Disabled rabbi fights gated community for sidewalks and screened-in porch
JACKSON — As a retired rabbi, Philip Lefkowitz is prohibited by his religion to drive during the sabbath. As an amputee with diabetes, getting even as far as the three block trip to his daughter's house is a challenge. Now he is fighting with the community where he lives to get better access to his daughter.
Lefkowitz moved into the Westlake community a year and a half ago after serving as a rabbi in Chicago for several decades. Since moving into the gated community he has asked for a few accommodations to help with his religious beliefs and physical abilities to no avail. He finally enlisted the help of an attorney.
In March, the rabbi sent a letter to the board of trustees for the community to ask that an existing gate on to Gale Chambers Road be unlocked and that a concrete path be installed leading up to the gate so that he and others could navigate the area more easily.
In a letter obtained by New Jersey 101.5, Lefkowitz's lawyer, Gregory Bevelock, said because Lefkowitz and his two sons are in wheelchairs, obstacles they face getting around without the gate include "dangerous and difficult roads that contain heavy, fast moving traffic and without sidewalks for long stretches."
Because of the issues with traveling even as close as his daughter's house and to a nearby prayer service, Lefkowitz is unable to get to places that play important roles in his life, according to the letter.
"My daughter, son-in-law and six grandsons live just outside the gate on Gale Chambers Road," Lefkowitz said in a letter to the board. "Faith and family are key to a senior's wellbeing and happiness. I am deprived of both in large measure because I cannot access this gate."
The letter from his attorney noted that because the gate already exists, the expense to the community would be "negligible," and that "the cost of the path should not be prohibitive."
In response to Lefkowitz's claim, the board said the gate change was "not in the best interests of the community as a whole, and the residents whose homes are adjacent to this access gate, to create a public pedestrian entrance to the community behind that area."
The retired rabbi also requested that he be allowed to build a screened-in porch that could be used as a succah, a traditional structure used during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Bevelock said Lefkowitz and his sons are not physically erecting the structure each year. The lawyer also argued that screened-in porches are normally allowed in the community, despite efforts by the board to stop the rabbi.
Bevelock cited a letter from board president Bobbie Rivere that said that while there are screened in porches in the Westlake community, "Rabbi Lefkowitz's house did not qualify for such a porch." Rivere said that "it must be the appropriate model of home and be an option originally offered by the developer."
In his letter to the board, Bevelock said that is not what the rules state, but rather that the screened-in porches "can be added only to home models in which a patio was originally offered by the developers" and Lefkowitz's home already has a porch.
The lawyer said in the letter that the screened-in porch "has the added benefit of resolving any issues relating to Rabbi Lefkowitz's entitlement to an accommodation based on his handicap from the Association's rules relating to temporary Succahs, as well as avoiding any issues regarding religious discrimination relating to his desire to construct a Succah that he can actually use given his and his sons' need to use wheelchairs."
Lefkowitz told New Jersey 101.5 that he was "very, very downcast" by how things have proceeded with the board but was hopeful that a resolution could be found with the help of an attorney without having to pursue anything further.
Phone calls seeking comment from the Westlake Master Association and Premier Management Associates were not returned.