Rockland County, NY – Aron Rottenberg of New Square has long complained to Ramapo Police that he has suffered for his decision to pray outside his community’s synagogue. Now he is in critical condition with burns over half his body, and an 18-year-old New Square resident is charged with attempted murder, arson and assault. Federal authorities, better positioned to inquire where local officials will not, should vigorously investigate the attack, and the systematic harassment that preceded it, as a civil rights violation and hate crime.
The federal probe is warranted because of the pattern of wrongful conduct alleged and the local officials’ seeming willful blindness to it. Village leaders and Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence summarily dismissed the notion that Rottenberg was the victim of a campaign of intimidation, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. St. Lawrence, who heads the town’s Police Commission, on Monday merely parroted representations from New Square officials that the violence was an isolated incident between Rottenberg and his accused attacker, Shaul Spitzer of nearby Adams Lane.
More rigorous inquiry is clearly warranted — and by an outside agency unencumbered by the dictates of local politics. Bloc voting in New Square makes the religious community a potent force in the conduct of town business. Clearly, the parameters of this dispute, rooted in religious expression and First Amendment protections, commands an assessment by impartial authorities.