A sukkah in the common area of a Palo Alto apartment complex has become the center of a burgeoning debate.From other news stories it is clear that Berman cannot put up a kosher sukkah on his balcony.
Abraham Berman, 81, who lives with his wife, Sylvia, 80, in the Sheridan Apartments, has erected a homemade sukkah on the complex’s second-floor patio every Sukkot for the past 11 years.
This year, the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, a nonprofit that manages 20 affordable-housing properties, informed Berman that he would no longer be permitted to build the structure, as part of a prohibition against personal property in common areas.
When Berman countered that the complex often has other “personal” decorations and religious symbols in common areas — such as a Christmas tree on the ground floor — housing officials informed him that the tree will be scrapped this year, as well, presumably at all 20 properties.
After erecting last year’s sukkah, Berman received a letter informing him of the rules. He tried to educate the property managers about Sukkot, the weeklong harvest festival, sending them photos of sukkahs erected in public areas, such as one at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
“I do this to present good will toward the world, and as far as I know everyone enjoyed it,” Berman said on Oct. 11, one day before the start of Sukkot. “I would say, Come in, have coffee, share something to eat. It wasn’t interfering with anything.” He added that he had no plans to defy the regulations.
But Berman said he was dismayed that the dispute might be morphing into a debate about public displays of one’s religion. “I don’t want this to be a situation where they use my sukkah to deny someone else their religious practices,” he said.
Georgina Mascarenhas, the director of property management, told the Palo Alto Weekly that the previous building manager at the complex had been remiss in allowing the structure to go up year after year, and that manager was replaced earlier this year.
“The issue is that residents are not allowed to put up anything personal in the common area,” she told the newspaper. “Whatever they do within their apartments is fine and we certainly don’t question that at all.”
As of Oct. 11, city officials were notified of the dispute and promised to take steps to mediate, but no solution had been reached.
Political correctness run amok.