The Sabbath Elevator

From the Baltimore Sun:

The vote from the Strathmore Tower condominium board was simple: Down with the Sabbath elevator.

But what some thought was a straightforward vote has erupted into a religious and racially tinged controversy to others in this majority senior citizen-occupied condominium complex in Upper Park Heights.

The supporters – most of whom are Jewish – say the option for a Sabbath elevator wouldn’t have cost extra money and would have aided Orthodox Jewish and disabled residents while helping resale prices. Foes say such an elevator is inconvenient and could cost more.

Sabbath elevators are normal elevators that can be set to automatically stop at every floor. That helps observant Orthodox Jews who aren’t permitted to operate electrical switches during the Sabbath period, or Shabbat, which runs from sunset Friday to nightfall Saturday.

Some Jewish residents say the vote in February by the nine-member board – 5-3, with one absent – to strike a Sabbath elevator out of a contract to renovate the building’s two elevators smacks of religious discrimination.

“I hate to say it, but reverse discrimination is what it is,” said Haron Goodman, 74, a Jewish board member and 10-year Strathmore resident, heads nodding around him as he sits with other residents in his apartment on a recent morning. “It’s absolutely anti-Semitism.”