Inside The Valley Eruv: How Wire, Concrete And Fishing Line Helps Observant Jews Celebrate The Sabbath

Published: Thursday, September 22, 2016 - 5:08pm
Updated: Friday, September 23, 2016 - 8:30am
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Fishing line strung to a metal pole (left), stretches over a road to connect one side of canal fencing to the other.

For the Orthodox Jewish community, sundown on Friday is not just the start of the weekend, but also the start of the Sabbath, which extends to sundown Saturday. It’s a time of religious reflection, and according to Jewish law, no work can be done.

In this case, work includes lots of things, like driving a car or carrying something outside of your house. That can make it hard to do anything outside the home on the Sabbath if you can’t even carry your house key outside with you.

But there’s a way around that if the community puts up something called an eruv.

That’s a physical boundary around a neighborhood or city that acts as an extension of the home. The public space becomes a symbolic private space, and allows people to carry outside. 

Robin Meyerson has five children. They live in walking distance of their synagogue. Before their local eruv was completed in 2013, she stayed home with the kids on the Sabbath, because of not being able to carry outside the house.

“That includes like, you can’t carry your child, you can’t carry a water bottle, you can’t carry items,” Meyerson said. “I couldn’t really have guests over either for lunch or dinner because they couldn’t come themselves because of their kids. So it would be kind of lonely, to tell you the truth.”

Now she can have guests, and the whole family goes to synagogue.

“So I get to pray and be in the synagogue, listen to the speeches. And so it’s enriching my life to have that ability to go to the synagogue,” she said.

And that’s the thing, an eruv affects lifestyle so much. Meyerson says people even decide whether to move to an area based on whether it has one.

“My name is Dan. What I do full-time is I’m a realtor. That’s my real job. But I also work for the eruv,” Dan Zupnick explained while we were at his second job - checking the eruv that surrounds all of Paradise Valley.

We started driving in Scottsdale, at the 101 and Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd. 

“So the northern boundary is the Central Arizona Project Canal,” Zupnick said.

The canal fence creates part of the eruv, along with the sound barriers against the 101 and the 51. The eruv has to be seamless - no gaps. 

“Like here’s our pole here. And we have a string that comes across,” Zupnick said. “You can kind of see it faintly in the sky; it goes to that light pole.”

Zupnick pointed out some fishing line between two poles. It’s strung over a road that cuts through the canal fence. This closes the gap in the fencing, and makes the eruv whole.

“And then we just have a whole bunch of them go light pole to light pole right here,” he said. 

It’s meant to be unobtrusive. If you blink, you’ll miss it.

Zupnick has been doing this for three years. Every week he plays a giant game of connect the dots, checking each and every one of these spots. There are 52 total. And if a line is down, it has to be repaired before the Sabbath, or the eruv is no good.

We parked to check out a line Zupnick can’t see while driving.

“There’s a little walking path that goes between that and the sound barrier wall for the freeway,” he said as we walked.

When Zupnick is done today, he’ll update a website and email list to let the community know the eruv is good to go for this week’s Sabbath. There are three other orthodox synagogues within the boundary of this eruv around Paradise Valley, which was built thanks to Ariel Shoshan.

“My wife and I moved from Baltimore to Phoenix in 2002. And we had had an eruv in Baltimore - in Phoenix we didn’t,” Shoshan said.

Shoshan is rabbi of a congregation called Ahavas Torah in Scottsdale. This eruv project initially cost $150,000. And there are ongoing costs for maintenance and repair.  

“In fact, last year, we had to have two redesigns because of changes along the 101 at 90th Street, and because of the city of Scottsdale changes along the bike path that’s behind the waterfront buildings,” Shoshan said.

The challenges of literally intersecting an old tradition through a modern city don’t faze Shoshan. He’s happy the project came together, after talks with the cities, utility companies, and an Indian reservation that it impacts. 

“This is written about in what we call the Mishnah from thousands of years ago,” he said. “But now there are practical examples of it, and it does, without a doubt, make the observance of the Sabbath more real.”

And it means residents like Robin Meyerson can look forward to sharing the Sabbath with the rest of the community.

“You feel like you’re in Jerusalem a little bit. You feel like you’re in a bigger community because you can get together with other people,” Meyerson said.

Instead of limestone walls, this city is surrounded by wire and brick fencing and fishing line, as strong as any wall to the community inside it.

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