Able to Enjoy a Northeast Shabbat With Some Newfound Freedom

For Sarah Kantrovitz, walking with her family to synagogue for Shabbat services has just become a much easier task. Early last month, her local synagogue, Congregation Beth Solomon Suburban of Somerton completed an eruv, a symbolic border that marks out an area within which observant Jews can carry things like books and keys outside their homes.

"I have two babies," said Kantrovitz. "One is 2 years old and one is 6 months, so it is crucial for me to use our double-stroller."

(While pushing a stroller may not appear like carrying, it is nevertheless considered by Jewish law to be a prohibited activity on Shabbat when outside of an established eruv.)

The eruv – made of metal wire fastened to utility polls – spans the area between Bustleton Avenue and the SEPTA R3 regional rail line near Philmont Avenue from east to west, according to Rabbi Ahron Notis of Beth Solomon. On the north, he said, it extends to Byberry Road, and stretches South to Verree Road and Pine Road.

The eruv should particularly appeal to the neighborhood's strong Russian Jewish population, many of whom are Orthodox. Notis said that the project took three or four months, ending before Shabbat services on April 7.

'Everyone Was Very Helpful'

Before building the eruv, the synagogue received permission from Philadelphia Mayor John Street's office, according to Beth Solomon Rabbi Shloime Isaacson, effectively bypassing any possible ordinance or zoning issues. The mayor's office could not confirm if permission was granted. Late last year, City Council passed a special bill, which Street signed, granting permission for the eventual construction of an eruv that's expected to encompass Center City.

"Everybody was very helpful," confirmed Notis. "Everyone involved was very cooperative."

The Somerton eruv is the second for Northeast Philadelphia – the one in Rhawnhurst more or less extends from Pennypack Park to Devereaux Avenue, and from Roosevelt Boulevard to Dungan Avenue – and joins existing ones in Bensalem, Elkins Park, Merion Station, University City, and Wynnewood and Overbrook Park.

The Wynnewood eruv, as reported two weeks ago, is about to be expanded to include Narberth and Ardmore.

Buddy Korn, a member of Young Israel of Elkins Park, which maintains that community's eruv, saw the apparent eruv boom of late as indicative of a greater reliance on halachah by the Philadelphia Jewish community.

"The prohibition for not carrying on Shabbat in the public domain is being taken seriously by more people," he explained. "The reason there's more building and expanding [of eruvs] is because the number of people who are concerned with the halachic aspect of Shabbat observance are increasing."

With their newfound freedom, congregants like Kantrovitz can now enjoy Shabbat in new ways.

"It gives you a lot of freedom," she said. "You can socialize, you can make a picnic outside, you can go visit your friends. You don't have to stay home the whole time. If you get together with friends, you can bring a bottle of wine as a nice present."



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