Rockville Centre Woman's comments at village meeting deemed antisemitic, condemned by Gov. Hochul, Blakeman

Robert Brodsky

April 11, 2022

Originally published in Newsday on April 11, 2022.

A Rockville Centre woman's remarks at a village board meeting, which were published on social media, have attracted the attention of Gov. Kathy Hochul, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and other public officials who said the comments were antisemitic.

Michelle Zangari, who described herself as a 20-year resident of Rockville Centre, expressed concern during the village board of trustees' April 4 meeting about a large menorah appearing on a neighbor's lawn, suggesting it was the first step in designating the property as a temple. 

She urged village officials to change the local zoning code and block new houses of worship in residential communities, saying a similar trend occurred when she was growing up in the Five Towns as the then-secular South Shore area became more religious.

She said action was needed by the board "so that a synagogue cannot be on every residential street" and that the village should expect "significant litigation" if it delays amending the code until after "multiple prayer houses or synagogues" are established.

Zangari also expressed concern that an influx of synagogues could degrade the property tax base, damage local businesses and cause a reduction in public school funding.

“This is very emotional for anyone who lived through the transformation of the Five Towns," Zangari said during the meeting. "Many of those people live in Rockville Centre now … It began exactly this way. Rabbis and their families purchased homes, creating small synagogues. Congregants then looked to buy property nearby.”

Hochul, who is running for her first full term, tweeted Sunday about the incident, saying the "despicable and antisemitic rhetoric used at a Rockville Centre board of trustees meeting has no place in our state."

Messages left with Zangari Monday were not immediately returned.

But in the video, which surfaced on social media late last week, Zangari insists that her fears are not about religion but about preserving Rockville Centre's residential and business community.

"This may sound extreme," she said. "Many people have said 'you sound crazy.' I get it. You may not think it could ever happen here. But trust me. None of us that were living in the Five Towns thought it would happen there either."

Zangari's comments sparked an outcry from other state and local elected officials, political candidates and pro-Israel education groups.

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who is challenging Hochul in the June gubernatorial Democratic primary, called Zangari's remarks "antisemitic hate speech," while State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said "the trope of 'Jews taking over' has been a hallmark of white supremacy for ages."

Retiring Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) denounced "the thinly veiled attempt to use local zoning laws to exclude Orthodox Jews from our community" while Blakeman called the comments "offensive and un-American," and urged the village board to "respond forcefully in this matter."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Attorney General Letitia James, State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) and Carrié Solages (D-Lawrence), who are running to succeed Rice, also criticized the comments.

During the meeting, Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray said the village attorney would explore the legal issues raised by Zangari. “The board will be very concerned and look into it immediately," Murray told her.

In a joint statement, the mayor and the village board of trustees later said “We are home to people who have come from all different paths in life, but what binds us together is the kindness, respect, and compassion we have for our fellow neighbors. As an elected board, part of our responsibility is to provide an open forum for all residents. We will not let divisive rhetoric of any kind define us; we embrace understanding and acceptance of all.”

Avi Posnick, regional director of StandWithUs, an international pro-Israel education organization, said the comments were offensive. "While there are legitimate concerns about noise, traffic, and proper ordinances when it comes to creating houses of worship in residential areas, there is no reason to single out Jews," Posnick said, "It is also concerning that no one, not the mayor nor any trustee, questioned her comments as directed only against Jews, but instead said it will be looked into. We call upon the Village to apologize and condemn these hurtful and antisemitic comments."