Monday, October 6, 2008

Eruv

This weekend the Times Picayune ran a story about how the Orthodox Jews in Metairie (1) have just established an eruv.

I find this fascinating and funny for a number of reasons.

First the funny. It turns out that we have met the family that lead the charge to establish the eruv. Rabbi Uri and his wife and children often attend the Jewish newcomer events in New Orleans that Colin and I go to. They go to make sure that any interested Jews know that there is an orthodox synagogue in Metairie. (You can see photos of them, and read about their congregation, Beth Israel, here). The last time I spoke with them was at a Zephyr's AAA baseball game, when I was drinking a beer and eating a kosher hot dog. I was chatting with Uri, while Daliah ran around after the two boys, who seemed to be really enjoying the festivities. In fact, when Colin and I were trying to find Zephyr Field, Colin spotted a mini-van and said, "Oh, we must be getting close, I see 'The Jews' ". I had no idea what he was talking about, because I could only see the back of a beige minivan, so I chided him about how not ALL minivan drivers were Jews. He replied that he could see the people inside (which I could not from my seat) and it was Uri and his family. Then we both laughed.

Next, the fascinating. The first is that it is nice to see this little community of orthodox Jews rebuild their lives after Katrina. Large portions of Jefferson parish flooded after the levee breaches, and this particular synagogue was completely ruined. Seven Torahs and hundreds of old holy books were destroyed by water. All the other Torahs' in New Orleans had been evacuated before the Hurricane. A rescue operation to save the books was attempted, but sadly all were destroyed by water and mold. They were buried according to Jewish law, which states that destroyed holy books must be buried, because they should be treated like people, rather than as mere objects. The second fascination is that this particular eruv is being established using primarily natural boundaries. Most eruv I know of are established by means of string, or an arrangement of telephone lines, to denote the communal boundaries of a "house". This is done so that orthodox Jews can carry items outside of their homes and not be breaking the prohibition against work on the Sabbath. (Strictly speaking, to carry any item outside the home is considered work). The only natural boundaries I have ever heard of being used before to create an eruv were in Manhattan, where sea walls are used to create walls for the "house". In New Orleans, of course, we use levees and canal walls to mark our neighborhoods, and our eruvs. The Metairie eruv uses canal walls, levees, a highway sound barrier as well as the expected telephone wires to create a community "house". I think I find the concept of an eruv made of levees just inherently funny. I mean, the levees we have cannot protect us from flooding, so who says they make a decent "house"? Well, apparently, the rabbinical council of New Jersey, that's who!

(1) Metairie, it's safe here.

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