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.