‘By doing a reward, we have seen for many years that that’s something that can be helpful to police forces.’
NEW CITY – The fireworks attack outside the homes of two Jewish leaders this week was described by an official as “terrorism” and a “hate crime,” and a $2,500 reward has been offered for the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
Those remarks and reward were announced Thursday during the Rally Against Hate on the steps of the old Rockland County Courthouse in New City. Local and state officials and Clarkstown police gathered there to denounce a series of small explosions late Tuesday night outside the homes of two rabbis near the Chabad Lubavitch of Rockland.
“To see this terrorism occur, and I’ll call it that,” said Rockland County Executive Ed Day. “But let’s be clear, when two incendiary devices, high-power fireworks — whatever they were — are tossed in front of two rabbis’ residences, that is intimidation. That is a hate crime in my view.”
The rally was put on by Rockland Commissioner of Human Rights Penny Jennings after a series of small explosions, possibly firecrackers, occurred around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday near the Chabad Lubavitch of Rockland, at 315 N. Main St.
Evan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the organization was offering a $2,500 reward for the arrest and conviction of the people that tossed the explosives.
“If we can help the community ratchet up its intensity on this kind of incident, then it’s something that we want to do. By doing a reward, we have seen for many years that that’s something that can be helpful to police forces,” Bernstein said.
INCIDENT: Incendiary devices explode outside 2 rabbis’ homes
Clarkstown police said Thursday that investigators recovered the remains of a firework that was used in the attacks. The firework was labeled “M-98,” which police said was not believed to be available in New York, but legally for sale in nearby states.
Whoever threw the fireworks could face charges including criminal mischief, trespassing and vandalism, but those charges will depend on what evidence police recover, said Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann.
The investigation remains ongoing, but Hoehmann did not rule out the possibility this was a hate crime.
“Given the concerns that have been raised to me, the possibility or potential that this was a anti-Semitic attack or hate crime cannot be ruled out,” the supervisor said.
Clarkstown Capt. Bob Mahon said witnesses described as many as four men, possibly teenagers, leaving the neighborhood at the time of the attacks. He added that police have not recovered any video surveillance footage from the area.
People gather outside of the Old Rockland County CourthouseBuy Photo
People gather outside of the Old Rockland County Courthouse for a rally against hate in New City Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, following incidents in which incendiary devices were set off in front of two rabbis’ homes in Clarkstown. (Photo: Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News)
Police patrols will be increased around houses of worship, including the Chabad, Hoehmann said.
The attack this week does not appear to be an isolated incident against members of the Jewish community in Clarkstown, Hoehmann said. Swastikas and “hate graffiti” were recently discovered in a vacant area near the Chabad.
David Berkman, a rabbi at the New City Jewish Center who attended the rally, said the firework attacks were “alarming.” Although Berkman didn’t want to characterize the attacks, he said they were “clearly targeted” and potentially part of a pattern.
“I think we’ve seen an uptick in the last couple of years of a lot of concerns, a lot of hateful language, a lot of rhetoric, and I’m concerned about that pattern,” said Berkman. “It’s not productive.”
County Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe, who did not attend the rally, condemned the attacks in a released statement, and urged the community to call out hateful rhetoric when they hear it.
“The climate of hate that has been created on both the national stage and here in Rockland is unacceptable,” said Wolfe, D-Montebello. “Words have consequences. A climate of hate has consequences. Legitimate policy issues are continually being mixed in with anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
Among the officials who stood at the old county courthouse Thursday were Clarkstown council members Adrienne Carey and Frank Borelli; state Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City; state Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, D-New City; and others.
Rabbi Avremel Kotlarsky, the director of the Chabad, said he was at the home of Rabbi Simcha Morgenstern, a two-family structure at the Jewish religious center on Phillips Hill Road, with a gathering of people when the first explosion happened.
About 15 people were in the house that night when a firework was thrown near the home and exploded under one of the vehicles parked in the driveway around 10:30 p.m., Kotlarsky said.
Kotlarsky’s 19-year-old daughter heard that initial explosion from inside their Tarry Hill Drive home located a few hundred feet away from the Jewish religious center, he said.
Rockland County executive Ed Day speaks during a rallyBuy Photo
Rockland County executive Ed Day speaks during a rally against hate in New City Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, following incidents in which incendiary devices were set off in front of two rabbis’ homes in Clarkstown. (Photo: Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News)
When Kotlarsky’s daughter looked outside to see what happened, she saw a bunch of boys, possibly teenagers, who threw something that exploded near a tree that caused a shrub to catch fire.