Thursday, October 22, 2015
Aron Rottenberg lives with the burns inflicted on him by Shaul Spitzer, who set him on fire trying to burn down Rottenberg's New Square house in 2011.
Spitzer's attack was reportedly motivated by Rottenberg's decision to pray outside the village's synagogue on the sabbath, bucking the Hasidic community's grand rabbi's edicts.
After 3 1/2 years in jail, Spitzer is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday to be resentenced in the case after an appeals court said a judge should have considered whether to grant him youthful offender status for the crime he committed when he was 18.
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.
Spitzer's lawyers, including former District Attorney Kenneth Gribetz, Deborah Loewenberg and Paul Shectman, will argue for the youthful offender status. They had originally sought a five-year sentence from Kelly.
On Tuesday, they plan to ask Kelly to order a fresh pre-sentencing report in the case. If he grants that, the re-sentencing would be delayed.
Spitzer admitted at his sentencing he tried to burn down Rottenberg's Truman Avenue house at 4:22 a.m. May 22, 2011, because Rottenberg refused to follow Twersky's rules, but Spitzer denied he acted on anyone's behalf. When Rottenberg confronted Spitzer, the teen's firebomb exploded, burning Rottenberg across more than 50 percent of his body.
Rottenberg, now 48 and the married father of four children and a granddaughter, underwent skin grafts, spent weeks hospitalized and then months in rehabilitation. Today, he said he can't fully use his right arm and can't work as a plumber.
He and other dissident residents had become targets for praying with the patients at the Friedwald House rehabilitation center on New Hempstead Road.
Before the firebombing, dozens of residents enforcing the rabbi's edicts had protested several times outside his house and his property was damaged, including his car. Other residents boycotted his plumbing business and his daughter was kicked out of school — her desk and belongings piled in front of his house.
Rottenberg became a symbol for some younger residents of New Square seeking independence from the rigid social rules set by Twersky.
"If they succeed at getting (Spitzer) out early, it will prove to them they have the power," Rottenberg said. "They have what they call the bloc vote. They are very good at working politicians."
"I am the victim," he said. "Why should I have to compromise? I did once. They broke their promises. I can't trust them."
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