ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. (PIX11) — A swirl of controversy hit a Long Island village after a resident made remarks at a recent board meeting some are calling anti-Semitic. Tonight, that woman is apologized.
On April 4, Michelle Zangari spoke before the Board of Trustees, which includes Mayor Francis Murray, asking them to amend the village code so that “a synagogue cannot be on every street.“
Zangari compared it to nearby Five Towns and how rabbis and their families purchased homes, turning them into small houses of worship, which she says would create an unfair tax structure.
She cited a specific home, belonging to Rabbi Mendel Gurkov, who has a large menorah on his front lawn.
“The menorah is a standard symbol in synagogues, it designates a symbol or structure in this case a single family residence used as a synagogue,” said Zangari. “Those properties will be exempt from paying property taxes.”
But Rabbi Gurkov maintains his home is just that: a home, not a synagogue. And like other homeowners, he pays his taxes.
He said since he and his family moved in last October, none of their neighbors have taken issue with the menorah. So he was shocked when it became a lightening rod of controversy.
“If you just knock on the door, ask me, speak to me, I’m an open person,” said Gurkov. “We can have an open dialogue and discuss this.”
Gurkov also explained why he has had this menorah up for months.
“The idea really behind the menorah here was to raise awareness of Jewish pride, of pride of being any denomination,” said Gurkov. “To be an American in a country which allows you to practice your religion and be who you want to be and that’s what the menorah symbolizes to me that’s why we put it on our front lawn.”
There has been heavy criticism of Rockville Centre Mayor, Francis X. Murray and other board members for not immediately condemning Zangari’s remarks.
“I was stunned. It’s such a public forum to say such anti-Semitic things. I thought it was disturbing,” said State Sen. Todd Kominsky. “I think it’s important for all of us to call it out when you see it.”
Kominsky, who represents the 9th District, also drew comparisons to the KKK rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
“They were chanting, ‘they will not replace us,’” he said. “When someone stands up in a community meeting and basically says ‘don’t let Jews come in to replace us,’ it’s shocking and scary to hear,” said Kominsky.
Rabbi Gurkov told PIX11 News he received a letter of apology from Zangari, who acknowledged her words were offensive. But he is still is waiting for hear from Murray.
“The fact that the mayor sort of agreed with what was being said was problematic,” Gurkov said.