The Wire: San Francisco's Orthodox Jews Rejoice, as They Can Now Legally Schlep Their Children On Sabbath

Categories: Local News
Stacey Palevsky
Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz of San Francisco's Orthodox Adath Israel watches as Supervisor Carmen Chu and Police Chief Heather Fong sign papers granting Jews the right to carry objects on the Sabbath. The chances are exactly 100 percent neither Chu nor Fong ever thought they'd be called upon to do this.
In a story that may have slipped under the wire -- somewhat literally -- San Francisco last week got its first eruv since at least the days when Levi Strauss decided to make pants out of tent material; more likely it was the city's first eruv yet.

By now you're probably wondering three things: "What's an Eruv?" "Why is this important," and "Why'd you stick your hand in it if it was boiling?" (just kidding). But, starting with the big question, an eruv is a set of boundaries, usually telephone wires but also train tracks or even bodies of water, that create a symbolic communal space. If,symbolically, a quadrant of the city is a "communal space," then the restrictions binding Orthodox Jews on the sabbath from carrying a child, brisket, or bottle of Manischewitz from a private place to a public place do not apply.

As to why this is important: Getting official recognition for a symbolic series of boundaries almost entirely already extant via telephone wires -- and stringing a couple of strips of non conducting wire to fill in some gaps -- took two years of planning from leaders and congregants at Congregation Adath Israel, approval from the Department of Public Works, state Public Utilities Commission, and PG&E and required the signatures of Supervisor Carmen Chu and Police Chief Heather Fong at a City Hall ceremony last week. But that's not what's important -- what's important is that, unless you have a personal stake in this project, you likely didn't know about it. And this is a good thing. 

Make no mistake about it -- an eruv is not an intrusion of religion into the public sphere any more than church bells on Sunday, or an advance of religious extremism. It's simply a system of wires or train tracks you could not see if you were not looking for them -- guaranteed -- that allow religious people a couple of comforts such as pushing a baby stroller to synagogue.

So, in this city -- in which Looney Toons are not only tolerated but often enabled -- it's nice to know that a simple gesture such as this didn't involve frothy-mouthed declarations during public comment sessions that the Jews are coming to take your possessions or bringing up how this is somehow related to what's going on in Gaza.

By the way, don't think this is a paranoid delusion: When Palo Alto's Orthodox Jews wanted to gain recognition for an eruv that was already 90 percent extant via telephone wires and creeks, enraged NIMBY activists claimed that the creation of a symbolic "communal space" was actually a secret plot that would allow Jews to barge into strangers' homes and put their feet up on the tables (I am not making this up). Rabbi Yitzchok Feldman was called "a Zionist conspirator" for his efforts. After eight years of joy, Palo Alto approved an eruv in 2007.

Incidentally, the boundaries of San Francisco's week-old eruv are Kirkham Street on the north, 20th Avenue on the east, Santiago Street on the south, and 44th Avenue on the west. Be sure to mind the wire when pushing your stroller from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. 

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