Rabbis serving Conservative, Reform, & traditional congregations support disabled Orthodox rabbi’s bid to build sukkah

Jackson, New Jersey has been a hot bed of reaction to the rapid influx of young Orthodox Jewish families. Altering ordinances to limit the building of an eruv and dormitories for a proposed Orthodox Jewish girls’ school, attempts at closing down minyanim, religious services held in individuals’ homes in violation of the free exercise of religion, coupled with expressions of anti-Semitism by government officials and citizens, has plagued this New Jersey Township of 50,000.

This hostility has erupted as well In the 50+ community in which I live, Westlake Golf and Country Club.  I am grateful to the communal rabbis who have stood up for my desire to build a Sukkah at my home.

“When thou shalt hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep all his commandments which I command thee this day, to do that which is right in the eyes of the LORD thy God.”

Deuteronomy 13:19

Dear Trustees:

We write to share our concern relative to the issue of erecting a sukkah which has seen a confrontation between yourselves and Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz, a resident of Westlake.

We understand that, as a result of the rabbi’s and his sons’ physical challenges, they cannot build a sukkah on their rear patio in accord with the exact rules spelled out in your by-laws. They require the sukkah to be larger with more illumination than permitted in your by-laws to allow them, given their respective poor eye sight and use of wheelchairs, to fulfill the Biblical requirement of Judaism as described in Leviticus: “But on the fifteenth day of the Seventh Month, when you harvest the produce of the Land, celebrate the Holiday of God for seven days… You shall stay in ‘Sukkot’ for seven days; every resident of Israel shall stay in ‘Sukkot.’ In order that your generations shall know that I housed the Children of Israel in ‘Sukkot’ when I took them out of the Land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 23:39-43).

In spite of repeated requests and suggestions made by Rabbi Lefkowitz, you have responded with the “letter of the law” and nothing more.

The Biblical command cited above (“…to do that which is right in the eyes of the LORD thy God”) to consider “extenuating circumstances” seemingly not incorporated within the law itself, is a cornerstone of our American jurisprudence. Our society has even taken the step of creating a compendium of law, The American Disabilities Act, to accomplish this which states in part:

“Title II covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity’s size or receipt of Federal funding. Title II requires that State and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings). State and local governments are required to follow specific architectural standards in the new construction and alteration of their buildings. They also must relocate programs or otherwise provide access in inaccessible older buildings, and communicate effectively with people who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. Public entities are not required to take actions that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. They are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided.”

We fail to understand why a 55+ community cannot demonstrate the compassion and understanding necessary to accommodate the needs of the disabled.  A community comprised of seniors of various racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds, which were and in certain circumstances still are the recipients of discrimination, should display a demonstrative sensitivity to the America of today. No longer a “melting pot” in which our differences are cooked away resulting in the “idealized American,” but rather a “tossed salad” in which the various hues, textures, aromas and tastes of our varied backgrounds are treasured, contributing toward the strength and versatility of our society, Westlake should join the chorus of those who cheer – vive la difference!

We, as well, wish to comment upon your recent change of your by-laws which appears to limit the right of public assembly in one’s home.  We would strongly urge you to reconsider this inappropriate decision by your HOA.

We believe your community of Westlake can, as a 55+ community, be the leader in bringing a reinvigorated sense of tolerance and respect to Jackson Township. We urge you to reconsider your decisions and work with Rabbi Lefkowitz, a man known for his understanding and desire to respect all citizens of our great nation, to build a more embracing and harmonious Jackson.


(Synagogue affiliation indicated for identification purposes only)

Rabbi Dr. Robert E. Fierstone, Rabbi Emeritus
Temple Beth Or, Brick NJ

Rabbi Stephen D. Gold
Beth Am Shalom: Reform Jewish Congregation, Lakewood, NJ Resides in Westlake

Rabbi Robert Rubin
Temple Beth Or Brick, NJ

Rabbi Ira Grussgott
Freehold Jewish Center, Freehold, NJ

Rabbi Robert Pilavin
Congregation Sons of Israel, Manalapan, NJ

Rabbi Lisa S. Malik
Temple Beth Ahm, Aberdeen, NJ

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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