After eight years, Palo Alto OKs eruv

Rabbi Yitzchok Feldman ought to be overjoyed. He ought to be dancing in the streets. But what did he say when asked what it felt like after finally compelling the Palo Alto City Council to approve the eruv he’s been lobbying for since 1999?

“It’s a good feeling, yes,” he noted dryly.

That’s it? What gives?

The rabbi pauses. For a while.

“Kin ahora (May you be spared from the evil eye),” he finally explained, meekly.

“It’s not up yet.”

But, with the city council’s hechsher earlier this month, all that’s left is the logistics of stringing up Palo Alto’s first eruv, a barely visible series of wires, the presence of which enables Orthodox Jews to carry items such as food or children out of their homes on Shabbat.

The eruv’s below-the-radar passage through the permit process is a marked contrast from an ugly fracas that erupted in 1999.

Since the principle of an eruv is that it creates a communal space — thus enabling observant Jews to carry items out-of-doors as they would in their own homes — a number of Palo Alto non-Jews misinterpreted the proposal as a land-grab.

Grassroots opposition to the eruv gained momentum. Feldman was labeled a “Zionist conspirator” on one anti-eruv Web page.

Under an unexpected barrage, Palo Alto’s City Council in 2000 adopted a position that left eruv supporters flabbergasted: An “eruv” would be permitted, but one consisting of paint dabs on telephone poles, not wires. It was a remarkably hare-brained suggestion that didn’t come within miles of meeting Orthodox Jewish standards.

“Imagine getting a permit to open a restaurant,” Stan Sussman, founding president of the Palo Alto Community Eruv Inc., said shortly after his dream was struck down in 2000.

“But the city says there can be no chairs in this restaurant, because people could fall off them and hurt themselves. And there can be no silverware, because they could be used as weapons. Lastly, there shouldn’t be food, because people could choke. Other than that, feel free to open a restaurant.”

When j. ran a story about Berkeley’s eruv last year, Feldman said he didn’t know if his hometown would ever have one. Evidently, he was up to something at the time but didn’t want to tip his hand.

“It’s a very exciting development, I think this is a wonderful thing,” Rabbi Yosef Levin of Chabad of the Greater South Bay said of the eruv’s approval.

“Rabbi Feldman deserves a lot of kudos for this. Whatever he was doing, he was doing it very quietly.”

Both Feldman and Levin expect more young families with children in strollers to attend services once the eruv is up and running; Levin pointed out that on Shavuot, he counted many stroller-toting congregants he “hadn’t seen on Shabbos for a long time.”

With the evil eye in mind, Feldman was tight-lipped regarding eruv questions. It will be up “when it’s up.”

Finally, when asked what was the difference in his recent city council pitch as opposed to his 1999 efforts, he answered with only one word: “Success.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is a columnist at Mission Local. He is also former editor-at-large at San Francisco Magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.