Fourteen years after City Council approved an ordinance permitting the construction of an eruv in Center City, the legislative body on Dec. 12 approved another piece of major legislation relating to it.
An amendment to the original 2005 ordinance will expand the Center City eruv significantly, permitting the eruv’s southern boundary to move from Washington Avenue to Bigler Street and Packer Avenue, almost as far south as Citizens Bank Park.
The amendment now awaits the mayor’s signature.
Then, the Center City Eruv Corp., which maintains the eruv, will get to work. Director Jonathan Gradman said he hopes to have the eruv running in the spring, though weather could derail that.
“Center City is becoming a more and more desirable place to live and rents are higher, housing costs are higher, things like that, so people are looking to move outside of the box where the eruv is, which happens to also coincide with a little bit more established areas for, not only Jewish life, but also in general more established neighborhoods, more infrastructure,” Gradman said. “South Philly is getting built up anyway, and a lot of people are wanting to live down there.”
An eruv is an area considered to be a private domain for the purposes of Jewish law.
Observant Jews refrain from a variety of different activities during Shabbat, such as driving, using money and carrying items outside of the home. If an area is within the boundaries of an eruv, they can carry items — like keys, canes or even babies — outside of their home. Often, the boundaries of the eruv are marked with a thin, almost invisible cord.
For observant Jews living south of Washington Avenue, this extension will make a significant difference to their lives during Shabbat.
“The word ‘eruv’ means ‘to mix together’,” Gradman said. “And that’s really the goal, to make sure that everybody can be comfortable with each other. … It’s a very important addition and not to be taken for granted. People don’t think about it, most people don’t think about it. For those that need it and rely on it, it’s a major infrastructure.”
Gradman said that different people have brought up the idea of extending the eruv farther south over the past four or five years.
When the South Philadelphia Shtiebel opened on Passyunk Avenue outside of the boundaries of the eruv, the plans started to solidify. Rabbanit Dasi Fruchter, the Shtiebel’s spiritual leader, secured the funding for the eruv expansion. Funding had been one of the obstacles to extending the eruv, Gradman said. Eruv coordinator Andrés Catalán and Rabbi Raphael Szmerla helped figure out the boundaries and drew them up. Rabbi Dov Brisman approved it.
The extension of the eruv will also take advantage of permanent structures like walls and highways to keep construction and maintenance costs down, Gradman said. He noted that he, along with others who help maintain the eruv, are all volunteers. The funds all go toward constructing and repairing the eruv.
The Jewish community in South Philadelphia is growing, Fruchter said, noting that a Chanukah celebration on Passyunk Avenue brought about 200 attendees. Having the eruv will facilitate that growth, she said.
“We manage,” Fruchter said on not having the Shtiebel within the eruv. “It’s the kind of thing where you can’t forget anything at home. Everything has to be brought over to wherever it is before Shabbat, and it’s challenging to bring children to shul when there’s no eruv. I feel it’s really important because the sooner we get it up, the sooner people are able to keep Shabbat in the way that they want to keep Shabbat.”
In addition to the Shtiebel, Congregation Shivtei Yeshuron Ezras Israel and YPC Shari-Eli Synagogue are not within the Center City eruv, but will be with the extension.
Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (District 2) and Councilman At-Large Allan Domb co-sponsored the amendment.
“I am honored to support Philadelphia’s Jewish community in observing their faith,” Johnson said in an email. ”This legislation expands a great public/private partnership between the Center City Eruv Corporation and the City of Philadelphia. I look forward to Mayor Jim Kenney signing the legislation into law so the expansion of the eruv can begin as soon as possible.”
Johnson was more involved, according to Gradman, as the extension falls within his district.
“I supported Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s bill to amend the existing Eruv Boundary by expanding the Center City demarcation territory into some South Philadelphia neighborhoods,” Domb, who is Jewish, said in a statement. “This will allow those who are strictly observant of the Jewish Faith to have more mobility, especially individuals taking care of babies and young children.”