Two explosive devices went off within seconds of each other outside the homes of two Chabad rabbis in Rockland County Tuesday night, and the chairman of the county’s legislature is blaming a “climate of hate” fostered by the county executive.
The first incident occurred at about 10:15 p.m. at the home of Rabbi Simcha Morganstern, an associate rabbi at the Chabad of Rockland in New City. There were about 15 adults and children gathered for a birthday farbrengen when an incendiary device exploded under the gas tank of a car parked outside.
Rabbi Avremel Kotlarsky, who heads the Chabad center, told Hamodia that they were just about to daven Maariv when the explosion was heard. A few seconds later, a similar attack took place a block away at his own home.
“I got a phone call from my house, ‘do you know what’s happening here? A tree is on fire,’” Rabbi Kotlarsky said. “My 16-year-old daughter had been looking out the window when she saw three or four teenagers running. She saw one of them throw something.”
A bush near the house had been set ablaze.
The New City Fire Department responded and put out the fires. Clarkstown’s police department is investigating.
“It’s obviously premeditated,” said Rabbi Kotlarsky, who founded the Chabad center 33 years ago. “It was not just one rabbi, it was two. It was clear that we were targeted.”
He said that the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council have called him to find out if there is anti-Semitism involved.
Rockland County has seen an uptick in anti-Semitic rhetoric since the election three years ago of County Executive Ed Day. While Rabbi Kotlarksy says that he has known Day personally for many years, a chilling atmosphere has enveloped the neighborhood recently. Day has accused the Orthodox community of a litany of offenses, including unsafe schools. The state inspected the yeshivos a few months ago and found his accusations to have no merit.
“A day doesn’t go by without the Journal News or some other site out with a negative story on the Jewish community,” Rabbi Kotlarsky says. “It’s not uncommon for people in our shul to get catcalls, people honk their horns — not only at us, at anyone wearing a yarmulke.”
Rockland County Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe condemned the acts of violence, blaming heated rhetoric on the presidential trail and locally by Day.
“The climate of hate that has been created on both the national stage and here in Rockland is unacceptable,” Wolfe said. “Words have consequences. A climate of hate has consequences.”
Wolfe, a Democrat from Montebello, warned Wednesday that, “legitimate policy issues are continually being mixed in with anti-Semitic rhetoric. I’ve been saying for months that such words eventually turn into hateful, violent actions.”
“Elected officials should examine their own behaviors and take the appropriate steps to squash the use of hateful language and to quell any hateful and potentially deadly behavior,” Wolfe said.