels and books, they have no real idea what the outside world is like. They know only one life, and that is a life where the rabbis make the rules and everyone else follows them with little or no questioning.
(There is an organization in Manhattan called Footsteps which helps hasidim like this adapt to life in non-hasidic America. But even with Footsteps' help, the transition to life outside New Square, Kiryas Joel and Williamsburg is very difficult.)
As we can see, the price of defiance is high. Aron Rottenberg is paying it now as he suffers in unimaginable pain.
Yesterday, his wife told reporters about the events that led up to the attempt to murder her husband and children:
Rottenberg's wife, Ruth Rottenberg, told reporters in her home Wednesday that the family had been harassed since her husband started attending prayers at a nearby nursing facility around the High Holidays in the fall. She said he believed prayers were too long in the main synagogue.
Their 15-year-old daughter was soon kicked out of school, she said, and their home and car windows were smashed. A week before the attack, an anonymous phone caller said their house "won't be worth a penny," she said.
Calls to the police went nowhere."It sounded like this was acceptable, to police, to everyone," she said.
Rottenberg's civil rights were violated in an ongoing campaign that culminated in the attempted murder of his entire family and himself.
Ramapo police and the Ramapo government appear to have been complicit in this and, at the very least, their indefensible inaction allowed the hatred of Rottenberg to grow and fester, and made the hate crime against him and his family possible.
The crimes against the Rottenbergs cry out for federal investigation.
The federal government should immediately launch an investigation of Ramapo's police and government.
But Pinches Dirnfeld is also right.
The Rebbe of Skvere knew about the violent and harrassing acts leading up to this week's attempted arson and murder. Yet he never condemned that violence and harrassment. Indeed, his rabbinic court sent out notices ordering residents to harrass the Rottenbergs.
And then early Sunday morning the Rebbe's personal butler donned a mask and (according to some, with several other men) went to the Rottenberg's house and tried to burn it down while the family slept.
But because of the family's vigilance and Aron Rottenberg's bravery, the house and Rottenberg's family were spared.
Rottenberg now fights for his life in a hospital.
His attacker, the Rebbe's butler, Shaul Spitzer, is recovering from less serious injuries and is free on $300,000 bond. Many believe he will flee the country as soon as he is well enough to travel, and that Skvere and its Rebbe will help him.
The Skvere Rebbe has not expressed any sympathy for Aron Rottenberg. He has not even asked his followers to pray for Rottenberg's recovery. This dynastic leader goes on with his regal life as if nothing has happened, as if a man is not lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life with the skin and flesh burned from half his body, simply because he did not want to pray at the Rebbe's synagogue.
Yet under the direction of the Skvere Rebbe a man was harassed, threatened and attacked. And then he and his family were almost murdered.
That harassment and those attacks are crimes. They are violations of Aaron Rottenberg's civil rights and the civil rights of his wife and children. Their attempted murder is hate crime, and the attempted arson of the Rotenberg home is no different than the burning of a black church or the firebombing of a synagogue.
These are federal crimes. They cry out for federal investigation.
And that investigation if faithfully conducted will, I believe, lead to the conviction and imprisonment of New Square's rabbinic and governmental leadership, including Rabbi David Twersky, the not so grand rabbi of the cult and criminal enterprise known as New Square.