It took a few days, but a condominium management team in Toronto will no longer object to a Jewish condo owner attaching a mezuzah to the door frame of his residence.
Dan Batikoff, a commercial airline pilot, was told in a telephone conversation with a condo administrator that a different manager had been mistaken when he told Batikoff that condominium bylaws required his door, and its frame, to be clear of any attachments.
The condo representative was quite “apologetic,” said Batikoff, who moved to Canada from Venezuela in 2011. He was told the earlier condo rep was “mistaken and I had the full right to keep the mezuzah in place.”
Batikoff accepted the apology, requested it in writing and asked that the same consideration be given to a second Jewish resident in the building.
“I don’t consider it an anti-Semitic event, in that they never said anything with regard to my Jewish beliefs,” he added.
For Batikoff, the exchange with the condo administrator was something quite new for him. Since immigrating to Canada, he has lived in Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, Alberta and even Nunavut. He has never had any trouble when it came to affixing a mezuzah to the doors of his residences.
In fact, the mezuzah that was at the centre of the controversy at the West Village Condos in Etobicoke had already been used at his Winnipeg apartment. He had brought it with him when he moved, because it had been purchased in Israel and had special significance for him. His father had visited from Venezuela in February and helped him affix it to the door post.
The religious object came to the attention of condo officials on the weekend of April 21-22, while Batikoff was away for work. They had entered the unit to change an air conditioner filter and had noticed the mezuzah.
When he returned home, he found a letter in his apartment telling him that “it has been brought to management’s attention that you have an item of some sorts attached to the exterior side of the door.”
The letter cites condo rules saying that owners are not allowed to display, hang or affix anything to the doors of their units.
In subsequent conversations with condo management, Batikoff was told he could either take down the mezuzah, or place it on the inside of his door.
Batikoff believed his religious rights were being infringed. He contacted the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)and B’nai Brith Canada (BBC) for advice. He also posted his story on a Facebook group called Everything Jewish Toronto.
Prohibiting the affixion of a mezuzah would be a serious impairment of your tenant’s religious freedom.
– Noah Shack
“I feel very satisfied with regards to the support I got from CIJA and BBC and the Jewish community in Toronto through the Facebook page,” he said.
In a letter to the condominium’s board of directors, its administrator, Sonny Bahtjarevic, and DEL Property Management, Noah Shack, CIJA’s Toronto vice-president, pointed out that the placement of a mezuzah is a religious requirement. Furthermore, Ontario human rights law requires reasonable accommodation to a person’s religious beliefs when they conflict with another requirement or practice.
“Prohibiting the affixion of a mezuzah would be a serious impairment of your tenant’s religious freedom, while the accommodation required is minimal,” Shack wrote.
On April 25, one day after receiving CIJA’s letter, Bahtijarevic, wrote an email to Batikoff, and sent a copy to the other Jewish resident, to apologize.
“We are extremely sorry we did not have the correct information,” Bahtijarevic stated. “Please feel free to leave your religious symbols/affixtures as long as you wish and forgive us for not being up to speed.”
Commenting after the matter had been resolved, Shack said, “This it not the first time CIJA intervened on a mezuzah issue. Condominium administrators are often not aware of the exemptions to the regulations they are tasked with enforcing. In all cases, after we contact the condo board, the mezuzah remains in place or is re-affixed.”
Batikoff has posted the correspondence with the condominium management online, hoping it will provide a guide to others who may face a similar situation in the future.