“You couldn’t have lunch outside either,” said the 63-year-old Garfield, who is Orthodox, adding that when any of his six grandchildren come to visit, he’s never even been able to push them in a stroller to synagogue or the park.
That’s because Garfield’s home does not fall inside an eruv, a symbolic barrier surrounding an area within which Jewish law permits the observant to carry such things as keys, books, blankets, food — even children — outside of homes and synagogues come Shabbat. Even when his family’s synagogue, Congregation Beth Hamedrosh, created its own eruv in the mid-1990s that encompassed parts of Overbrook and Wynnewood, Garfield’s property was not included inside the boundaries.
But it looks as if that’s going to change. The planned expansion of the eruv would triple the area covered by the current one, with its eventual boundaries stretching as far west as St. Paul’s Road in Ardmore, and as far north as the Amtrak/SEPTA train tracks running from Merion Station to Ardmore.
Part of what is known as the “Main Line Eruv” will also include part of Narberth Borough, as well as the entire 93-acre campus of Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood, which will allow observant Jews in the area to visit patients without arriving empty-handed.
Rabbi Shlomo Caplan of Beth Hamedrosh said that the eruv expansion has received all necessary approvals from various authorities, and is simpy a matter of when the New Jersey-based rabbi who is building the eruv finishes the job. Caplan said that completion of the project will probably happen within the next several months.
Bob Duncan, of the Lower Merion Township buildings department, could not confirm that the township had granted approval for the expansion.
According to the plan, the northeast boundary of the eruv will be close to the boundary of the Lower Merion eruv, which covers parts of Merion Station. Other eruvs in the area include those in Elkins Park, Northeast Philadelphia and University City; last year, Philadelphia’s City Council passed an ordinance clearing the way for the construction of an eruv in Center City running from the Schuylkill River to the Delaware River.
Caplan said that the congregation had first looked into expanding its current eruv to include more of Wynnewood several years ago when it decided to relocate from Overbrook Park to a property on Haverford Avenue in Wynnewood. But it was approached by members of the Ardwood Community — a group of 15 to 20 families who consider themselves traditional, but egalitarian, and live in Wynnewood and Ardmore — who wanted to be included in the eruv’s new boundaries.
Mark Solomon, part of the informal community, said most of the members of Ardwood belong to Conservative synagogues such as Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El in Wynnewood and Suburban Jewish Community Center-B’nai Aaron in Havertown. Ardwood’s families will often have services and meals in each other’s homes, but organizing communal meals or picnics on Shabbat has been difficult — at times, nearly impossible — without the existence of an eruv.
“We [had] no objection to making the eruv larger, as long as it [met] our standards,” said Caplan, explaining why they acceded to Ardwood’s request. “Whenever we can promote Jewish observance and Shabbos observance, and promote the welfare of the community, I think it’s a great thing to do.”
Does he know for sure when it will be finished?
“The majority of the work is definitely done. But like when somebody is opening a restaurant, its hard to predict,” when it will actually be ready.
Solomon said that he and others from Ardwood formed a nonprofit corporation called Keruv that raised about $25,000 to cover the cost of the expansion.
“I don’t think we could have done this ourselves,” admitted Solomon, adding that he’s been involved with the eruv expansion since his 4-year-old-daughter, Devora Rachel, was an infant. “[Beth Hamedrosh] brought the halachic authority. We helped bring the energy and financial resources.”
Rabbi Chaim Galfand — who serves as school rabbi at the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School’s Stern and Forman centers, and who lives in Wynnewood — said that among other things, an eruv will make outings to South Ardmore Park, along with informal and noncompetitive ball games, possible on Shabbat. (Some rabbis do hold that playing sports violates the spirit of the Shabbat.)
“From its very meaning, eruv means ‘mixture’ or ‘bringing together,’ ” said the rabbi. “And I see this as a way of bringing together not just my family, but other families.”
He explained that when each of his three kids were too young to walk, either he or his wife would have to take turns staying at home on Shabbat.
“That doesn’t make for such a feeling of togetherness,” he said, adding that while other parents will reap the benefits of being able to transport their children to school via stroller, his 4-year-old daughter, Gefen, has already gotten used to the mile-long walk to synagogue.
Still, said Galfand, he, like many others, will be able to bring the Saturday paper inside, and not just glance through the plastic to see if the Phillies won or lost.