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L.A. eruv downed for Yom Kippur

by Jonah Lowenfeld

September 20, 2012 | 12:36 pm

Screen capture from laeruv.com courtesy Los Angeles Community Eruv

For weeks, the warnings on Freeway signs have been advising motorists about the second weekend-long closure of the 405 Freeway on Sept. 29-30. But for observant Jews living in Los Angeles, there’s a separate hassle looming a few days earlier, and the warnings have been announced in dire tones and bold, red capital letters on the Los Angeles Community Eruv Web site.

“[T]here will be NO ERUV ON YOM KIPPUR THIS YEAR,” the text on the site reads. “The construction cannot be halted for us.”

Because Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown on Sept. 25, falls on a weekday when construction crews will be working on the expansion of the 405 Freeway, the Los Angeles eruv, a massive symbolic enclosure that allows observant Jews throughout most of the city to carry objects in public spaces almost every single Shabbat, will not be in operation.

The Day of Atonement may be the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, but as far as the prohibition on certain work-like activities goes, Yom Kippur is very much like an ordinary Sabbath, which means that carrying objects from a privately owned space to a public one is prohibited without an eruv.

And while fasting Jews won’t need to carry, say, bottles of wine or pans of kugel down the block for lunch next week, there are bound to be inconveniences, particularly for families with young children. Strollers, which may only be used with an eruv, will be prohibited this Yom Kippur, which could strand some parents at home this holiday.

If “Yom Kippurgeddon” was unavoidable, what’s notable about the eruv’s downing is how rarely it happens.

“We’ve been up for 10 years; we’ve ben down for two Shabboses [Sabbaths],” Howard Witkin, the L.A. eruv’s administrator, said. “We’ve got a pretty good track record.”

That record is even more impressive, considering just how much work has been going on each week to keep the eruv’s Western “wall” intact while construction has been going on. The L.A. eruv has a 40-mile circumference, most of which is made up of solid freeway walls in fences; along that entire circuit, there is no break wider than eight inches.

The section under construction, the 10-mile stretch of the 405 between the 10 and 101 Freeways, presents a difficulty, but with the cooperation of the contractor, Witkin said, most weekends haven’t presented a problem.

“There’s a trench right now that they’re putting in, on Sepulveda,” Witkin said. That trench, which is being built to facilitate drainage, leaves a 12- or 13-foot break in the wall, enough of a gap to render the entire eruv unkosher.

To keep the eruv in operation, Witkin explained, the eruv administrators have worked with the contractor, Kiewit, to ensure that such gaps are filled with “movable walls” made of “poles and some really flexible chicken wire” that are put in place by workers to eliminate those gaps.

“They play with scheduling of work,” Witkin said. “They just don’t use those areas on Saturdays. To ask them to do that in the middle of the week, on a working Wednesday, is just impossible.”

Dealing with the construction, however, has brought with it an increase in cost. The budget for the eruv in previous years, Witkin said, was about $80,000; this year, the costs have gone up to around $100,000. That expense is paid by members of orthodox synagogues across the city, whose members currently pay $56 per family year to support the eruv.

Witkin said he hoped the costs would go back down next year, once the 405 construction is completed.

Witkin was comfortable discussing the precise procedure of putting up temporary fencing – it takes about seven minutes, involves steel zip-ties and is done on an as-needed basis by (mostly non-Jewish) construction workers – but he didn’t want to weigh in on the intricacies of what is and is not permitted on Yom Kippur without an eruv.

“Talk to your local rav [rabbi] and have him tell you how you’re supposed to handle it,” he said.

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