Orthodox Couple Hopeful for Accommodations

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

A resident sympathetic to the plight of Alan and Laurie Senecal, an Orthodox couple living in Ocean Club Condominium, was elected to the building’s Board of Trustees on Aug. 19.

The Senecals haven’t felt comfortable leaving their floor during the Sabbath for months, after motion-sensor lights were installed in the Atlantic City, N.J., condominium’s stairwells. The couple is wary of setting off the lights and breaking Jewish law.

The board initially ruled against the Senecals’ request for accommodations, but Carol Huff is optimistic she can persuade her now-fellow board members into reconsidering.

“I feel like there’s hope,” Huff said. “I won’t know until I’m allowed to put it on the agenda and I get to take it to everyone to discuss it. My feeling is, they are reasonable. They’re going to be reasonable.”

Huff was one of three candidates supportive of the Senecals’ situation. She was the lone member of the triumvirate to gain election, however, leaving Alan Senecal cautious — but not defeated.

His plan was to move out before the High Holidays if there were no changes to the board. With Huff’s election, those plans have been put on hold, but the Senecals will be spending less time in the apartment where they’ve lived full time for the past seven years.

For about four weeks spanning much of September and early October, they’ll be residing in their home in Edison, N.J., free from the headaches associated with OCC. They plan to return to their sixth-floor apartment after the holiday season, but will depart for Edison on the Sabbath thereafter. Senecal said moving out permanently is still a “possibility.”

“Am I more optimistic than I was a week ago? Yes. Am I totally happy? No,” he said.

The Senecals’ initial request — that for 24 hours a week, the lights on four to six flights be constantly dimmed or constantly left on — was left unattended for about a month. After a July 11 story in the Exponent detailing the couple’s request, OCC board president Gary Krimstock penned the Senecals a July 17 letter rejecting their plea.

“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.

Neither Krimstock nor OCC Board President Don Brunell could be reached for comment.

Two Orthodox rabbis confirmed that the Senecals’ refusal to walk through the stairwells and set off the lights is in accordance with Jewish law.

“We don’t just change law based on the times,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Yeamans of Congregation B’nai Israel Ohev Zedek. “All synagogues and individuals continue to contend with the issues of modern technology.”

Rabbi Solomon Isaacson of Congregation Beth Solomon agreed.

“Just because something is old, does not make it irrelevant,” he said.

Huff, who is not Jewish, said she has more than three decades of experience in commercial real estate. She is committed to helping the Senecals, she said, because she doesn’t think it would be fair for them to move out due to a fixable issue.

“Any unit owner being hurt to that degree is wrong,” Huff said.

Three days after the election, Huff said she had already engaged in productive preliminary discussions with other board members, insisting that the Senecals’ case is worth reconsidering.

Senecal, though, recalled a recent interaction with a board member that partially diminished his hopes.

“She said, ‘I’m afraid if we make this accomodation for you on six flights, what happens if someone moves in on the 28th floor and wants us to dim the lights on 28 floors?’” he said. “I don’t see someone who’s a Sabbath observer walking up 28 flights. … I thought that thought showed no continuity of intellect.”

Senecal maintains that fulfilling his request would be neither labor intensive nor costly for the condominium.

“It’s going to cost one man, one ladder, one screwdriver and one hour,” he said. 

jneedelman@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0737


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