Eruv Awakening

Page 2 of 4

Even so, the organizers are proceeding with caution, wary of opposition from civil libertarians, anti-Semites and even other Jews.

Building an eruv is not easy. It requires recruiting rabbinic experts to survey the area, and numerous government entities must approve the use of public rights of way and property for a religious purpose. Goldstein and his committee began planning their eruv in 1994 and expect it will be operable before the end of the year.

Although the Phoenix eruv has been in the works for more than a year--and discussions have involved representatives from the City of Phoenix, Salt River Project, the Arizona Attorney General's Office and the Arizona Department of Transportation--there hasn't been a word about it in the local press. Most Valley Jews are unaware of the activity. Even the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix has purposely ignored the story, bowing to the wishes of the eruv organizers who had intended to keep their plans quiet until the eruv is completed.

Why such secrecy over what gentiles--and even non-Orthodox Jews--would view as an imaginary boundary?

In most communities, creation of eruvin does not spark controversy. But there are notable exceptions. In the mid-Eighties, cities in New York and New Jersey were sued by private citizens and the American Civil Liberties Union for approving eruvin. And two years ago, Orthodox Jews in London unwittingly riled gentiles--and some less-observant Jews--with a request for an eruv.

In each case, the non-Jews were worried about funny-looking people moving into their neighborhoods. And the less-traditional Jews are simply skittish about boundaries, real or imagined. Some felt that the act of denoting territory and ascribing it Judaic significance was akin to re-creating the ghettos and death camps they or their forebears suffered under Nazi domination.

The courts upheld the right of the Orthodox Jews to construct their eruvin, and the London eruv was eventually approved and built.

But Goldstein and his committee don't want to take any chances. After all, this is Arizona.

The Israel Connection, at Seventh Street and Missouri, is probably the largest purveyor of Judaica in town. You can buy a pin that says "oy!" in rhinestones, or a Slinky-esque toy shaped like the Star of David. The fragrances of challah and cookies from Karsh's Bakery next door hang in the air. And although bookshelves line the back of the store, labeled with categories from "Anti-Semitism" to "Shabbat," the clerk has never heard of an eruv.

Neither has the woman who answers the phone at the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix.

While eruvin exist in most major cities, they are largely unfamiliar to all but Orthodox Jews. In Phoenix, that's a small group. The Jewish Federation estimates that the Jewish population of metropolitan Phoenix is about 60,000. There are no statistics that tell how many of them are Orthodox, but national tabulations indicate that Orthodox Jews make up about 7 percent of the Jewish population.

While the Jewish presence and population have grown in the Scottsdale area--the Jewish Community Center and well-known synagogues such as Temple Beth Israel are in the process of relocating there--most of the Orthodox Jews remain in north central Phoenix.

That's where the eruv would be.
The proposed eruv would be bound by the Arizona Canal to the north, the Grand Canal to the south, Interstate 17 to the west and Squaw Peak Parkway to the east. For the most part, the parkway's sound wall and the canals would serve as boundaries, but it would be necessary to erect physical markers at all street intersections along the outer edge of the eruv.

A specially trained rabbi must inspect the potential eruv site to be sure it follows the prescriptions of Jewish law, as set forth in the Talmud. A number of such experts have visited the Phoenix site, including Rabbi Barry Freundel of Washington, D.C., who oversaw creation of that city's eruv in the Eighties.

Freundel calls the proposed Phoenix eruv ". . . doable without being obtrusive."

Jewish law requires that the constructors of the eruv gain permission from authorities who control property on the perimeter. In this case, that's the City of Phoenix, Salt River Project and the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Phoenix deputy street transportation director Don Herp says his department is reviewing the eruv plans, and will probably issue a revocable use permit. SRP spokesman Jeff Lane says his company is expected to issue a license this month. ADOT spokesman Robert Johnson did not return repeated calls from New Times.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.

Latest Stories