Saturday, February 11, 2012

After arson-attack deal, New Square returns to normal 

Residents in this insular Hasidic Jewish village are hoping to forget last spring’s arson attack on a dissident community member and Tuesday’s guilty plea in the incident from an 18-year-old follower of the grand rebbe.

People are going about their normal routines, working, praying in the synagogue and studying in the yeshiva, several residents said.

Even in winter, the streets, lined with high-density housing and named after U.S. presidents, are filled with women pushing strollers while young men dash between prayers and school.

Not much has changed through the generations among the Skver Hasidim, a sect founded in Chernobyl and now led by Grand Rebbe David Twersky. Many feel no changes are necessary within the village off Route 45 nestled between Hillcrest and New City.

Shmarya Rosenberg, who monitors Hasidic culture on his Failed Messiah website, said Thursday that the 57-year-old community’s rigid traditions under Twersky will continue following the arson assault last May by Shaul Spitzer against Aron Rottenberg, a 44-year-old married plumber with children.

“I think they are definitely loyal to the rebbe,” Rosenberg said of the New Square Hasidim. “There will always be exceptions who will buck the normal behaviors. There are always people twisting on the fence. I don’t see any signs of them rejecting him or what New Square is.”

Spitzer, who lived in Twersky’s house and worked for him as a butler, admitted his guilty plea Tuesday to first-degree assault when he set himself and Rottenberg on fire during a confrontation. Spitzer admitted he acted because of Rottenberg’s defiance of the grand rebbe’s edict that all his followers pray in the community’s only synagogue on Truman Avenue. Rottenberg had received threatening calls a week before the attack and said people loyal to the grand rebbe marched on his house and vandalized his home and car months earlier.

Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns across 50 percent of his body. Spitzer suffered severe hand and arm burns.


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