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“Bleach Attack” on Rabbi in Williamsburg

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Williamsburg community activist Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg was attacked with bleach thrown in his face, apparently as a result of his advocacy for young victims of sexual abuse.Just a day after Nechemya Weberman, a Williamsburg based Satmar Chasidic man, was convicted on 59 counts of child sexual abuse, another member of the tightknit community was attacked in broad daylight, as a man approached him and threw bleach in his face.

On Tuesday, December 11, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, 62, a known community advocate for the rights of victims of sexual abuse was walking on Roebling Street in Williamsburg around noontime noon when a man came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. “He has a cup of bleach,” Rabbi Rosenberg said, adding that he recognized the man. “And then he says ‘whoops’ and throws it in my face and walks off”, according to a report in the New York Times.

Rabbi Rosenberg was taken to Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn with burns to his face. According to a relative who was at the hospital, he had a corneal abrasion to his left eye and chemical burns around his eye. He was released after treatment and is expected to fully recover, his relative said.

Meilech Schnitzler, 36, another member of the Satmar community in Williamsburg, turned himself in to police on Wednesday, December 12th, at the 90th Precinct station house in Brooklyn around 1 p.m. He was charged with assault, menacing, criminal mischief, and criminal possession of a weapon, according to Office James Duffy. The New York Times reported that Primo Santiago, the manager of Roebling Liquors, at 311 Roebling Street, said that he saw the attack take place. Santiago said he was unlocking his store when he saw a man rushing across the street with a cup of liquid. “I saw the one guy throw something at the other guy’s face,” he said.

While police would not comment on Schnitzler’s motive, Rosenberg said earlier that he knew the assailant, describing him as the son of a man he had reported on in the past as being allegedly involved in sexual abuse in the community, according to Rosenberg’s lawyer, Abe George. The attack took place near Schnitzler’s fish store on Roebling Street. Schnitzler was identified in state corporate filings as the chairman of the company that owns Schnitzler’s Famous Fish.

Rosenberg runs a website and telephone call-in line that publicizes claims of sexual abuse in the Chassidic community, and he believes this attack was an attempt to “silence” him. Schnitzler’s father has not been arrested in or charged with a crime. About a year ago, Rosenberg said Schnitzler spit on the street in front of him. Of the bleach-throwing incident, Rosenberg said, “What exactly triggered him to do that, I have no idea.” A Police Department spokeswoman corroborated that there had been an “ongoing dispute” between Rabbi Rosenberg and Schnitzler.

According to reports, Rosenberg had been confronted prior to this attack. In 2008, after he began talking publicly about Orthodox Jews who he believed were molesters and as a result Rosenberg was formally ostracized by a group of rabbis and religious judges, and barred from local synagogues. “The public must beware, and stay away from him, and push him out of our camp,” that ban, printed in local newspapers, said in Hebrew. Rosenberg also said he was grazed in the forehead by a bullet from a pellet gun shortly afterward.

Receiving numerous death threats since setting up his hotline for victims of sexual abuse in 2007, Rosenberg told the Daily News that, “I am still afraid for my life, even though the hotline is closed, because they are still after me.” Police have confirmed that Rosenberg has approached the authorities three times since July of this year regarding threats to his life, but said there is little they can do.

Tensions are running high in the tightly knit Satmar community in Williamsburg after Monday’s conviction of Nechemya Weberman, a prominent community member, who was found guilty of sexually abusing a girl for three years, who had been sent to him for counseling. Having the backing of the community’s rabbinical leaders since his arrest on those charges last year, Weberman is believed by many in his neighborhood to be innocent. On Monday, Rosenberg attended the Weberman trial and gave interviews to the news media praising the guilty verdict.

Rabbi Rosenberg asserts that the attack against him was related to Weberman’s conviction, as well as to a claim that he made on his telephone call-in line last week claiming that another Chassidic man was also a molester. “Everyone is so crazy right now,” Rabbi Rosenberg said. Despite the growing controversy, Rabbi Rosenberg has remained adamant about his refusal to tone down his advocacy. He has even leveled accusations at some leading rabbis within the Satmar community of covering up abuse or being molesters themselves. “Eventually, we are going to be a normal community, that everyone who is molested can come forward,” Rosenberg said.

Joel Engelman is another advocate against sexual abuse among Orthodox Jews, and describes himself as a survivor of such abuse. It is rare for respected members of the community to face such allegations in court, he said. He added that in the past, members of the community have intimidated and pressured those who have accused their leaders of sexual abuse.

Having gone on record as being highly critical of Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, Rosenberg has accused him of sweeping such crimes under the rug in the Satmar community for financial and political benefit. He has also said that, in the past, acts of intimidation against him were not taken seriously by the prosecutor’s office.

Hynes, however, has in recent months promised to crack down against intimidation of sexual abuse victims and their supporters in the Orthodox Jewish community. He has said people trying to cover up such cases use tactics similar to those employed by organized crime and last Monday, the district attorney issued a warning that people acting like “thugs” in the community would be punished.

Rosenberg has enlisted the assistance of Abe George, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney who announced his intention to run against Hynes for district attorney, to act as his lawyer. On Wednesday, George filed a request for a special prosecutor for the case against Schnitzler, arguing that Hynes’s history of being criticized by Rabbi Rosenberg constituted “a potential conflict of interest in this case.”

In a statement, Hynes said, “I will vigorously prosecute the defendant in this case, and nothing supports any compelling legal need for another venue or prosecutor.” On Tuesday, Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for Hynes’s office said they were investigating the attack on Rabbi Rosenberg.

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