Jewish School Cries Discrimination After State Denies Shabbat Elevator

By James Fanelli on June 27, 2013 7:15am 

 Touro College is suing the state after it blocked its plan to install a Shabbat elevator at 10 West 65th St.
Touro College is suing the state after it blocked its plan to install a Shabbat elevator at 10 West 65th St.
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DNAinfo.com/James Fanelli

UPPER WEST SIDE — Touro College is making accusations of religious intolerance and anti-Semitism after the state knocked down plans to install a Shabbat elevator for students living in its six-story rent-controlled apartment building on Central Park West.

The Jewish school is suing New York's Division of Housing and Community Renewal, accusing the agency of violating its religious rights by siding with the West 65th Street building's tenants association, which complained that the Sabbath-friendly lifts would create lengthy waits on the weekends.

In its lawsuit filed Tuesday in Manhattan Civil Supreme Court, the school also called the tenants association's opposition anti-Semitic.

"New York City is a bastion of tolerance — except where the 10 West 65th Street Tenants Association and Division of Housing and Community Renewal are concerned," Touro griped in the suit.

The college bought the building in 2008 for $44 million as dorm space. It has 82 apartments, with 38 occupied by Touro students who observe the Sabbath, according to the lawsuit.

The remaining 44 apartments are occupied by a super and tenants with rent-stabilized and rent-controlled leases who have lived in the building since before the Touro sale.

Because of rent-stabilized laws, the college had to apply to the state in 2010 to turn one of the building's two lifts into a Shabbat elevator. The special elevator is programmed to stop on each floor during the Sabbath, from sundown Fridays to sundown Saturdays.

Observant Jews are prohibited from working or performing activities during the Sabbath, including pushing an elevator button.

The tenants association had a low opinion of the plan, griping that non-Sabbath observers would be inconvenienced as wait times for the elevator could rise to 1 minute and 23 seconds, according to the lawsuit.

The opposition led to a three-year squabble in administrative courts, with the tenants association charging that the Touro students were young enough to climb the stairs to their apartment floor and that real Sabbath observers are forbidden from using elevators to travel, the lawsuit says.

Touro called the association's tone "anti-Semitic."

"These assertions are blatantly discriminatory on many levels," the school said in the lawsuit. "In focusing on denying a religious accommodation, the association ignorantly concludes that all 18- to 22-year-olds are free from handicaps and disabilities, let alone possibly entitled to an accommodation."

In April the Division of Housing and Community Renewal denied Touro's plans in an administrative ruling. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the decision.

The tenants association president, James Berry, declined to comment.

A lawyer for Tour College did not return a call for comment.

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