If anyone lately has noticed Saturday armadas of baby strollers on Sacramento’s east side, there’s an easy explanation: The Orthodox community just erected an eruv encircling the Fair Oaks and Arden Arcade neighborhoods where they live.
It’s not just strollers. Wheelchairs, babes in arms, even a clutch of house keys are now common sights outdoors thanks to the eruv, an innovation that allows observant Jews to expand their horizons on Shabbat. Literally.
“There is a prohibition of carrying outside one’s personal domain on the Sabbath that Orthodox Jews take to mean they cannot carry or push a stroller or any objects,” says Rabbi Adir Posy, who helped plan and construct the eruv. “The solution is to erect different barriers that symbolically enclose to designate it a domicile.”
Among the beneficiaries are the members of Knesset Israel Torah Center, one of the area’s larger Orthodox congregations (others include Congregation Mosaic Law and Chabad of Sacramento). But local congregations of every denomination enthusiastically supported the eruv.
“Most of the Orthodox live within those boundaries,” says KITC president Simone Monnier Clay. “Now mothers are free to come with their babies [on Shabbat].”
Posy, a Baltimore resident, had served as KITC’s temporary spiritual leader over the last two summers and helped nail down the eruv’s borders. Ian Bailey is KITC’s new rabbi.
It wasn’t as easy as building a fence. For much of the eruv, Posy got creative, using existing utility poles and overhead power lines as part of the contiguous border.
“The specifics of Jewish law are you need two upright posts and some sort of structure above it,” says the rabbi. “We thought, ‘What about a utility pole?’ So without doing anything we would look at a pole and say that happens to meet a qualification for the boundary of an eruv.”
The eruv was inaugurated Aug. 20. It was the culmination of a remarkably fast six-week process of planning, designing, gaining city approvals and construction.
The building of the eruv took an hour. But the dream of an eruv there stretches back 20 years. At one point, the community even considered drawing the eruv’s borders around the levees that line the nearby American River. But a more practical design began to take shape last year.
Posy and his colleagues did a lot of driving around and scoping out the area. An East Coast eruv architect (yes, there is such a thing) also came into the project near the end to make sure everything met the most stringent standards of Jewish law.
Whereas some eruvs take years to build — usually due to concerns from municipal agencies and uneasy non-Jewish neighbors — the Sacramento eruv sailed through approvals. In contrast, eruvs erected in Berkeley and Palo Alto both met with red tape and some community opposition, which delayed their construction for years.
“We worked with the sheriff and with SMUD,” the area’s water and electric utility, Clay says. “One car wash let us put up a tool shed to connect two areas.”
Besides serving a religious purpose, the eruv was meant to be “as community friendly as possible,” Posy adds, “and be as unobtrusive as possible. We did not get any backlash or disapproval from anyone.”
Now that it’s done, Sacramento Jews are basking in their freedom. Parents can bring their young children to Shabbat morning activities. Neighbors can bring each other fruit baskets. It’s all kosher.
Given that Sacramento suffered its own Kristallnacht in June of 1999, when white supremacists firebombed three synagogues — including KITC — the eruv is a reminder that the Jewish community remains strong.
“For the Orthodox community that was affected, [the eruv] was life changing,” says Posy, who is now back home in Baltimore. “It made them feel their practical experience of observance was expanded.”
Clay says they weren’t the only ones thrilled.
Of the Sacramento eruv, Clay says with a laugh, “For Rabbi Posy it was the event of the century.”