New Square, N.Y. — Residents of this Hasidic enclave a mere hour north of Times Square do not live like people in most of the state or, indeed, like most of the country.
It is a way of life dictated by the New Square sects 70-year-old Grand Rabbi, David Twersky, who has headed the Skver Hasidim since 1968. He inherited the community from his father, Yaakov Yosef Twersky, who led a small group of Holocaust survivors to found the village in 1954 as a refuge from the modern world.
On May 22, the groups longstanding complaints about harassment and intimidation by Twerskys followers were starkly highlighted when Aron Rottenberg, one of its members, almost died in an arson attack on his home. Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns over half of his body when he confronted an intruder carrying a plastic bag full of gasoline and a torch at 4:12 a.m. Shaul Spitzer, the 18-year-old suspect apprehended by police, also suffered serious injuries in their struggle. Both men remain hospitalized, with Spitzer free on $300,000 bond. At the time of the incident, Spitzer worked for Twersky in his home. Rottenbergs friends and family members say that the 43-year-old local plumber sought only to pray outside the villages main synagogue, an act that provoked the ire of New Squares leaders. They say local police and political officials ignored earlier attacks on him and others due to the political clout of Twersky, who directs New Squares large bloc vote.
Indeed, despite a number of unsolved cases of vandalism and harassment that have been reported to the police over the last year, town officials initially characterized the attack on Rottenberg as an isolated incident. Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence said the day after the attack that New Square Deputy Mayor Israel Spitzer — a cousin of Shaul Spitzer, the intruder whom police are charging with attempted murder, attempted arson and assault — had assured him that the incident was simply the result of a private dispute.