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New Jersey - Disabled Jackson Rabbi: Senior Community’s Discriminatory Bylaws And Policies Violate First Amendment

Published on: October 24, 2017 09:00 PM
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FILE - Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz speech in Stand Up For Religious Freedom in Chicago on June 8, 2012 rally.FILE - Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz speech in Stand Up For Religious Freedom in Chicago on June 8, 2012 rally.

Jackson, NJ - A Jackson Township rabbi has filed a complaint with the Ocean County Human Relations Commission charging that his constitutional rights were violated by recent changes to the bylaws of the retirement community where he lives.

Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz moved from Chicago with his two adult sons to Westlake Golf and Country Club in 2016 in order to be in closer to proximity to his married daughter and her family.

The spiritual leader of the Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation for 12 years and the former assistant executive director of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, Rabbi Lefkowitz introduced himself to his Westlake neighbors with a July 2016 post on the community’s Facebook page saying that he looked forward to “beginning new and meaningful relationships” in Westlake and inviting anyone who sought his assistance to visit him in his home.

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But according to Rabbi Lefkowitz, it became clear early on that he was viewed with suspicion by his new neighbors.  A welcome visit from a group of Hadassah women included a bottle of wine, a challah and questions about the 50 stacking chairs that were rumored to be stashed in the basement for a planned synagogue.  Rabbi Lefkowitz said that he quickly dispelled that notion, showing the delegation that he had no basement and no stockpile of chairs.

According to Rabbi Lefkowitz, a gate near his home that gave him easy access to a nearby synagogue was locked and tagged with a “No Trespassing” sign shortly after he moved in.  The new arrangement left the disabled 73 year old, who uses both a wheelchair and a walker to get around, facing a mile and a half long trip on a main road on a rabbinically approved Shabbos scooter.

“There are no sidewalks and no streetlights and cars are whizzing by at 50 miles per hour,” Rabbi Lefkowitz told VIN News.  “I can’t go to shul at night because it is too dangerous. I go during the day if I can.”

Both of Rabbi Lefkowitz’s sons are legally blind and are also in wheelchairs, an issue that created a problem when Westlake gave Rabbi Lefkowitz permission to put up a small succah behind his home.

“They allowed us to put up a succah that could only accommodate a bridge table and four chairs,” said Rabbi Lefkowitz. “It was so small that none of us could get in there with our wheelchairs. It was useless to us. If I have to build a succah two feet wider and two feet longer, they couldn’t give me a dispensation for that?  This was on my  property, on a concrete patio that no one can see unless they are trespassing on my property.”

A 2014 Forbes article (http://bit.ly/2y0UR4Q ) advising seniors on the ins and outs of buying a home in a retirement community stressed the importance of knowing the restrictions of living in a gated community, which can often seem random and extensive.  But Rabbi Lefkowitz insisted that neither he nor his attorney were ever given a copy of Westlake’s rules before he purchased his home.

After hearing that Westlake was going to amend its bylaws to prohibit regularly scheduled public gatherings in resident’s homes, which would preclude any minyanim, Rabbi Lefkowitz sent a letter to the community’s board of trustees saying that the amendment infringed on his constitutional right  of peaceful assembly  as well as his First Amendment right to practice his religion, since the only synagogues in Jackson are located in private homes.  The measure passed last spring by an overwhelming vote, according to Rabbi Lefkowitz.

Rabbi Lefkowitz, who together with his sons are Westlake’s sole Orthodox residents, said that he has tried hard to promote understanding and tolerance in Jackson.  He teamed up with Reverend John Bambrick of the township’s St. Aloysius Church last October for an event to discuss Orthodox Judaism with area residents in an effort to lessen tensions and hostilities as reported by The Asbury Park Press (http://on.app.com/2y0P92w ).  Approximately 300 people turned out for the two hour meeting, with emotions running high at times.  Reverend Bambrick later described the gathering as  an opportunity to “at least lay the foundations for bridge building.”

Rabbi Lefkowitz said that he understands why his neighbors in the 1400 home development view religious Jews with suspicion, but that thing have gone too far.

“It doesn’t justify them taking it out on me,” said Rabbi Lefkowitz, who lodged a formal religious discrimination complaint against Westlake’s board of trustees on Monday with the Ocean County Human Relations Commission. Rabbi Lefkowitz hopes that issues can be resolved amicably without having to resort to litigation.

“I am very much against going to court because even if you win the animosity you create is horrible,” said Rabbi Lefkowitz.  “I always look to the good people and while the commission has no legal authority on this matter, they have moral authority and I am hoping that they will intervene so that we can resolve these issues.  We are living in the  United States of America. There is a right of freedom of assembly. There is a right of freedom of religion. Westlake isn’t an island unto itself.”

Westlake’s property manager Steven Hodges said that while the country club’s board of trustees appreciates Rabbi Lefkowitz’s concerns, the community’s rules and policies are no secret.

“These are recorded, public documents that are part of the title search that buyers’ attorneys and title companies perform as part of the title closing process,” said Hodges.

A statement released by Westlake’s board of trustees to VIN News indicated that part of the process of buying a home in the development includes agreeing to abide by the community’s rules and policies, which include not allowing regularly scheduled public meetings in residents’ homes, which would disrupt the nature of the community.

“Westlake is, and has been, a private, residential community from its inception,” read the statement. “This is expressed in the recorded governing documents to which each owner binds himself or herself when they take title. 

The fact that it is solely residential and private are two characteristics that make Westlake attractive to its residents.  Having said that, there is nothing in the community’s governing documents that prevents an owner from having meetings or gatherings in their homes.  What is prohibited are gatherings open to the general public on a regular basis.

There are appropriate places for public meetings and forums, but the owners and residents in Westlake do not feel that their private, residential community is such a place.”



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Read Comments (16)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Oct 24, 2017 at 09:24 PM Anonymous Says:

if states can violate the second amendment they can also violate the first

2

 Oct 24, 2017 at 10:13 PM Well.. Says:

Something is not right about this "Rabbi". Do a Google search and check him out yourselves.

3

 Oct 24, 2017 at 10:15 PM maitiv Says:

Sadly, Rabbi Lefkowitz has had several lawsuits in Chicago. He might still have problems there. Sad that both sons are LEGALLY blind.

4

 Oct 24, 2017 at 10:55 PM Brighton/Luna Park Says:

Good luck Rabbi Lefkowitz and REFUAH SHLAMA.
Were you from Brighton beach in your younger years?
You had a big "HASHPAA" on me when I was a kid
growing up in a "midbar" of frumkiet!!!
Bracha VaHatzlacha,
AG

5

 Oct 24, 2017 at 11:21 PM NJ Yid Says:

I hate just say it but you reap what you sow. Why does he have to move to a place where there are new? When did make more sense if you need a retirement community, to live in the retirement community in Lakewood?He could even live someplace else in Lakewood, in one of the developments.

I poshit don't get this thinking.

6

 Oct 25, 2017 at 07:42 AM Reb Yid Says:

Was he planning on having a minyan in his house, or they just assumed he would and adopted the resolution just in case? That sounds pretty anti-Semitic to me. In any case, he can have a non regularly scheduled minyan, or make it invitation-only, and then it would be in compliance.

7

 Oct 25, 2017 at 08:39 AM cowdoc Says:

Reply to #5  
NJ Yid Says:

I hate just say it but you reap what you sow. Why does he have to move to a place where there are new? When did make more sense if you need a retirement community, to live in the retirement community in Lakewood?He could even live someplace else in Lakewood, in one of the developments.

I poshit don't get this thinking.

Could be because his two adult children are handicapped as well as him this was the best place for all of them. Don't look to criticize this unfortunate family and count your blessings.

8

 Oct 25, 2017 at 09:12 AM Anonymous Says:

These "restrictions", remind me of the garbage restrictions which the Mahwah, NJ Board of Trustees adopted; now, they are being sued by the Attorney General of New Jersey, for violations of the U.S. Constitution. I know of other restrictions in gated communities, whereby they prohibit Mezzuzahs, and Succahs. Sadly, some of the backlash against the Rabbi is coming from secular Jews. One sees the same kinds of attitudes from secular Jews in Century Village in Boca Raton, who will smirk against observant Jews on Shabbos, when they see them walking with Kippahs. In some cases, the goyim are more respectful, than secular Jews.

9

 Oct 25, 2017 at 09:46 AM Agnostic Says:

And we wonder why we are hated. We move into established communities and expect them to change to accommodate us. It’s is not right. If we live in America should we not conform? This is a problem.

10

 Oct 25, 2017 at 11:35 AM georgeg Says:

Reply to #2  
Well.. Says:

Something is not right about this "Rabbi". Do a Google search and check him out yourselves.

So I searched. The Rabbi was taken to Beis Din by the shul President and the Beis Din basically threw out the case. Then the guy took the Rabbi to secular court by charging the Rabbi him criminally. The secular judge Michael McHale, as reported by the secular chicagotribune, in a one-day trial threw out the case. The secular judge noted that (contrary to the prosecution) a letter signed by the shul President authorized the Rabbi to open an account for the shul (by the same shul President who denied any such thing existed!). Further the secular judge ruled, that the Rabbi's contract with the shul required the shul to pay him $50,000 a year yet the evidence showed he was only paid $500 a month (that comes to only $6,000 a year).

11

 Oct 25, 2017 at 11:47 AM georgeg Says:

Reply to #9  
Agnostic Says:

And we wonder why we are hated. We move into established communities and expect them to change to accommodate us. It’s is not right. If we live in America should we not conform? This is a problem.

Why are you deliberately reversing the order of events? The article states clearly that "bylaws to prohibit regularly scheduled public gatherings in resident’s homes" was something that came up only after the Rabbi had moved in. So who is changing the established rules of the established community - the one who wants to keep the rules they were when he moved in (when no such bylaw existed) or the one who wants to change the rules to create this new bylaw?

12

 Oct 25, 2017 at 11:49 AM grandpajoe Says:

Caveat Emptor - Buyer beware - The Rabbi did not do his due diligence - he figured he could move in and once in do his thing.

This is a private community - there are co-ops and Condos in NYC that do not allow Mezuzas on outside door posts or they have be ones that are 'discreet'

Unfortunately there are very very few Frum senior communities in the tri-state region.

Perhaps, someone can decide to build or create one - not a high rise but three or four stories at most and amenities for the senior who doesn't want to go to a senior/nursing home environment.

13

 Oct 25, 2017 at 01:44 PM Anonymous Says:

So, Rabbi Lefkowitz, Is that you
from the olden days in Brighton?
Always knew that you are a leader.
May you be MATZLIACH!!!
AG

14

 Oct 25, 2017 at 04:08 PM Betzalel School Says:

Reply to #2  
Well.. Says:

Something is not right about this "Rabbi". Do a Google search and check him out yourselves.

I know Rabbi Lefkowitz & I taught his sons when he was the Rav in Whitefield, Manchester, 35 years ago. He is a fine person who with his late wife raised really aidel children. I don't give a rat's toenail about what Google says and I think your post is abhorrent. Here is a severely disabled man (there were significant health issues when I knew the family) with disabled, adult children & all you can do is malign him according to Rabbi-Attorney Google? You should be ashamed of yourself..

15

 Oct 26, 2017 at 11:41 AM Rabbi P Lefkovitz Says:

Reply to #4  
Brighton/Luna Park Says:

Good luck Rabbi Lefkowitz and REFUAH SHLAMA.
Were you from Brighton beach in your younger years?
You had a big "HASHPAA" on me when I was a kid
growing up in a "midbar" of frumkiet!!!
Bracha VaHatzlacha,
AG

Yes, I resided with my family, my parents and brothers, in Luna Park during my teenage years and prayed at Sea Breeze Synagogue where I was very close to its Mara D'Asra, Rabbi Aron Bokow z"l and his family.

Subsequently I was the Rabbi to the Thirty First Street Talmud Torah located between Mermaid and Neptune Avenues in Coney Island.. My Dad, Leo Lefkowitz, was the Vice-President of Luna Park Co-Op. He was instrumental in remodeling the management building into a community center, which, thank G-d, I understand is very successful today housing a senior center and food program. It is named in his honor. I believe there is a plaque to that effect as you enter the West 12th Street doors.

Your posting really was wonderful. As you know and is demonstrated here as well,, too often comments about a Rabbi are in the negative. As Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zt"l commented and here I paraphrase, - A rabbi who doesn't have any detractors is obviously not doing his job.

In closing I moved to Jackson to retire period, I had and have no desire to open a Shtiebel or become the Rabbi of any future Synagogue to be built in our Township."

16

 Oct 27, 2017 at 12:12 PM Agnostic Says:

i have a question? what about the rights of the people living in the adult community in Lakewood that cant swim with their spouses on certain days? When they moved in these rules werent set in place but changed after we got on the board. but the rabbi knew the rules moving in/ the gate isnt to be used. others have tried and failed. why are his rights more important than those of the goyi? curious

17

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