LAKEWOOD (VosIzNeias) — The Enclave, an upscale age-restricted community in Lakewood, New Jersey, has been ordered to pay some $86,000 in attorney fees incurred by Orthodox Jewish residents who sued the organization for religious discrimination in a 2017 case, a judge ruled.
Seven months ago, the plaintiffs and the Fairway Homeowners Association struck a deal to unlock a pedestrian gate locked on Shabbat and other holy days and make other changes integral to Jewish life at the 55-and-over community.
U.S. Chief District Judge Freda L. Wolfson has now ruled that the February settlement and consent order entitled the Jewish plaintiffs to “prevailing party” status and attorney fees as opposed to ordinary litigants who pay for their own counsel.
In the meantime, the changes have already been implemented at the community and are duly appreciated by the Orthodox Jewish residents.
“The board has changed hands and they’re really bending over backwards to accommodate the needs of the Jewish religious population. And they’re doing a really good job,” The Enclave resident Nathan Reiss told the Asbury Park Press.
In the December 2017 complaint, the 68-year-old Reiss claimed that a series of security measures at the community kept him and his fellow Orthodox Jewish neighbors from observing the Sabbath and other religious holidays.
Orthodox senior citizens in Lakewood are moving to The Enclave, one of the town’s more upscale age-restricted communities, but the electronic pedestrian gate at the community entrance was locked on Shabbat and festivals and this previously prevented them from attending the nearby synagogue or from receiving guests on those days.
The Enclave has been at the center of Lakewood’s cultural change in the past few years, as more and more Jewish Orthodox families have flocked to the community. From time to time, cultural differences have been blamed for sparking anxiety between long-time residents and newcomers to the community.
The plaintiffs’ lawsuit painted the security measures as part of a series of escalating actions that caused the Orthodox Jewish residents harm. Previously these residents could not leave the enclave to attend local synagogues but also could not form their own prayer groups in the Enclave as the Homeowners Association prohibited this. The terms of the February settlement allow such prayer meetings to take place at residents’ homes “without action against them by the HOA.”
Some 200 Orthodox families now live in The Enclave, according to Reiss. He said changes in the homeowners association board and the settlement agreement are having a positive impact. Yet, he said, the case should be a lesson to those trying to enact policies that wrongly target minorities.
“It is a simple message: it’s the United States of America. You have to understand people. You can’t just try to make (policies) because you’re anti-Jewish, anti-Hispanic, anti-black, and then camouflage them some other way. It’s not going to work,” he said.