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A Mostly Jewish Festival

Sunday Funday brings familial thrills to West Hills

by Wendy J. Madnick

July 13, 2000 | 7:59 pm

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.

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