A condominium owner in Stratford, Conn has been told by her condo association that she must remove the mezuzah from her doorpost. The California Condo Association has asked condo owner Barbara Cadranel to remove the mezuzah—the small object placed on the doorpost of a Jewish family’s home in fulfillment of religious obligations—and has threatened to fine her $50 a day for keeping it up.
According to its agreement with its condo owners, the California Condo Association does allow for the display of items such as Christmas wreaths and crosses on condo unit doors, but does not allow for the display of items, such as mezuzot, on building structures such as doorposts, which it defines as common areas. Now, the incident is in the local news, and the Anti-Defamation League and a Washington, D.C. law office specializing in religious rights have gotten involved.
The Connecticut Regional Office of the ADL has sent a letter asking the association in Stratford to allow Cadranel to keep her mezuzah hanging on the doorpost of her unit. “A mezuzah is not a decorative choice for Jews, or a choice of any kind,” said ADL’s Connecticut Regional Director Gary Jones. “Requiring its removal is tantamount to requiring a Jewish person to move. Thousands of condominium owners throughout Connecticut display mezuzahs on their doorposts without any issue. We are confident that the California Condo Association can accommodate the religious requirements of all its owners and ensure that people of all backgrounds are able to live in the building as part of an inclusive community without undermining the goals of its bylaws.”
Nathan Lewin and Alyza D. Lewin Nathan Lewin and Alyza D. Lewin (credit: Rikki Lewin)
Now Nathan and Alyza Lewin, a father-daughter legal team that has brought several anti-discrimination lawsuits in recent months, has notified the association that its actions are in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act.
The Lewins, who specialize in Constitutional law, are the same legal team who filed a complaint and restraining order against the Texas high school athletics association that at first refused to change the time of a boys basketball semifinal game for an Orthodox Jewish day school team observing Shabbat. Under legal pressure from the Lewins, the sports association eventually changed the time of the semifinal game, which the Robert M. Beren Academy team ended up winning.
The Lewins also represented the American parents of a boy born in Jerusalem in 2002 who wanted his U.S. passport to list Israel as his birthplace. Since Israel was founded in 1948, the American government has not recognized any country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. The State Department insisted that nine-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky’s birth certificate, and thus his passport, show Jerusalem—with no country specified—as the place of birth.
Just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the parents, Ari and Naomi Zivotofsky, can go to federal court to argue that their son Menachem’s U.S. passport can list Israel as his birthplace.
The Lewins say that if the condo association in Stratford continues to fine Cadranel for keeping up her mezuzah, they will begin legal proceedings against the condo association.
According to the ADL, the condo association’s refusal to allow Cadranel’s mezuzah to remain on her doorframe is especially troubling given the fact that the association allows religious icons to be displayed on the outside of unit doors, while not allowing them on doorframes, and that other unit owners have in fact displayed icons on their doors from other religions, including a cross and wreaths.
In other cases in Connecticut as well as in other states, the right of condo owners to display mezuzot has been granted.
Stacey Dresner wriote this article for the Connecticut edition of the Jewish Ledger, from where it is adapted with permission.