"No one from the community or the family has apologized. They had 3 1/2 years to apologize. Instead, he's become a hero for them and a role model for their teenagers. [And now] they're asking me to ask the judge to give him youthful offender [status so he can be released from prison early]. I won't."
Above: Shaul Spitzer
Will New Square Arsonist Shaul Spitzer Now Walk Free?
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
In the still darkness of early Lag Ba'omer morning 2011, Aron Rottenberg and his entire family except his son-in-law lay sleeping in their house in the Skvere hasidic village of New Square, New York.
Rottenberg was an outcast. He and several other hasidim had broken an edict issued by the Sqvere rebbe and walked just outside the village each Shabbat to pray in a local nursing home where an elderly non-hasidic Jew needed to say kaddish, the memorial prayer for the dead.
Top Skvere leaders issued repeated warnings about these 'rebels,' each warning increasing in severity. In response, Skvere yeshiva students began vandalizing Rottenberg's car and home and Skvere schools began harassing his children.
Then not long before Lag Ba'omer, someone tried to set Rottenberg's car on fire and local police, long viewed as being in the pocket of the rebbe, did nothing.
The atmosphere was tense and the danger of more vandalism and who knew what else was clear.
Rottenberg wanted to sell his house and move away from New Square, but an edict allegedly issued by Skvere leaders prevented Skvere hasidim (and anyone else who wasn't ready to face unending harassment) from buying it at or near its market value, and Rottenberg was stuck.
He installed security cameras around his home to watch the perimeter, and the family had taken to having someone watch the live video at all times in case hasidim decided to attack.
Early that Lag Ba'omer morning four years ago, just before the crack of dawn, the Rottenbergs were all asleep. But Aron Rottenberg's son-in-law was awake, watching those cameras, when he saw motion in trees adjacent to the house. He immediately woke Aron Rottenberg, who rushed out to confront what turned out to be Shaul Spitzer, the 18-year-old hus bucher (butler; attendant; gopher; a position of honor given to only a a small handful of Skvere yeshiva students) of the Skvere Rebbe himself. Spitzer was holding a burning incendiary device and was about to throw it on Rottenberg's home.
Rottenberg wrestled with Spitzer to try to stop him from burning down the house and, potentially, killing or injuring his family. In the process, Rottenberg was severely burned over much of his body and Spitzer's hands were seriously burned, as well.
Spitzer was eventually arrested. The people who incited him and those who helped him plan the attack and create the incendiary device were never arrested, not because police didn't know who many of them were, but because it was New Square.
Spitzer was eventually charged with assault and ended up with a seven-year sentence after pleading guilty. He could have served as much as 25 years.
Throughout the whole legal process Skvere leaders and New Square leaders (who are often the same people) backed Spitzer.
Now Spitzer's attorneys are asking that Spitzer be released from prison after serving only 3 1/2 years. The say he should have been charged as a youthful offender, not a full adult. The appeal is slated to heard Tuesday, and Spitzer could very well walk free, not because he legally should, but because this is New York State, a place where almost every day powerful voting blocs often get things they don't legally deserve.
Rottenberg agreed with the undercharging of Spitzer and Spitzer's plea deal. He says he did so in exchange for New Square and the Skvere hasidim who control it backing off on the harassment of his family.
Rottenberg sold his house and left New Square not long after the deal, and rumors of large cash payments to Rottenberg to buy his cooperation abounded.
But now Spitzer and his Skvere backers want to go back on that deal and get Spitzer out of prison far earlier than he should be released.
How does Aron rottenberg feel about this?
The Journal News reports:
…[Aron] Rottenberg won't ask the judge to take mercy on his attacker this time around.
"I have to live with the scars," Rottenberg told The Journal News. "I want the judge to stick with the sentence, unless he wants to add years. He was out to kill me and my family."
Spitzer, a butler for New Square Grand Rabbi David Twersky, received a seven-year prison sentence for assault in April 2012 but could have faced up to 25 years.
Rottenberg blessed the deal after he said the Skver Hasidic leaders promised to leave him and his family alone as part of a multi-million settlement of his civil lawsuit against Twersky and others.
Now, Rottenberg said, the religious hierarchy is pressuring him to ask Supreme Court Justice William Kelly to give Spitzer youthful offender status, which could allow him to be released from prison. He also said the New Square religious tribunal cursed him in a letter to the community and has been damaging his reputation.
Rottenberg said Twersky has treated Spitzer like a hero and urged his followers to pray for Spitzer and ignore Rottenberg.
"No one from the community or the family has apologized," Rottenberg said. "They had 3 1/2 years to apologize. Instead, he's become a hero for them and a role model for their teenagers.They're asking me to ask the judge to give him youthful offender. I won't."
Rockland prosecutors are opposing giving Spitzer youthful offender status. He's being held in the Eastern Correctional Facility, where his religious needs —including a rabbi for daily prayer and kosher food — are met.…
If you read Shulem Deen's book, which ends before the arson happened, you wouldn't know anything about this horrible incident. Some people believe that's fair, because the book tells Shulem's story, not the general story of Skvere or New Square. But the arson and how Skvere leaders handled it so telling and so important it is hard to justify excluding mention of it from the book– especially when Deen's estranged family lives there.