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Building a Downtown Eruv

B’nai Israel Congregation, under the leadership of Rabbi Etan Mintz, has developed plans for the creation of an eruv zone in downtown Baltimore.  This has been a long and complicated process but we are nearing the final stages of completion. A three-stage design has been mapped out, permits and legal documents are being prepared, and a fundraising campaign will commence shortly.  Once funds are raised, we will be contracting with an expert eruv installation contractor to execute stage one of the project.

What is an eruv?
 

An eruv is a demarcation using a combination of thin but strong wires strung high above the ground between utility poles and existing structures such as public buildings or walls.  The eruv creates a symbolic boundary of connected space around a neighborhood. With the lines high and nearly invisible, or a part of the boundary created by existing structures, the average person moving about within the eruv will not even realize they are within any special boundary.  

However, for the observant Jew, this nearly invisible boundary allows a family to perform activities that Jewish law otherwise restricts on Shabbat.  At the core of Shabbat is the obligation to rest from all work. The most challenging aspect of that need in the modern world is the act of carrying in public areas, whether that be keys, food, a bag, or a baby stroller.  Adapting Jewish tradition to remove that concern gave rise to the concept of the eruv nearly 1,800 years ago. It allows parents of children who must be carried or pushed in a stroller to travel to a synagogue or a neighbor’s home. It allows people to meet with friends throughout the neighborhood, to spend Shabbat outdoors, and bring food or other items to share. It allows the elderly a richer community life since their canes and wheelchairs are no longer problematic.  

In this way the eruv transforms a space in such a manner as to encourage interaction and facilitate bonds of community.

Benefits to the larger community
 

Hundreds of eruvin exist around the United States creating destination neighborhoods for Jewish households looking to relocate to urban areas.  Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Denver, Portland, San Francisco, and many of the most vibrant, growing cities in the country have eruvin that attract substantial numbers of Jewish families.   Baltimore can be such a destination city for Jewish households and the downtown could be such a destination neighborhood. It requires the infrastructure be built to attract newcomers and retain current residents. The eruv is an important part of that infrastructure.

The trend toward encouraging more people to move back to urban areas has generally regarded walkable neighborhoods as more attractive for new residents and more financially productive for businesses and municipalities. Researchers such as Samuel Arbesman writing in Citylab, and Professor Samuel Heilman in his paper “Orthodox Jews, the City and the Suburb”, point to the eruv as a central component in attracting observant Jews back to the cities.  

Center City in Philadelphia has seen a significant increase in its urban Jewish population over the last decade.  Rabbi Eli Hirsch of Mekor Habracha specifically identifies building the eruv and other infrastructure as what “helps build community, which is ultimately what will make Center City an attractive place for observant Jews.”  In the last ten years the growth of the Jewish community in downtown Philadelphia by hundreds of new households has also resulted in the growth of kosher vegetarian restaurants.

A new study by Brandeis University researchers has found that the Jewish community in the District of Columbia and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs has grown by 37 % since 2003, at a time when the region overall was experiencing 22% growth. An eruv linking Silver Spring, Maryland and adjacent areas of Washington D. C. was established in that same time period, close to 15 years ago.  The influx of Jewish households within the eruv resulted in one synagogue realizing an eight-fold growth in that period with more than 2,000 new residents.

Another study shows a 17% growth of the Jewish community in the Greater Pittsburgh area.  About 42,000 Jews live in the city and its suburbs, with nearly half living in and around the downtown neighborhood and historic Jewish community of Squirrel Hill. Squirrel Hill has a thriving Jewish community and a seven-mile eruv.

There are also some indications that property values increase with the creation of an eruv.  Articles in the Boston Globe, Denver Post, and The Real Deal: New York Real Estate News all report on such trends as well as the draw an eruv has for Jewish families that are relocating.

Fostering a Thriving Jewish Community

in Downtown Baltimore
 

At the root of it all is creating the infrastructure that an urban Jewish community needs to thrive. Our experience in the Jonestown neighborhood of Baltimore is similar to that of Mekor Habracha in Center City and other urban Jewish synagogues as regards the importance of the eruv.  Our office regularly receives phone calls from people considering Baltimore as place to live. They are all happy that a vibrant synagogue exists in downtown Baltimore, but many end up outside Baltimore where an eruv and other Jewish infrastructure already exists. In our own synagogue, there are young couples important to the life of our synagogue and larger community who are now starting families and considering moving away because of the lack of an eruv. In our view, the eruv is crucial to attracting new Jewish households but also for retaining those young urban dwellers who are here now.

Downtown Baltimore can be a destination place for Jews looking for urban living, and bring with it the growth of businesses catering to that community and the investment those households make in the city.  However, more infrastructure is needed to make that happen, and the eruv is the next important step.

You can help build the eruv!
 

Please consider a donation to the building of an eruv in downtown Baltimore. Donations can be made here.  Under "type," choose "Eruv."

 

Sun, July 22 2018 10 Av 5778