Sunday, June 05, 2011

Group of devotees enforces obedience to grand rebbe in New Square, residents say 

Residents who defy this Hasidic enclave's spiritual leader say they live in fear of a band of thugs who sometimes violently defend his edicts — and they cite a recent arson attack as the latest example of the group's work.

Described as "jihadis" by those who fear them and "hotheads" by some village leaders, the group numbers up to 40 men and boys between the ages of 15 and 35, current and former members of the community told The Journal News.

Ramapo police Sgt. John Lynch said he's aware of the allegations, but that detectives have no proof the young men operate as a unit or that they receive guidance from village leaders.

More than two dozen people spoke to the paper, most on condition they not be named, saying they feared retribution from group members and village leaders who shun mainstream media.

Shaul Spitzer, who is charged with attempted arson and attempted murder in the attack, showed up alone at Aron Rottenberg's house early May 22, according to police.

But locals say the teen is part of a network that defends Grand Rebbe David Twersky's rules with intimidation and violence, terrorizing anyone who would go against him.

"It's like a mafia," said a former yeshiva classmate of Spitzer's, who asked not to be identified. "They make the rebbe like a king and would kill themselves to save the rebbe. They're very dictating people, and they like the action. They act out just to show they own the community."

Spitzer, a cousin of the village's deputy mayor, followed all the rules of New Square and earned the respect of the Skverer Hasidim's spiritual leader, who took the 18-year-old into his home as a live-in assistant.

The classmate, who asked to be driven outside of New Square for an interview, said Spitzer had been a happy and non-threatening young man, so much so that he didn't take Spitzer seriously when he suggested acting out against Rottenberg.

Like many in the village, Spitzer was upset that the 43-year-old plumber was breaking one of the rebbe's fundamental dictates that residents never pray outside the community.


Let's just say it. They're a bunch of thug wannabes, a street gang.


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