One Idyllic Suburb, Two Parallel Universes
Kirk Condyles for The New York Times
ROOMS WITH A VIEW Lawrence has a marina and other amenities for outdoors enthusiasts, as well as amenities for its Orthodox Jewish residents.
Ms. Fridman, a stay-at-home mother, wanted a yard and kosher shops, as well as a yeshiva for her 3-year-old, Matthew. In Lawrence, which blends seamlessly with the other Five Towns village of Cedarhurst as well as the hamlets of Woodmere, Inwood and Hewlett, there was no shortage of any item on her list.
"I loved the idea that we were able to breathe in our own yard," Ms. Fridman said, delighted by her 50-by-150-foot lot. "It's a different kind of living. It's calmer."
Like many of the young Orthodox families who have moved into Lawrence in recent years, the Fridmans relished the tranquillity of suburban living without having to compromise the traditions and strictures of their religious observance.
Observant Jews who do not ride on the Sabbath, the family had three congregations in walking distance to choose from. They settled on Congregation Bais Medrash.
Similarly, though school taxes on the Fridmans' $490,000 home run more than $2,000 a year, public schools weren't on the family's radar. Instead, they were lured by the area's numerous Jewish day schools.
"I had a choice of five yeshivas," Ms. Fridman said. She enrolled Matthew at the Yeshiva of the South Shore in Hewlett, where he is expected to study through the 12th grade. Preschool tuition runs $4,600.
The influx into religious schools has tipped the balance in the once top-of-the-line School District 15, which covers Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Inwood, Atlantic Beach, Woodsburgh, and parts of Woodmere and North Woodmere. There are now 3,872 private students and 3,333 in public schools.
Concurrently, with minority growth in some areas — most significantly in working-class Inwood — the public schools are becoming more diverse. "We are becoming a majority minority school district," said Vicki Karant, assistant superintendent for curriculum.
The public school population today, Dr. Karant said, is 20 percent African-American, 30 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Asian and 43 percent white, while the nonpublic student body is almost exclusively white.
These changes, along with a decline in test scores at public schools, have many longtime non-Orthodox residents worried. An additional source of concern for them: In July, Orthodox candidates won four seats on the seven-member school board, even though most Orthodox children do not attend public schools.
"It's not a public school board," said Asher Mansdorf, the board president. "By law, it's a school board that controls all educational monies in the area." Dr. Mansdorf, whose children attended yeshivas, says the board has both the religious and the public schools' interests at heart. By law, private school students receive busing, textbooks, special education services and nurses from public school funds. Fields and buildings, if available, may be used by private school students after hours.
Dr. Mansdorf said his board was focused on "improving outcomes" for public school students and making capital improvements to the school buildings. At Lawrence High School, for instance, the auditorium's ceiling, unstable from moisture, is being repaired. And an outside consultant will be brought in by January to help improve public school scores.
"Nothing would please me more than to have two incredible school systems, public and private," Dr. Mansdorf said.
But some parents are apprehensive about having private school parents decide what is best for public school students. Lisa Gray, a 1980 Lawrence High School graduate who now heads its PTA, said there had been a "huge flight" from the district. "There are a lot of people that are concerned about the education of the children," said Ms. Gray, whose two children attend Lawrence schools. "So they are moving out of the district."
Ms. Gray, who has lived in the area her whole life, has thought about becoming one of them.
What You'll Pay
Property values and public-school quality usually go hand in hand. But in Lawrence, it is the yeshivas that keep demand high and prices steady.
While houses are taking longer to sell these days, the median price for homes in Lawrence was about $820,000 in each of the past two years. Prices range from almost $500,000, for a starter home in an unincorporated area north of the Long Island Rail Road tracks, to more than $3 million, for estates in the swanky area known as Back Lawrence.
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On the Market
Taxes on homes approaching $500,000 are about $4,600, and those on houses costing over $3 million exceed $33,000.
"You are not only buying a home, you are buying a quality of life," said Miriam Adler, an agent with Pugatch Realty in Woodmere.
There are 22 co-ops on the market, ranging from $140,000 for a one-bedroom to $500,000 for a three-bedroom. Concerns about strains on the village water plant resulted in a moratorium last year on major construction. A $6.7 million plan has been submitted to the State Department of Environmental Conservation to increase capacity and upgrade, but it awaits approval.
If the deal gets the green light, it will also involve the sale of the former School No. 1, a public school on Central Avenue, which closed in June 2004 as part of a consolidation to save the district money. A developer plans condos on the site.
What You'll Find
With its elegant homes, golf, tennis and yachting facilities, vast wetlands along Reynolds Channel, quick access over the Atlantic Beach Bridge to ocean beaches and easy commute to Manhattan, Lawrence has long been a beacon to those seeking the best of suburban living.
It has also been a Jewish bastion. The newest influx is far more traditional in dress and observance than two generations ago.
Synagogues are plentiful, and so, increasingly, are shtiebels — private homes where followers of a particular rabbi gather to pray.
"Communities undergo change, and Lawrence is no different," said Dr. Jack Levenbrun, the village's mayor. A family-oriented neighborhood with 1,600 homes and 600 apartments, Lawrence draws both newlyweds and empty-nesters, who buy so that their adult children can visit.
"For someone who is observant," Dr. Levenbrun, "all the amenities are there," including mikvahs, or ritual baths, and an eruv, a boundary built under rabbinic supervision, inside which Orthodox Jews are allowed to push strollers or carry essential items on the Sabbath.
Lawrence's shopping district, a stretch of Central Avenue between Rockaway Turnpike and Washington Avenue, is dominated by kosher markets and restaurants, along with a barber shop, furniture store and bath products store that are closed on Saturdays and open on Sundays.
Bridie O's, a bar on Central Avenue, is one of a handful of businesses that don't cater to the Orthodox clientele. Jimmy Dowling, its owner, said that on Saturdays Lawrence "is a complete ghost town."
The district includes Lawrence High School, Lawrence Middle School, three elementary schools and a prekindergarten.
In Grade 4, 79.4 percent of students tested at or above grade level in math and 83.5 percent in English. In Grade 8, 56 percent tested at or above grade level in math and 56.1 percent in English.
Combined SAT scores for 2006 were 1,021, compared with the New York State combined average of 1,003. SAT writing scores were 496; the state average was 483.
Two of the largest Jewish day schools — the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, and Rambam Mesivta — combined this year to form Machon HaTorah, or the Torah Institute. Like most yeshivas, it has a double curriculum in Judaic and secular studies.
Median SAT scores at Rambam, which is for boys, were 1,257 in reading and math and 598 in writing. At the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, which is coeducational, scores were 1,182 in reading and math and 590 in writing.
Lawrence is 20 miles from Manhattan, and 50 minutes from Penn Station on the Far Rockaway Branch of the Long Island Rail Road. The 5:32 p.m. express from Penn Station shaves six minutes off the ride; it does not require a change in Jamaica. A monthly ticket is $174.44 on the Web, $178 at the station. A peak ticket is $8.25; otherwise, it runs $6.
What to Do
The Lawrence Village Country Club has an 18-hole golf course and nine outdoor tennis courts. Residents receive priority and pay $3,000 for full golf privileges; nonresidents pay $6,150. The Lawrence Marina and Yacht House has a marina with 132 slips overlooking a natural cove.
The village shopping district extends down Central Avenue into Cedarhurst. Along Rockaway Turnpike nearby are several strip malls, a Costco and the Bay Harbor Mall, a 300,000-square-foot center with stores like Burlington Coat Factory.
Lawrence, incorporated in 1897, got its start as a summer resort. In the 1850s, the brothers Alfred, Newbold and George Lawrence began acquiring land to build mansions in Back Lawrence, which became a wealthy haven from the city.
Rock Hall, a 1768 mansion, was built by Josiah Martin, a West Indian plantation owner, as a respite from slave rebellions in the Caribbean. Operated by the Town of Hempstead, it is the only museum in Lawrence.
What We Like
Yeshivas and public schools in District 15 are beginning to work together. Students from the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach branch known as the Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys in Woodmere are mentoring elementary students in the English-as-a-second-language program at the public No. 6 School. And the Peninsula Public Library is working with local yeshivas, some of which lack large libraries, to train students on online data bases.
With Orthodox Jews voting as a bloc, said Ms. Gray, the PTA president, turnout among non-Orthodox voters in Inwood and Atlantic Beach, for example, would need to approach 100 percent if residents there wanted to gain a school board seat.
But parent participation has dwindled. Describing a recent PTA meeting as "very sad," she recalled "a time where you would have 200 parents there kicking and screaming."