October 22, 2018

L.A. Eruv down while group seeks donations

The Los Angeles Community Eruv — the largest in the country — is expected to be down this Shabbat because of significant financial challenges that could put its future in peril, according to officials.

The team behind maintaining the eruv, a halachic perimeter that transforms a public area into a private domain for Shabbat, must raise $120,000 — the cost of what it takes to operate for one year — before it can resume, said Elliot Katzovitz, chairman of the board for the L.A. Community Eruv. It also needs an additional $100,000 for emergency funds and a vehicle. 

An eruv defines a specific area by use of a fence, string or wire and allows observant Jews to carry items within its boundaries on Shabbat, in accordance with Jewish law. This includes synagogue-goers carrying books and prayer shawls, as well as parents wheeling strollers. 

The current predicament came about after the eruv committee lost a sponsor that had been providing half its budget and exhausted emergency funds, Katzovitz  said. Now, the group is appealing to the community for help. 

“We’re bringing in donations and checking the mailbox and P.O. box daily to figure out how much we have,” Katzovitz said. “As of right now, for this Shabbos, it’ll be down. That’s what we’re planning for. Hopefully by next Shabbos, it’ll be up again. People are stepping up to the plate.”

The group first put a notice of the situation on its Facebook page on Sept. 9. As of Sept. 20, the group had reached about half of its fundraising goal, Katzovitz said.

The eruv’s boundaries go from the 405 Freeway in the west, to the 10 in the south and the 101 in the north, eastward to Western Avenue. It has been down only three times in 14 years, and never for financial reasons, Katzovitz said. Its closure will affect Jews in neighborhoods such as Pico-Robertson, Hancock Park, La Brea, Westwood and Sherman Oaks.

The committee is proposing that each synagogue take on the responsibility of collecting dues for the eruv, with families paying a certain amount each year — such as $250, $500, $1,000 or $2,000 — and that a handful of families
step forward to help build a capital and reserve fund. 

“Our previous model of collecting shul dues did not work,” Katzovitz said. “Too many shuls do not charge dues and of those that do, not enough participated on a mandatory basis.”

The eruv is made up of chain-link fence along the highway walls and wire that runs alongside the on- and offramps. There is also string that’s run on city streets. On a few occasions in the past, construction, fallen trees, weather conditions, and homeless people who have cut into the chain link fences have rendered the eruv halachically invalid.

Four local rabbis and three repairmen check the eruv on a weekly basis to ensure that every side is still intact. They own a lift truck so they can make fixes, and need special insurance for CalTrans, liability insurance and auto insurance. This year, according to the website, they had to use $30,000 from emergency funds, and they need to raise that back, along with $70,000 for a 15-year-old lift truck. The one that’s currently in use is 45 years old. 

According to Kehillah Kosher’s Rabbi Avrohom Teichman, who helped certify the eruv, there are multiple factors that play into the financial necessities of building and maintaining it. 

“There was the construction of many poles for the wires and the stringing for the walls of the eruv,” he said. “You also need to be granted permission from many state-run agencies. The process takes years.” 

In a web appeal to the Jewish community from the Los Angeles Community Eruv committee, the financial needs and possible solutions are stated, alongside the names of rabbis who approve of the plan. One of them is Rabbi Elchanan Shoff of Beis Knesses at Faircrest Heights, an Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson.

“The eruv is something that brings people together in possibly the most literal sense of any community institution,” he said. “It allows us to share Shabbos meals, and to bring small children to shul and to friends’ homes, when otherwise we could not do so. Thus, many adults would have to remain home. It helps everyone who needs it, and hurts nobody. And the L.A. eruv maintenance costs are reasonable and even on the very low side, from what I can glean. So I think that supporting the eruv is a great mitzvah.”

Miriam Bracha Pesso, who lives in the La Brea neighborhood, said that if there wasn’t an eruv, she might be stuck at her house on the day of rest. 

“Since I don’t live in the center of the community, the eruv allows us to walk with our almost-2-year-old to shul, family and friends,” she said. “Without it, I wouldn’t be able to be more than a block or two away from my home all of Shabbat.”

Pico-Robertson resident Shlomo Walt posts the L.A. eruv status to his Facebook timeline every week for the community. 

“I was shocked [to find out it was down] but I was able to encourage some neighbors and friends to donate to it,” he said. “I usually walk and carry around half a mile. The eruv’s crucial for me to bring my tallis and siddur [to synagogue]. Less often, [I need it for] wine, challah and etcetera as gifts.”

Shoff believes everyone needs to contribute, because the eruv has the power to unite the Jews of L.A. 

“Whenever we see something of any kind in our community that has the result of truly bringing people together, we need to support it,” he said. “After all, what could be more important?”

 

To donate to the Los Angeles Community Eruv, visit laeruv.com or send a check to
8950 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 179, Beverly Hills, CA 90211.