Orthodox Family Feels Trapped on Shabbat

11
Alan Senecal and Laurie Senecal. Seated from left: Tammy Senecal, Rachel Senecal and Ruth Senecal Schwartz | Photo provided

Alan and Laurie Senecal moved into their sixth-floor Atlantic City condominium for a variety of reasons: The beachfront. The pool. The mental relief of not having to maintain a house.

But in the last two months, things have taken a turn for the senior citizen couple. Ocean Club Condominium management installed motion-sensor lights, which automatically turn on when one walks into the stairwell. The Senecals, who are Orthodox, say they can’t leave their apartment floor out of fear of breaking Jewish law and using electricity during the Sabbath. For 24 hours a week, they are self-described “prisoners” of the sixth floor.

“I’m frustrated as all hell,” Alan Senecal said.


The couple has petitioned the condominium’s board of directors for accommodations, but have been met with silence or dismissal, they say. Two Orthodox rabbis agree that the Senecals’ refusal to set off the lights outside their apartment during the Sabbath is in accordance with Jewish law, but offered little in the form of practical advice.

The Senecals have unsuccessfully asked that, for 24 hours a week, the lights on four-to-six flights be constantly dimmed or constantly left on. 

Ocean Club Condominium Association president Don Brunell did not respond to multiple requests for comment. None of the other six members of the board of directors could be reached for comment.

On July 17, Gary Krimstock, president of the board of directors, notified the Senecals the condominium had rejected their request via a written letter.

“We respectfully suggest that you investigate other alternatives to satisfy your Shabbat needs or wants, just as you have made various other personal living decisions related to your practice of your religion,” Krimstock wrote.

“At the very least, I would encourage them to stand strong by such things, because they are important,” Rabbi Yehoshua Yeamans of Congregation B’nai Israel Ohev Zedek said of the Senecals’ embrace of Shabbat observance.

But the Senecals are tired of standing strong. Alan Senecal said the board is staging elections in August and, if no changes are made, the couple plans on moving out.

“I don’t feel like staying there for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” Alan Senecal said.

The Senecals, who also own a house in Edison, N.J., bought the apartment in 1986, using it mostly as a weekend getaway until moving there full time seven years ago.

Part of the initial allure of spending weekends in the Atlantic City apartment was the convenience on Shabbat. The sixth floor is the building’s lowest residential floor, so the couple had little trouble forgoing the elevator for the staircase en route to synagogue.

They no longer have that option, they contend. And the lights aren’t their only Shabbat obstacle. Residents are now required to use a key fob, which runs on electricity, to enter the pool deck, Alan Senecal said.

Alan Senecal, 75, estimated he and his wife, Laurie 70, are the only Orthodox Jews living in the building.

“I guess it’s the price I have to pay for living in an area that’s not heavily Jewish,” Alan Senecal said. According to city-data.com, in 2010 14.3 percent of Atlantic City’s residents were Jewish, and 1.6 percent practiced Orthodox Judaism.  

It’s not the first time in his life he’s asked for Shabbat accommodations. He said he was in the Army and, during training, he was permitted to take off during the Sabbath, which he’d spend in a chapel. He had no problem keeping kosher, subsisting on lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

He hasn’t had the same luck in Atlantic City.

Laurie Senecal said the couple’s three daughters, who are all Orthodox, can no longer visit them during the Sabbath.

“They can’t get up to have lunch or visit us at all, so it’s very frustrating,” she said.

Alan Senecal said five of the seven board members are Jewish, adding that the non-Jews have been more sympathetic to his request. He said one board member told him they consulted with a rabbi, who said the Shabbat rules are 2,000 years old and are no longer applicable.

“The commandment of not killing is also 2,000 years old,” said Rabbi Solomon Isaacson of Congregation Beth Solomon. “Eating is thousands of years old; don’t eat.”

Yeamans has dealt with a similar situation at his synagogue, which recently installed security cameras powered by motion sensors. On the Sabbath they are turned off.

“Jewish law remains Jewish law, and it doesn’t change based on the times,” Yeamans said.

The Senecals agree. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Alan Senecal left his apartment and strolled through the sixth-floor loggia, which doesn’t have motion-sensor lights. He looked down on the pool deck below, watching one friend flipping through a book, unmoored. Others were chatting, soaking in the mid-80s degree temperature after a stretch of sweltering humidity.

“The [phrase] ‘quality of life,’ hit me,” he said. “This is actually affecting my quality of life.” 

jneedelman@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0737

11 COMMENTS

  1. It is interesting that the article mentions upcoming elections for the HOA board of directors. If this couple wants to effect change, wouldn’t it behoove one of them to at least try to secure a seat at the table instead of simply walking (moving) away?

  2. I realize that “Jewish law” is a means to keep Jews in the dark ages. I also was born Jewish but learned in life we sometimes have to live in the modern world. If they are unhappy, they should move.

  3. Isn’t it something how some people preach tolerance and acceptance, but how anti-Semitism is still OK? Such a small favor to ask. Stay strong in the Torah my friends.

  4. Hmm, a little confused. I respect their desire to observe Orthodox law on Shabbat, but they state they moved to the Ocean Club in N.J. for the pool and beach. Doesn’t Orthodox law also forbid swimming among the opposite sex?

  5. First, I am appalled by the many negative comments about the Senecals’ request to have the motion detectors deactivated on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. One would be hard put to find an Orthodox rabbi who would permit the use of motion detectors on Shabbos. So Jews objecting to their request are objecting their observing Orthodox Jewish law. Even if you don’t observe strictly, be a mensch and let others be observant. The Senecals moved into Ocean Club Condominiums many years before the motions detectors were installed. They probably would not move in now but they are currently there. What I would like to know is what inconvenience would be caused by leaving the stairwell lights on for Shabbat and Jewish holidays. The Senecals should contact some Jewish advocacy groups such as the OU Advocacy Center or Agudas Yisroel of America. If they can’t help directly, they can suggest a helpful source.

    • It’s a Boardwalk front condo. They’ve all gone fob. You can’t be for real. It’s a secular condo association, not Young Israel. You’re out of your mind.

  6. First-world problems. Seriously. Sell the place and live elsewhere where there aren’t rules. Duh. Why should they accommodate these people? Live where you can practice if you’re so Orthodox. People live in association properties for a reason — so there are rules.

  7. When you pass a motion detector or use a key fob you are not “doing” the work. Lightning a candle or cooking or even tearing toilet paper is something you must actually participate in. The Shabbat laws did not include electricity obviously. Lights in a stairwell are a safety issue and Jews are responsible to keep all safe. If this family feels they can’t live in the modern world then they will always be disappointed.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here