As has finally been noticed by the mainstream media, anti-Semitism in America has harrowingly been on the rise over the past couple of years. While the first two lethal incidents occurred in synagogues in Pittsburgh and Southern California, the recent upsurge of violent Jew-hatred has been disproportionately centered around the broader New York area. The epidemic reached its bloody December apogee first in Jersey City, New Jersey, and later in Monsey, New York.
Monsey is not terribly far from where I grew up, and has long been home to a sizable Orthodox Jewish community. The town is part of Rockland County, New York, which has the largest Jewish population per capita of any county in the United States.
Alas, despite this, Monsey and some of its surrounding towns in Rockland have long been victimized by noxious anti-Semitism. I would know, because First Liberty Institute, the nation’s largest nonprofit law firm solely dedicated to the protection of religious liberty of all and where I serve in an of counsel capacity, has long been on the frontlines of this particular battle.
Specifically, in Airmont, New York, which directly neighbors Monsey, village officials have deployed discriminatory zoning tactics to prevent an Orthodox Jewish day school — Central UTA of Monsey — from peaceably operating. First Liberty helped file a federal lawsuit on behalf of Central UTA; for that matter, we have also helped file a similar lawsuit on behalf of several individual Orthodox Jewish residents of Airmont. Overall, for decades now, the village of Airmont has systemically discriminated against the Orthodox community living there. Local officials in the Airmont/Monsey area of Rockland County have brazenly and shamelessly attempted to prevent their Orthodox Jewish population from actually practicing Judaism.
But the connection hits even closer to home. In our capacity representing the Central UTA Jewish day school, we at First Liberty directly represent school administrator Rabbi Moshe Rottenberg, who is the cousin of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg — the very owner of the home that was infamously machete-attacked last month toward the end of Chanukah.
Small world indeed.
To date, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has not officially taken action in the Central UTA case besides collect relevant information. To DOJ’s great credit, however, it did file an official “Statement of Interest” in our other Airmont case, regarding oppressive and discriminatory zoning laws. The United States “wishes to refute any suggestion … that the United States has previously provided its imprimatur to or otherwise endorsed the legality of” Airmont’s discriminatory zoning ordinances, DOJ wrote in a filing from this past September. The United States “believes that it is important … for the [district court] to have a full understanding of the troubled history of Airmont’s zoning code, its impact on Hasidic residents, and the numerous legal actions against [Airmont] that have been necessary in the past,” the DOJ filing continued.
Good for Attorney General Bill Barr and for DOJ. In sharp contrast to the blithe aloofness of both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Barr has taken official action to convey his interest in the rampant anti-Semitism occurring in Rockland County, New York.
For the Central UTA litigation, we are currently awaiting the trial judge to rule on a handful of motions. But as someone serving in an of counsel capacity at a law firm representing the cousin of the homeowner of the house that was brutally machete-attacked barely over a week ago, I can personally attest to one thing: Jew-hatred in heavily Jewish Rockland County, New York is hardly new. The only thing that is new is the mainstream media attention such anti-Semitism has suddenly been receiving — and, perhaps, whether local and statewide politicians might decisively act to stop this bigotry.