NEW YORK (JTA) — The lawyer for a man badly burned during an alleged arson attempt in a New York Chasidic village is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the incident as a hate crime.
The May 22 attack in the village of New Square was "evocative of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Germany," wrote lawyer Michael Sussman in a letter sent last week to Attorney General Eric Holder, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
New Square resident Aron Rottenberg, 43, suffered third-degree burns over more than half of his body when he confronted a man who allegedly was carrying a bottle of flammable liquid behind his family’s house in the early morning.
Police later arrested Shaul Spitzer, 18, on charges of attempted murder, attempted arson and assault. Police say that Spitzer was attempting to set fire to Rottenberg’s house.
Tensions are running high in the Rockland County village, where the vast majority of residents worship at the main synagogue led by the grand rabbi of the Skverer Chasidic sect, David Twersky. Rottenberg and other residents who worship elsewhere reportedly have suffered harassment and violence.
News reports have identified Spitzer as a live-in butler in Twersky’s house. Twersky has condemned the attack.
In his letter, Sussman described the situation as, "Obey the Grand Rebbe or face harassment, violence and expulsion."
U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), whose district includes New Square, issued a statement May 27 condemning the attack.
"It is essential that this crime be thoroughly investigated to determine the extent of culpability," Engel wrote. "I am confident in our system of justice, but I will be monitoring these events very closely, and if at any time I believe it is going off course, I will not hesitate to speak out and call for further action."