New Jersey Rabbi Files Formal Complaint With Human Relations Commission

Ocean County Human Relations Commission

Cathi Finnen, Chair

PO Box 2191

Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office

Toms River, NJ 08754-2191

Dear Ms. Fippen:

Enclosed please find correspondence shared between myself and the Trustees of Westlake Golf and Country Club where I reside.

As you can ascertain from my communications, I have attempted to resolve the issue that divides us, religious discrimination, with no success. I am hopeful you may be able to provide me with further direction.

An important issue that must be considered.  Mr. Hodges, the manager of Westlake, notes in his letter of October 14, 2016 that my attorney should have provided me with the rules of Westlake prior to the purchase of my home. In fact no such material was provided to my attorney nor to myself prior to the purchase. In point of fact on the day of closing, my attorney was contacted by Westlake indicating that it was against the Westlake by laws for more than one adult child to reside in our home. I had indicated that two of my adult children, my sons, would be living with me. My attorney informed Westlake’s attorney that the reason my two sons were going to reside with me as in the past, was because they were physically challenged. He reported back to her in but a short period of time that we were granted a special dispensation by the Trustees given this fact.

Respectfully,

Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

After serving for nearly five decades and retiring from the Orthodox pulpit rabbinate, my two sons and I decided to move near my daughter, son-in-law and six grandsons residing in Jackson, New Jersey. They had purchased their home about two years ago. My daughter searched and searched and finally found a beautiful home for us in a 55+ community about four blocks from her home.

At the time of our arrival, a little over a year ago, unbeknown to me rumblings had already begun in Jackson regarding the influx of young observant Jews, or as they were and are referred to, “the Orthodox.” The Township of Jackson already had ordinances on their books seemingly attempting to restrict the so-called “invasion” of the Orthodox. For example, one cannot build a sukkah without paying for a permit from the Township and houses of worship are not permitted to be built in residential areas although in the past such construction was permitted. As of this writing no Synagogue has yet been built in Jackson. Soon after our arrival the Township’s Council passed an ordinance restricting the building of dormitories conveniently when a girl’s yeshiva, including dormitories was being proposed for Jackson. Subsequently, in recent months, an ordinance regarding the public way, was modified in such a manner that it precludes the possible building of a proposed Eruv in Jackson.

When we moved into Westlake Golf and Country Club we were immediately told by our neighbors that as we were the first Orthodox family to move into the community, we were viewed “as the tip of the spear” of the invasion of the Orthodox into this senior housing Association. Shortly after our arrival, a delegation of the local Hadassah group stopped by to “welcome” us. With wine and challah in hand, the ladies accepted my invitation to our home.  Once the pleasantries were over, the substantive reason for their visit became apparent. They had heard that we had 50 stacking chairs in our garage to be used in a mini synagogue we were building in our basement. I responded by stating that we had no such stacking chairs and in fact that our home did not have a basement. They checked my garage and assured me they would dispel this false rumor. In a meeting with the Township’s Mayor and Administrator I was told that repeated calls had been received inquiring as to whether my home was really owned by a non-profit and consequently off the tax rolls, whether I pay my real estate taxes, etc.

As for the Association itself, it was apparent that we were not welcome in the community. At the first public event we attended, a 9-11 memorial held at the Westlake community building, the cold stares abounded. However, when the local parish priest, the Rev John Bambrick, included in his remarks   a welcome to me, pointing out that I was a rather prominent Rabbi in the city of Chicago, the icy reception we initially received dissipated somewhat.

Nevertheless, the draconian rules of the Association. Negated our ability to erect a Sukkah. A successful effort was made to modify the rules of the Association seemingly to make it uncomfortable for Orthodox Jews to reside in our community. After repeated efforts to ameliorate the situation, I was left with no recourse but to file a formal complaint with the Ocean County Human Relations Commission.

The following is but one example of my correspondence with the Board of Trustees of the Westlake Golf and Country Club. This communication was totally ignored, and in fact the suggested change in the rules, was passed by 85% of those voting. It remains to be seen what the future will hold.

May 29, 2017

Board of Trustees

Westlake Master Association

1 Pine Lakes Circle

Jackson, N.J. 08527

Dear Trustees:

I understand the following amendment to Westlake’s rules will be voted upon at a meeting to be held on June 13th at 9A.M. at the Clubhouse.

“Shall article 1 be amended to include a new section 1.37 as follows.

1.37 (New) “Residential purposes” shall be used solely as a place to live. Holding or conducting regular meetings, presentations Assemblies or other gatherings to which members of the public are invited, shall not constitute a residential purpose and are prohibited. For purposes of this restriction “members of the public” shall mean individuals other than personal friends and members of a resident’s family.”

“The Constitution’s First Amendment contains limits on government interference with very well-known unalienable rights: religion, speech and press. The First Amendment specifically restricts government interference with an activity necessary to exercise the first three named rights: the need for people to gather to practice religion, to talk about issues and to distribute information. The right of the people1 to peaceful assembly is protected as follows:

‘Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people peaceably to assemble …’” (Wikipedia)

I am by this letter formally protesting the above change to Westlake’s by laws as it violates the basic right of the American citizen to peaceful assembly.

Westlake has been functioning for more than a decade. Mere houses have become homes replete with furnishings and activities reflecting the unique attitudes of their owners.  Not only is this suggested change in violation of the American Constitution, it represents an attack upon well-established activities already held and accepted in individual homes in Westlake.  Although a recent arrival to Westlake, I can list several such activities held in individuals’ homes this rule would immediately curtail.

*the regular recitation of the Rosary

*regular sessions of Bible study

*gatherings for Egalitarian Conservative Jewish prayer meetings to allow a mourner to recite the Kaddish prayer for a loved one

*regular gatherings for Christian prayer meetings

*gatherings to discuss various and sundry topics of interest to the residents

*gatherings to support causes considered important to the individual home owner

I am confident that by making formal inquiry I could increase and detail this list appreciably.  It is apparent to me that those who propose such rules believe that Housing Associations can obviate at will the fundamental rights guaranteed to the American citizen by the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights simply by a majority vote. How terribly sad that there are individuals today who wish to limit the very rights the American Revolution was fought to protect.

Westlake is not an island state unto itself.  Its very existence is premised upon the laws of this great nation which it must respect and obey.  Given the negative responses to the influx of Observant Jews, or as some would have it, the “Orthodox” and the fact that activities have developed in Westlake for years that would now be outlawed by this amendment, one can assume that this is yet another not so veiled attempt at making life for an observant Jew uncomfortable in our community. As there is no Synagogue in Jackson, observant Jews gather in various homes to fulfill the religious requirement of praying in a quorum, a minimum of ten men which is known and respected even by the Jackson Township as legal prayer meetings in spite of other questionable actions the Township has taken to curtail or at the very least, limit, the influx of observant, law abiding and productive Jewish citizens to Jackson. As such as other observant Jews purchase homes in Westlake, I am confident they too will want to gather in prayer on a regular basis in individual homes as Christian residents already do and is their right in accord with the American foundational concepts of free exercise of religion and public assembly

For your edification I have included a copy of an address I gave several years ago on the topic of religious freedom before the leadership of the state wide interfaith organization of Illinois – Reclaiming Religious Liberty.

I urge you to remove this proposal from the ballot.

Respectfully,

Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

About the Author
Retired and residing in Jackson, New Jersey, Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz was the rav of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation in Chicago. During his nearly five decades in the rabbinate he led congregations in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. He served as an officer, Executive Committee member and chair of the Legislative Committee of the Chicago Rabbinical Council.
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