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Stretching the Limits of Orthodoxy : Symbolic Eruv Line Strengthens Traditional Religious Ties, Eases Restrictions in Jewish Community

June 11, 1987|TOM WALDMAN | Waldman is a North Hollywood free-lancer. and

By the end of the month, Linda Scharlin will be able to carry her infant son on Saturdays to Shaarey Zedek Synagogue in North Hollywood.

Her husband, Barry Pinsky, can for the first time take a bottle of wine to a friend's house for a Sabbath lunch.

Until now, the growing Orthodox Jewish community of North Hollywood has been forbidden by religious law to carry anything on the Sabbath across a "public domain"--streets, highways, thoroughfares or public squares that meet certain specifications.

That will change with the dedication this month of an eruv , which the leaders among North Hollywood's Orthodox Jews have been planning for since 1984.

An eruv marks an area in which Orthodox Jews are permitted to perform certain tasks usually prohibited on the Sabbath. The North Hollywood eruv is bounded by the Ventura, San Diego and Hollywood freeways on three sides, and on the fourth side the boundary is created by a line of synthetic cord strung between light posts along Sherman Way between Whitsett and Sepulveda.

2,500-Year-Old Concept

Construction of the eruv --a concept that goes back 2,500 years in Jewish law--will "change the whole social structure of the Valley for Shabbat," said Rabbi Aron Tendler, associate rabbi at Shaarey Zedek Congregation, the largest Orthodox Jewish synagogue in North Hollywood.

Traditional Judaism prohibits any form of work--including driving a car or pushing a stroller--on the Sabbath. But an eruv , by extending the definition of "private domain," permits certain kinds of carrying.

With the eruv in place, North Hollywood has become an even more desirable place for Orthodox Jews to live. Lured by secure neighborhoods and relatively affordable homes, Orthodox Jewish families have in the last 10 years been coming to North Hollywood in greater and greater numbers.

These new residents are mostly young couples who have steady incomes and definite ideas about expanding and improving the community. They see no reason why North Hollywood's Orthodox Jewish community cannot equal the more established and better-known neighborhoods on the other side of the hill.

Some of them believe that time has arrived.

"The Valley has something to offer on a par with the city," said Barry Pinsky, an active member of Shaarey Zedek. "We are not the stepchild of the city anymore."

The growth is evident at Shaarey Zedek, which Rabbi Marvin Sugarman said is adding 50 new families as members every year, and Emek Hebrew Academy, where officials had to turn away nearly 100 children--the highest number in its 27-year existence--during the current school term.

Cannot Build Fast Enough

The Orthodox Jewish community of North Hollywood, estimated by its leadership at between 2,500 and 3,000 members, cannot build facilities fast enough to keep pace.

Their lives--steeped in religious tradition--revolve around the same places: Shaarey Zedek Congregation or one of the other synagogues in the area; the kosher restaurants, butcher shops and bakery at the corner of Whitsett Avenue and Burbank Boulevard; and Emek Hebrew Academy, the Orthodox Jewish day school.

The eruv represents the latest expression of unity for this tight-knit community.

Rabbi Tendler says enough good fortune made North Hollywood's eruv possible that he wonders if the Almighty did not intend for Jews to settle in the area. That was not apparent at the outset.

After local Orthodox rabbis decided to proceed with the project, Rabbi Tendler searched in vain for a year to find an area that could accommodate the synthetic cord and poles needed to construct an eruv .

The only feasible route had to be shelved when city officials said it would be physically impossible to run the eruv along a particular stretch of Riverside Drive.

Soon after that disappointment, Tendler got in his car and looked one more time for the best location. In the middle of his drive he came up with a solution: Why not use the wire fences built alongside freeways?

Rabbi Tendler drew plans for an eruv that would be bounded by the Hollywood Freeway on the east, the Ventura Freeway on the south, the San Diego Freeway on the west and Sherman Way on the north. The area happened to include the vast majority of Shaarey Zedek's members.

Rabbi Tendler's vision meant that actual construction of the eruv would only have to be done along a four-mile stretch of Sherman Way, and between freeway on- and off-ramps.

The next step was to convince Caltrans to allow construction of the eruv by the freeways, where overpasses, on-ramps and exits interrupted freeway fences.

Tendler, Mark Hess and Larry Blumenstein--the members of the eruv committee--had difficulty penetrating the Caltrans bureaucracy. When they did get through, officials were not encouraging.

Outside Help Needed

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