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. 

L.A. eruv repaired just before Shabbat, dedicated to LAPD


Less than hour before Shabbat began in Los Angeles, the team that runs the L.A. eruv announced that it was repaired after a car accident near the Hollywood Bowl knocked over a traffic light that the eruv uses.

And Howard Witkin, who coordinates all eruv operations, said it was thanks to a rapid response by his emergency crew and the kindness of the Los Angeles Police Department, which preserved the integrity of the eruv by not cutting the string that it constitutes, out of respect for the eruv's integral role in the Jewish Sabbath. As a sign of gratitude, Witkin dedicated this week's eruv (which relies entirely on donations) to “the officers of the LAPD.”

“We are grateful for the assistance of the dedicated officers who handled the accident in Hollywood today that took out a street light pole and took down the eruv,” Witkin wrote in an email blast. “The officers worked to preserve our lines and guide traffic around and beneath them because they know that the lines were important to our community. Then they made it easy for our eruv team to restore the eruv. It is wonderful to live in a country of emes [truth], din [justice] and shalom [peace].”

An eruv makes carrying items within its boundaries on Shabbat permissible for Jews, according to Jewish law. This includes synagogue-goers carrying books and prayer shawls to parents wheeling strollers.

According to Jewish law, carrying on Shabbat in a public domain is prohibited. But a kosher eruv — an enclosure often comprised of connected fencing, walls or string — turns an otherwise public domain into a private domain for halachic purposes.

Eruv is up for shabbat


After being disrupted by construction on the 405 Freeway, the Los Angeles Community Eruv is back in operation, according to Howard Witkin, a community member who oversees the eruv’s maintenance.

This should be welcome news to observant Jews living within the eruv, which is roughly bounded by the 405 to the west, the 10 to the south, the 101 to the north and Western Avenue and the 101 to the east. 

An eruv makes carrying items within its boundaries on Shabbat permissible for Jews, according to halachah (Jewish law). During the Shabbat that began on June 14, the Los Angeles Community Eruv (laeruv.com) was down because a few hundred feet of fencing had been removed due to 405 construction at the on- and off-ramps at Wilshire Boulevard. Any break in an eruv renders it non-kosher.

In Pico-Robertson, a neighborhood with a high concentration of observant families, some synagogues were noticeably emptier, and strollers were few and far between on June 15, when the eruv was down. A number of mothers did not go to synagogue, staying home with their younger children — pushing strollers on Shabbat is not permitted unless it is done within an eruv’s boundaries.  

In advance of this coming Shabbat, Witkin told the Journal that the affected fencing will be routed around the construction and connected with the rest of the eruv.

405 construction downs eruv


The Los Angeles Community Eruv will not be in operation during the Shabbat that begins at sundown tonight, June 14, due to construction on the 405 Freeway.

An eruv makes carrying items within its boundaries on Shabbat permissible for Jews, according to halacha (Jewish law). This includes synagogue-goers carrying books and prayer shawls to parents wheeling strollers.

According to Howard Witkin, the head organizer of the Los Angeles Community Eruv (laeruv.com), construction at the 405 on- and off-ramps at Wilshire Boulevard will make it impossible to replace the 150 to 200 feet of fencing that needs to be standing in order to make the eruv kosher.

“There’s just too much going on there to make it possible for us to do repairs,” Witkin said, adding that this is only the second time in three years that this has happened due to construction.

“We hope to have a workaround for next week, but the next three weeks will be

problematic as the contractor rushes to finish new and demolish old bridges at

Wilshire,” he wrote separately in an e-mail to a community notification list.

According to Jewish law, carrying on Shabbat in a public domain is prohibited. But a kosher eruv — an enclosure often comprised of connected fencing, walls or string — turns an otherwise public domain into a private domain for halachic purposes.

When up, an eruv allows people to carry items from one place to another, such as from a home to a synagogue. When down, carrying in a public area is not halachically permitted. The missing fencing in the Los Angeles Community Eruv will make the normally enclosed area a public domain this coming Shabbat.

Witkin predicted that the eruv will be up again next Shabbat. He added that in the coming months, the organization will make a fundraising push to cover its annual operating costs of approximately $100,000.

“The eruv always runs short of funds in weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah.

This year we are especially short because of the extraordinary expenses of

repairs every week as we coordinate with the freeway construction,” he wrote in the community e-mail. “We will need at least an additional 10k to get through the summer and keep the eruv up.”

[UPDATED] Minus the eruv, no excuses


UPDATE: According to the Web site laeruv.com, the Los Angeles eruv is down again for Shabbat, beginning June 22 and continuing June 23.

UPDATE: As of 1:30 p.m. Friday, June 22, the Web site laeruv.com is now reporting, the Los Angeles eruv is back up, in time for Shabbat.

When construction for the widening of the 405 Freeway put the Los Angeles Community Eruv out of operation for Shabbat on June 15, it added some complications to the Sabbath plans of some observant Jewish Angelenos. But probably few more so than Elliot Katzovitz, who was among those involved in designing the eruv about a decade ago.

An eruv defines a specific area and allows a rabbinic work-around to the prohibition of carrying in public spaces on the Sabbath.

“There was an old eruv that covered the greater Pico neighborhood, which not everybody found amenable,” Katzovitz said, explaining that it, like most such enclosures, was constructed from posts and strings.

“The current eruv” — whose 40-mile circumference is composed primarily of freeway fencing, the walls of mountain passes and large buildings — “is acceptable to all the different viewpoints of Orthodox Judaism, from the black hats in La Brea to the Modern Orthodox at B’nai David-Judea,” Katzovitz said.

Eruv administrators knew by June 12 that, because paving on a stretch of freeway wouldn’t be dry in time to replace a stretch of fencing, the eruv would be out of operation for Shabbat, for only the second time in as many years of construction. For most of the estimated 40,000 to 50,000 observant Jews who live within the eruv’s perimeter, this meant making sure their Shabbat plans didn’t include pushing children in strollers or carrying a prayer shawl to synagogue.

But for Katzovitz, whose youngest son was becoming bar mitzvah on Saturday morning at B’nai David-Judea, the absence of an eruv didn’t just mean that some guests with small children wouldn’t make it to synagogue, nor were the logistics — making sure the text of his son’s speech was in the synagogue before sundown on Friday, for one — the most significant hardship.

Katzovitz, who lives in Pico-Robertson, about a mile from B’nai David-Judea, suffers from psoriatic arthritis, a condition that doesn’t always afflict him. But last weekend, he suffered a spell that made walking painful.

“Normally, I would’ve used a cane or a wheelchair,” Katzovitz said, and had his condition been one that required him to use a cane or wheelchair all the time, Katzovitz explained, he would have done so, even without an eruv.

But because he is not permanently disabled and would have been using a wheelchair as “a temporary convenience,” Katzovitz said, it was off-limits without an eruv.

“Because I could theoretically walk, I can’t use that wheelchair,” he said, “which is going to sound crazy to anyone who isn’t an Orthodox Jew.”

Katzovitz made it to his son’s bar mitzvah on foot, and even walked back to the synagogue again on Saturday afternoon.

“God granted me the freedom and the lack of pain to be able to do it,” he said.

As of press time on June 19, administrators expected to have the eruv back in operation in time for the Sabbath beginning on June 22.

[UPDATED] Highway construction downs L.A. Eruv for Sabbath


The Los Angeles Community Eruv, which allows observant Jews to carry items within its restricted boundaries on the Sabbath, will not be in operation on the Shabbat that starts at sundown today, June 15 due to a break caused by construction on the 405 Freeway, according to a posting on the eruv’s website.

A rabbinic work-around to the prohibition of carrying in public spaces on the Sabbath, an eruv symbolically transforms the area it encloses into a space where carrying is permitted, allowing parents to push children in strollers, synagogue-goers to carry prayer shawls and youth to play basketball in a public park, if they so choose.

While many such enclosures are often simple constructions of fishing line or wire, Los Angeles’s eruv, which has a circumference of about 40 miles, uses a 10-mile section of the 405 as its Western boundary. With construction on parts of the 405 ongoing for the past three years, the fences and guardrails that make up parts of Los Angeles’s eruv have occasionally been altered in ways that have put the entire eruv out of commission for a Sabbath on a few occasions.

Highway construction last downed the eruv for one Shabbat in late-October 2011, according to the Los Angeles Eruv Facebook page. In that case, though eruv administrators had thought the boundary might stay down into November, the eruv was back up and running again the following week.

Signs have been posted around the heavily Orthodox Hancock Park community – including at La Brea Kosher Market in Hancock Park and at synagogues Bais Yehuda and Kehilas Yaakov – that read, “Due to the ongoing construction on the 405 freeway, the eruv is down. Please spread the word.”

Community members, shopping for Shabbat groceries at La Brea Market, expressed frustration.

Story continues after the video.

“My friend is making [her son’s] bar mitzvah this Shabbos, so I know she has a lot of friends coming in from of town with babies, and it’s going to be complicated,” said Faigie Brecher, who was shopping with her 18-month-year-old son and lives around the corner from the market. “All of us would like to go…and we’re going to be stuck at home having to make arrangements to watch our children.”

Adinah Mahfouda, a cashier at the La Brea market, sent text messages to her friends to notify them.  She said she also her rebbetzin whether a certain stoller could be used by a friend, and was told it wasn’t kosher.

Elly Rubin, 57, a member of Congregation Or Hachaim, had a different take on the situation. “It’s actually a good thing occasionally when the eruv is down,” he said, “so people remember the rules and how it works.”

Eruv adminstrators could not be reached for comment on Friday.

 

Sydney local council denies permission to build eruv


Jewish leaders in Sydney are irate after a local council denied an application to build an eruv.

Ku-ring-gai Council, on Sydney’s north shore, voted Tuesday night to reject a plan to build a 12-mile symbolic boundary that would allow Orthodox Jews to push prams and carry objects on Shabbat.

The Northern Eruv Group has already applied to the New South Wales Land and Environment Court to have the decision overturned, its chairman, David Guth, confirmed.

New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies President Yair Miller said: “The tone of the meeting was unpleasant and there is no doubt in my mind that unease exists with the multicultural aspect of the application.”

In a letter to a local newspaper Wednesday, New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies Chief Executive Vic Alhadeff wrote: “This was a sad day for us. Not because the application to install an eruv was knocked back, but because of the bigotry that has emerged from some of the opponents to the eruv.”

The opponents to the plan, which would include the erection of 26 poles, have been vehement. “This is not New York, it’s not Bondi, this is St Ives and Ku-ring-gai,” said one local ccouncilman at the meeting.

A petition has been signed by some 1,200 locals, with some arguing that the eruv would create a “ghetto of Jewish people” and “pollute the environment.”

An eruv already exists in Bondi, where the majority of Sydney’s Jews live, as well as in Melbourne and Perth. But the north shore community has been trying to establish one there since 2006.

The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac on the Eruv – The Thin Jew Line


News from the hood, eruv in the air


Neighborhood Angels

David Suissa gets it right when he praises the incredible work of selfless individuals (“Neighborhood Angels,” Feb. 2). Through their tireless efforts to feed struggling Jewish families, Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen bring honor not only to themselves but also to their entire community.

In the face of a problem as deeply entrenched as hunger, people like the Cohens are an important part of the answer. But they cannot do it alone.

Alleviating the suffering brought on by economic insecurity will take broad civic participation. In other words, it will take all of us, working together in concert with able community and government leaders, to make the critical difference that will finally end hunger once and for all.

Jeremy Deutchman
Director
Communications and Development
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Celebrating Holiday

I was quite perturbed by your article, “The Missing Holiday” (Feb. 9). In it, David Suissa seems to imply that the Orthodox community just picks and chooses its holidays. When Orthodox people celebrate a holiday, they do it with true meaning and observe the holiday’s laws.

It has been this way since the beginning of time. We do not make up laws and rituals, such as sitting under a tree eating fruit.

Suissa seems to be a big fan of Tu B’Shevat and what it represents, but I wonder if he feels the same way about other holidays that are a little more strenuous than eating fruit. To compare a Tu B’Shevat seder to the Passover seder is like comparing apples to oranges (pun intended).

David, you are better than that.

Yonatan Dahari
Valley Village

Eruv Controversy

In a letter published in The Journal, a Mr. Eli Ziv of Woodland Hills accused Jane Ulman’s article about the Conejo eruv of tiptoeing around the real issue, which he claims to be a real hatred of traditional Jewish observance, much of it coming from secular Jews (“Questions Remain After Agoura Eruv Dismantled,” Feb. 2).

The problem is that Ziv has never been in our Conejo Valley community, did not see the eruv that we commissioned and was not present at the Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council meeting, where I, as the spokesperson for the eruv committee, gave a very sincere apology to the homeowners who had complained.

I don’t know what has driven eruv controversies in other communities, but here in Oak Park and Agoura Hills, it was simply a matter of our contractor doing a lousy job and creating an eyesore. The eruv was ugly, and it trespassed on private property.

Nobody made us take it down. That decision was ours, and the bottom line is this: The neighbors had every right to be upset, and we took our eruv down because we agreed with them.

If Ziv and others (i.e., reporters from the Daily News and Ventura County Star and KFI-AM’s John and Ken, none of whom were present at the Oak Park meeting) wish to convolute the facts to feed their own agendas, well I suppose I can’t stop them.

But I wish they’d all leave us in the Conejo Valley alone to work out our problems amongst ourselves, which we seem to be able to do quite well, thank you.

Your article, in my opinion, was fair and balanced.

Eli Eisenberg
Agoura Hills

False Statements

In “Time for Leaders to End Their Silence on Iraq” (Feb. 9), Aryeh Cohen’s and Adam Rubin’s compelling arguments are undermined by unsupported allegations and false statements. They write, “The Bush/Cheney war, launched on the basis of … outright lies against a country that posed no threat to the United States….”

“Lies” is a strong allegation, yet they do not say who, when, what and how the lies were the basis of launching the war. Iraq fired anti-aircraft missiles at U.S. no-fly-zone forces, plotted to assassinate President George H.W. Bush and supported terrorists (via $25,000 sent to the families of successful suicide bombers) striking against U.S. ally, Israel — that’s hardly “posing no threat”.

Kenny Laitin
Los Angeles

Premarital Counseling

In 1994, my daughter announced her engagement to her beshert. My engagement gift to the couple was the “Making Marriage Work” course at the University of Judaism (“Premarital Counseling Gets Short Shrift in Jewish L.A.,” Feb. 9). It was inestimably meaningful for them both and for their very successful and enduring relationship.

I encourage all of you prospective parents of the bride or groom to invest in maximizing your kids’ chances for a happy and successful marriage.

Barbara H. Bergen
Los Angeles

Counters Misinformation

The StandWithUs community is a big umbrella that includes people with a wide range of opinions about Israeli policy (“Divided We Fall,” Feb. 9). When The Journal uses labels like “conservative,” and “left” or “right” wing, it misrepresents all groups’ positions, leaves too much to personal interpretation and ignores the significant variations within each label. StandWithUs regularly takes heat from those who consider themselves more conservative or more liberal than our organization.

We did not identify Combatants for Peace as anti-Israel because we are “left” or “right” or because we want to silence criticism of Israel. Simply put, Combatants for Peace presentations are one-sided (blaming only Israel for the ongoing conflict), ignore context (like Palestinian terrorism and extremism) and make unsubstantiated charges against the Israel Defense Forces and Israel.

The StandWithUs mission is to counter, not to silence, such misinformation and unfounded accusations through education, precisely so there can be informed, open debate. Combatants for Peace does not meet this litmus test.

Roz Rothstein
National Director
Roberta P. Seid
Education/Research Director StandWithUs

Ireland’s Example

I was a college student when the Jewish State of Israel was born. We Jews were so proud of the founding fathers who issued a declaration of independence, stating that all the citizens of their democracy would be equal and [expressing] a desire that their country would be a “light unto the nations.”

Carry On! Venice community gets an eruv approved


The Shul on the Beach, formally known as the Pacific Jewish Center (PJC), has crowned four years of negotiations to install an eruv along the Pacific shoreline and inland area.

The historic Orthodox congregation in Venice finally won approval from the California Coastal Commission to create an unbroken symbolic border to allow observant families to carry basic necessities and push baby strollers beyond the confines of the home on the Sabbath.

An eruv (literally “blending” in Hebrew), which generally consists of a strong fishing line strung between telephone poles, has frequently triggered bitter neighborhood disputes, pitting American Orthodox Jews against environmentalists, nearby homeowners and, occasionally, secular Jews.

The PJC case was particularly sensitive, because for the first time it involved California coastal land and the fishing lines would run near the nesting area of the protected least tern. Mark Massara, a Sierra Club official, objected at one hearing: “This is really nuts. To the extent that we’re allowing public property to be used for religious purposes, it is very troublesome.”

However, after the shul agreed to place metallic streamers on the fishing line near the nesting area to warn off birds, the commission gave the go-ahead.Rabbi Meyer May, president of the Rabbinical Council of California, said that the eruv “is nondescript and has zero impact on the neighborhood. All it does is to allow observant Jews to live in an area, and if that bothers some people, so be it.”

May said that an eruv must meet quite complex religious and technical standards approved by inspectors from his organization.

As in the case of existing eruvim in the Westside and San Fernando Valley areas, top rabbinical experts from Toronto will supervise the Venice-area installation.According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, rabbinical authorities have defined three types of eruvim, all intended to promote the sanctity of the Sabbath. The fishing line enclosure is known as eruv tehunim, or the eruv of boundaries.

Some 60 years ago, the Venice Beach area was home to an elderly but thriving, Miami Beach-type Jewish community, but over time the growth of air-conditioned suburbs depleted the ranks of such residents.

During the past couple of decades, a new wave of young couples have joined the shul, led by Rabbi Benjamin Geiger, which now has a core of some 50 families, with many more expected after the eruv is up.

The 4 miles of fishing lines will joined to the existing 8-mile patchwork of chain-link fences and walls along freeways. When completed, after the shul has raised the money and let construction bids, the eruv will encompass a square-shaped area running from Marina del Rey north to the 10 Freeway, and from the Pacific coast east to the 405 Freeway.

Camp Adjusts to Life Away From Parent


This will be Camp JCA Shalom’s first summer away from home. For the first time in its 54-year history, the Malibu camp is independent, having broken away from the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) in January.

Life after the centers crisis hasn’t been easy for The Shalom Institute: Camp and Conference Center, and now officials are learning how to raise the bulk of the camp’s $2.3 million budget.

“Everything is great but we need support,” said Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute, which runs Camp JCA Shalom.

JCCGLA’s financial problems involved The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles as well as JCA Shalom, and the Jewish agency is doing its part to help the start-up nonprofit camp. By providing transitional money, The Federation hopes the camp’s leadership can develop an administrative culture.

Prior to its move for independence, the Camp JCA Shalom received 8 percent of its annual funding from JCCGLA. Now an independent Jewish nonprofit and designated Federation beneficiary agency, the camp and institute are getting 17 percent of its budget this year, or $350,000, directly from The Federation. About 80 percent of the camp and institute’s budget will be covered by service fees, with another 3 percent from individual donors and grants. The number of campers on scholarship has not changed from last year.

The first round of campers arrives at Camp JCA Shalom on June 28.

“We were happy to provide the transition funding that any new organization getting started would need,” said Andrew Cushnir, The Federation’s vice president of planning.

Cushnir said that after transitional support is withdrawn, the camp should continue to thrive.

While Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Camp Hess Kramer hugs the Ventura County line near Malibu’s northernmost beaches, nearby Camp JCA Shalom requires a nerve-testing drive through mountainous stretches of the Mulholland Highway. Once there, Camp JCA’s large Hebrew script front gate opens to a camp far removed from the urban world.

But the mellowness does not affect the newly independent camp’s aggressive new outreach. The Shalom Institute ran a February Elderhostel, which Kaplan said had a waiting list. The camp’s expanded Reform religious school retreats for Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, Westwood’s University Synagogue, Valley Village’s Temple Beth Hillel, Santa Monica’s Beth Shir Shalom and Sha’arei Am and Culver City’s Temple Akiba. In March there was a successful mother’s retreat with a similar event slated for this October.

“We are using the term ‘virtual JCC’ to describe who we are,” Kaplan told The Journal, explaining how the camp and institute have shed only the funding mechanism of Jewish community center life but not the half-century of JCC culture.

“The reality is that we’ve been growing despite the JCCGLA crisis,” he said.

Other organizations that the Shalom Institute has been reaching out to this year include the Santa Barbara and Palm Springs federations, Agoura’s Heschel West Day School and another day school in Albuquerque, plus Jewish community centers on the Westside and in Long Beach, Tucson and Albuquerque. The Modern Orthodox Shalhevet High School near the Fairfax District used Camp JCA Shalom for a Shabbaton in mid-March, and its students learned about Israeli flora at the camp’s Marla Bennett Israel Discovery Center.

“In December we’re slated to use them again,” said Eddie Friedman, Shalhevet student affairs director. “They’re trying to teach vegetation, trying to teach something about biblical gardening, kind of all inclusive. That’s quite different for kids who live in Beverly Hills or the Valley, to get out there into nature.”

Friedman’s sole complaint about the nondenominational Jewish camp is that it lacked a permanent eruv.

“We have to put it up,” he said. “I wish they would find a way so they can leave it for others to use it.”

A capital campaign seeks to match an initial $333,000 challenge grant to refurbish the Camp JCA dining hall by 2007.

The institute has hired a couple more staffers to handle administrative support and has spent part of this spring educating its board members on their duties. Fundraising has become a top priority, since The Federation’s funding level will not last indefinitely.

“There’s no parent agency supporting us,” Kaplan said. “It’s wonderful to be independent. At the same time we have to begin a culture of fundraising. You equate it with the child who goes off to college.”

Â

Irvine Orthodox Plan to Erect Eruv


Ten years ago, Sean and Linda Samuels moved to Irvine, home to both a Chabad center and the Modern Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation, along with other synagogues.

As the couple grew more observant and had children, they wanted the family to be part of their journey, which, of course, included weekly walks to shul.

But how? Irvine had no eruv, an unbroken boundary that uses existing electrical lines and fencing to encircle a synagogue and neighboring homes, which, according to rabbinic law, encloses a “private” space where observant Jews may carry objects on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays. Without an eruv, people who need to carry, or push strollers or wheelchairs, are stranded at home.

Sean Samuels, a Beth Jacob board member, was instrumental in the quest to erect Irvine’s eruv, which should be operational by Rosh Hashanah. His initiative underscores Irvine’s reputation for welcoming people of many faiths and how the Orthodox community aims for inclusiveness.

At least eight others eruvs are in the works around Southern California, too, a reflection of observant communities taking hold outside urban areas. With an estimated 5-mile perimeter, Irvine’s boundary is a triangle bordered by the San Diego Freeway between the Michaelson and University exits, and University and Harvard avenues.

“It’s going to make Irvine this whole new playground,” said Samuels, who still needed to raise two-thirds of the eruv’s projected cost, $27,000.

“Having an eruv is a huge attraction,” he said, claiming property values will increase within its boundaries because of demand by observant Jews. Howard Shapiro, the project manager of a 50-mile perimeter eruv in West Los Angeles completed in January 2003, is now consulting on eight projects regionally. Most are on the scale of Irvine’s, he said.

“An eruv becomes another sign the community is coming of age,” said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, the West Coast director of the Orthodox Union, whose members are Modern Orthodox synagogues. “It’s a very important sign that people don’t look singularly in Pico-Robertson and North Hollywood,” he said, where eruvs have existed for at least 20 years.

The number of observant Jews and their proportion among American Jewry appears to be increasing, as does the potential for municipal clashes over eruvs.

An eruv is a modern phenomenon, Kalinsky said, which was unnecessary in Europe’s walled cities and enclosed ghettos, but were erected beginning 40 years ago in the New York area. The highest-profile and longest-running eruv battle divided Jew against Jew and sparked charges of anti-Semitism in Tenafly, N.J. Although the resulting court case focused on the legality of allowing a religious use of public property, proponents say the eruv’s critics, including some Reform Jews, exploited the constitution to bar Orthodox Jews from their neighborhood. Opponents of the eruv said their opposition was not based in anti-Semitism, rather in the fact that Orthodox Jews often spoiled community endeavors, such as public schooling (they send their children to private school) and local politics (they don’t participate).

Orange County’s Jewish denominations lack the rancor seen in Tenafly and other Eastern cities, said Benjamin Hubbard, chair of Cal State Fullerton’s comparative religions department. “Here, there is not the same history of bad will; interreligious feuding is the nastiest kind,” he said.

Without dissent, the eruv was approved on the consent calendar by the Irvine City Council on July 13. Even so, the project took two years to complete because of the number of public and private entities involved, including supervision by an eruv authority, Rabbi Gershon Bess of the Rabbinic Council of California, whose members are Orthodox rabbis. Besides stringing fishing line between 58 Edison poles, Bess required installation of five new poles and the addition of four poles to existing fences.

Samuels said Irvine’s Chabad is considering expanding the eruv to encircle its location in Woodbridge. The Chabad’s Rabbi Alter Tanenbaum could not be reached for comment.

While in some areas of Los Angeles an eruv tended to buoy property values in a flat market, Ethyl Krawitz is uncertain Irvine will experience such a phenomenon. “It’s only appealing to the very observant; it means nothing to anyone else,” said Krawitz, a RE/MAX Realtor in Irvine whose clientele is 80 percent Jewish.

Irvine’s new Jewish Community Center already is a more potent magnet, she said. Krawitz sees the JCC’s location influence housing decisions of people relocating to the area, as well as Jews relocating internally from Anaheim, Orange and San Juan Capistrano.

“It’s a wonderful draw,” she said.

To maintain the eruv, the line’s integrity will be checked weekly. Once the eruv is up, results will be disseminated by e-mail and at www.irvineeruv.org. For more information, e-mail drsamuels@pacbell.net.

The Largest Eruv in the World


The words "walled city" hardly bring to mind images of Los Angeles’ 3.5 million people and the busiest freeways in the country. But for a wide segment of the Sabbath-observant community, much of Los Angeles’ metro area can now be defined by those important words.

The designation comes thanks to a new eruv — a halachic perimeter fence — that is being erected under the supervision of the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC). An eruv demarcates an area that can be considered a private domain, thus allowing observant Jews to carry or push items necessary for Shabbat, such as a stroller, a wheelchair or medication.

A temporary new eruv in the Pico-Robertson area has already freed many who were homebound on Shabbat, and work on a larger eruv encompassing more of the city is under way and may be completed as soon as Rosh Hashana.

"The difference is huge. There are many more women and children coming to shul now," said Rabbi Yitzchok Summers of Anshe Emes on Robertson. "My youth director is a lot busier."

While many Orthodox community members in Los Angeles have long relied on an eruv that has existed for 25 years, others do not consider that eruv kosher since it utilizes a lenient interpretation of halacha, Jewish law.

"The new eruv is halachically superior to whatever preexisted it, and as a result, this new eruv has allowed for a wider unity within the Orthodox rabbinate," said Rabbi Meyer May, president of the RCC, which is certifying the new eruv.

"I believe that an eruv is a unifying element within a community," May said, pointing out that the word "eruv" comes from a root meaning "to mix." "There is nothing more unifying than to have people of all shades and stripes of Orthodoxy being able to walk on the street on Shabbos and to greet each other or share a simcha," he said.

After a seven-year process, planners have just received all the permits and signatures necessary to begin construction on the citywide eruv, which will encompass an 80-square-mile area bordered by the 10 Freeway to the south, the 405 Freeway on the west, the 101 (Ventura and Hollywood freeways) on the north, connecting back to the 10 Freeway via Western Avenue.

Los Angeles currently has a separate eruv in North Hollywood/Valley Village. Other areas, such as the West Valley and Santa Monica/Venice, are exploring the possibility of erecting eruvs.

The new eruv, believed to be the largest eruv in the world, is unique among urban eruvs in that it is made up primarily of actual walls, not wire strung from pole to pole. The population density of Los Angeles and the number of people who might pass through the eruv made it imperative, some rabbis believed, to have the eruv made up of solid walls.

Howard Witkin and Elliot Katzovitz, members of Anshe Emes and Aish HaTorah in the Pico-Robertson area, conceived of the new eruv about seven years ago when they realized that Los Angeles had many walls already constructed — the freeway sound-proofing walls, chain-link fences around the freeways or freeway embankments and mountains (which for halachic purposes are also considered walls).

Those walls will be connected using the standard eruv method of stringing heavy fishing line between poles — either by modifying existing streetlights or constructing about 100 poles for the eruv. A rabbi from the Chasidic community will check the perimeter every week, to make sure the wires are all intact.

"This is really not a legal fiction," said Witkin, who runs an electronic commerce company. "The thing is a wall."

Witkin said the large eruv will cost about $250,000 to erect, and now that all the permits are in hand fundraising efforts will begin. The smaller Pico-Robertson eruv cost $35,000 to put up.

Witkin and Katzovitz, along with Howard Shapiro and Michael Rotenberg, spent countless hours on the bureaucracy and logistics of setting up the eruv. Lawyers had to assure city, state and federal authorities at each stage that church/state issues were not infringed. Individual owners had to assent to having wire strung across their property. Caltrans, the Federal Highway Administration, the Bureau of Street Lighting and the departments of Public Works, Fire and Rescue, Building and Safety and others, all had to OK segments of the project.

Witkin expects the eruv to be completed by fall, although eruv timelines are notoriously fraught with delays.

The prohibition against carrying is part of the larger meaning of Shabbat, Witkin said.

"Human beings have an obligation to perfect the world, but … one day a week we accept the world as it is," he said. "The Torah defines 39 categories through which humans have an impact on the world and have changed the nature of existence," Witkin said, giving writing, building and farming as examples. One of those categories involves commerce and shipping — moving goods from one place to another — which is how the prohibition against carrying arose, he said.

Summers cautioned against doing things that would impinge on the aura of Shabbat, such as going to the park to play ball.

"More than anything, the eruv was built to enhance the experience of Shabbos," he writes in an eruv handbook, available at www.laeruv.com. "Improper use of the eruv will desecrate the spirit and even the laws of Shabbos."

A Mostly Jewish Festival


Q: When does a fence equal freedom?
A: When it’s an eruv.

On Sun., July 2 the Jewish community of Northridge will celebrate the official initiation of its new eruv, allowing observant Jews the ability to carry on the Sabbath within its domain.The project was initiated more than 10 years ago by members of Young Israel of Northridge, at that time the only traditional Jewish community in the North Valley. They created the North Valley Eruv Society, which eventually expanded to include members of surrounding congregations, such as Temple Ramat Zion, Em Habanim and Chabad of Northridge.

Along the way, the group met with a number of challenges, according to Young Israel’s executive director, Rabbi Aharon Simkin.

“Eruvs normally take a long time because of the need to plan out a route that works along natural walls,” Simkin explained. “We also had a big delay because of the [Northridge] earthquake when a number of the walls we had planned to use fell down.”

There were also delays due to bureaucratic misunderstandings, Simkin said, such as when CalTrans denied a permit because they thought the group wanted to run pipes along freeway offramps. The group enlisted the help of local legislators, Councilman Hal Bernson and County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, to cut through the red tape.

“People don’t know what an eruv is and people are afraid of what they do not know. Once they understood that what we were asking for was simple and easy and on behalf of the public good, everybody was really very helpful. We just had to overcome the normal bureaucratic response of saying ‘no’ first,” Simkin said, adding that he couldn’t compliment Councilman Bernson and Supervisor Antonovich more, especially the councilman. “We couldn’t get a call through to [Antonovich’s office] and he stepped in and ever since the county has been very helpful.”

The physical boundaries run from the Wilbur Wash on the west, the 118 Freeway to the north, Bull Creek on the east and the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks on the south. The area includes Hillel at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School.

“Carrying from one domain to another is prohibited on Shabbat, which makes it difficult especially for families with small children,” Simkin explained. “An eruv makes the area like a large backyard, mixing everyone’s personal domain into one domain. But there has to be a ‘fence’ that surrounds the entire area. Ours is made up mostly of chain link fences along riverbeds and freeways, but in places where we have to go over a street or freeway entrance, we had to make sure we did so in accordance with the technical details of Jewish law and also in accordance with the rules of the city, county and state.”Simkin said that, although Young Israel made the push for the eruv, the intention was to bring together the entire Northridge Jewish community in a positive way.

“We consciously set up the North Valley Eruv Society in order to be inclusive to all Jews in the area,” he said. “An eruv is supposed to be a unifying idea, not something representing just one group.”The need for the eruv reflects the continuing growth of the Jewish community in Northridge, particularly the observant community. At its inception in the mid-1980s, Young Israel’s congregation consisted of about a dozen member households and met for services at the Hillel House on the CSUN campus. It now comprises about 100 families and singles, many of whom cross denominational lines from Sephardic, Conservative and even Reform backgrounds, according to founding member Richard Macales.

“It’s a very different culture here,” Macales said. “The community of the North Valley is against the vulgarity of conspicuous consumption. It’s haimish, very haimish, not a fashion show. The people here work together very nicely. Whether it’s Young Israel or Temple Ramat Zion or the Hillel out here, everything has been built very slowly and with a lot of thought toward our ability to maintain the expansion.”

With the eruv up, the Northridge community becomes the second “contained” community in the San Fernando Valley, although Macales said the North Valley is not looking to replace the longstanding Orthodox community of North Hollywood and Van Nuys.

“On the contrary, we want to see the Valley’s traditional community grow in both areas,” he said. “There are just certain advantages to living out here, like affordable housing and a nice, safe neighborhood. We’re basically here to provide an alternative with all the infrastructure the Jewish community relies upon.”

The North Valley Eruv Society invites the community to join its celebration of the new eruv on Sun., July 2 at 5 p.m. at Young Israel of Northridge, 17511 Devonshire St. For more information, call (818) 368-2221.

Masters of Their Domain


Q: When does a fence equal freedom?
A: When it’s an eruv.

On Sun., July 2 the Jewish community of Northridge will celebrate the official initiation of its new eruv, allowing observant Jews the ability to carry on the Sabbath within its domain.The project was initiated more than 10 years ago by members of Young Israel of Northridge, at that time the only traditional Jewish community in the North Valley. They created the North Valley Eruv Society, which eventually expanded to include members of surrounding congregations, such as Temple Ramat Zion, Em Habanim and Chabad of Northridge.

Along the way, the group met with a number of challenges, according to Young Israel’s executive director, Rabbi Aharon Simkin.

“Eruvs normally take a long time because of the need to plan out a route that works along natural walls,” Simkin explained. “We also had a big delay because of the [Northridge] earthquake when a number of the walls we had planned to use fell down.”

There were also delays due to bureaucratic misunderstandings, Simkin said, such as when CalTrans denied a permit because they thought the group wanted to run pipes along freeway offramps. The group enlisted the help of local legislators, Councilman Hal Bernson and County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, to cut through the red tape.

“People don’t know what an eruv is and people are afraid of what they do not know. Once they understood that what we were asking for was simple and easy and on behalf of the public good, everybody was really very helpful. We just had to overcome the normal bureaucratic response of saying ‘no’ first,” Simkin said, adding that he couldn’t compliment Councilman Bernson and Supervisor Antonovich more, especially the councilman. “We couldn’t get a call through to [Antonovich’s office] and he stepped in and ever since the county has been very helpful.”

The physical boundaries run from the Wilbur Wash on the west, the 118 Freeway to the north, Bull Creek on the east and the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks on the south. The area includes Hillel at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School.

“Carrying from one domain to another is prohibited on Shabbat, which makes it difficult especially for families with small children,” Simkin explained. “An eruv makes the area like a large backyard, mixing everyone’s personal domain into one domain. But there has to be a ‘fence’ that surrounds the entire area. Ours is made up mostly of chain link fences along riverbeds and freeways, but in places where we have to go over a street or freeway entrance, we had to make sure we did so in accordance with the technical details of Jewish law and also in accordance with the rules of the city, county and state.”Simkin said that, although Young Israel made the push for the eruv, the intention was to bring together the entire Northridge Jewish community in a positive way.

“We consciously set up the North Valley Eruv Society in order to be inclusive to all Jews in the area,” he said. “An eruv is supposed to be a unifying idea, not something representing just one group.”The need for the eruv reflects the continuing growth of the Jewish community in Northridge, particularly the observant community. At its inception in the mid-1980s, Young Israel’s congregation consisted of about a dozen member households and met for services at the Hillel House on the CSUN campus. It now comprises about 100 families and singles, many of whom cross denominational lines from Sephardic, Conservative and even Reform backgrounds, according to founding member Richard Macales.

“It’s a very different culture here,” Macales said. “The community of the North Valley is against the vulgarity of conspicuous consumption. It’s haimish, very haimish, not a fashion show. The people here work together very nicely. Whether it’s Young Israel or Temple Ramat Zion or the Hillel out here, everything has been built very slowly and with a lot of thought toward our ability to maintain the expansion.”

With the eruv up, the Northridge community becomes the second “contained” community in the San Fernando Valley, although Macales said the North Valley is not looking to replace the longstanding Orthodox community of North Hollywood and Van Nuys.

“On the contrary, we want to see the Valley’s traditional community grow in both areas,” he said. “There are just certain advantages to living out here, like affordable housing and a nice, safe neighborhood. We’re basically here to provide an alternative with all the infrastructure the Jewish community relies upon.”

The North Valley Eruv Society invites the community to join its celebration of the new eruv on Sun., July 2 at 5 p.m. at Young Israel of Northridge, 17511 Devonshire St. For more information, call (818) 368-2221.

+