Q. Driving east on Carson Street near Cherry Avenue – just past Ralphs – there is a railroad crossing. Looking up there appears to be small flags suspended on a wire, well above the roadway, crossing Carson at a right angle. I wondered if they were some sort of wiring for lights, phone, etc., but a closer examination showed the wire to be nylon line of some sort. But it gets better, Mr. LB! Now I notice one on Cherry Avenue, just before the I-405 north exit, and another one after exiting the I-405 north at Orange, just when you come to the stop sign. Are these guide wires to hold some sort of banner? – Greg Czopek
A. The wires are part of the Long Beach eruv, an intricate set of poles and wires that work together to form a virtual “walled city” around the Bixby Knolls, California Heights and Virginia Country Club area for Orthodox Jews on the Sabbath.
Jewish law states that you can’t carry goods, food or even roll a baby stroller outside of a private domain on the Sabbath. The string connects various areas to form one big “private” domain.
The Long Beach eruv was built by Bixby Knolls’ Congregation Lubavitch 10 years ago.
Before 2004, members of the congregation could walk to the temple on the Sabbath, but other things were forbidden.
With the eruv in place, members can now carry food to friends’ and family’s homes, roll strollers and carry goods – as long as they stay inside the boundaries.
I sat down with the congregation’s Rabbi Yitzchok Newman outside the Long Beach Police Department’s west substation – he’s also an LBPD chaplain. The rabbi explained the importance of the eruv and its role in Jewish life.
The Sabbath is a holy day, a family day, a community day, according to the rabbi. He said, “The eruv defines the area in which the family and community get together.”
It’s made of a 200-pound fish line and is maintained by the temple’s eruv committee. Every week members of the committee check to see that the eruv is intact and report their findings to the eruv hotline. A quick call to 1-888-4LB-ERUV will give you a recorded message about the line’s status.
The line closes 20 gaps in natural boundaries that are defined by the San Diego Freeway on the south and Long Beach Airport on the east. The string continues north after the airport along railroad tracks to Market Street. It then follows railroad tracks down towards Virginia Country Club, circles the west side of the golf course and heads down the Metro Blue Line to the I-405. The eruv follows the freeway back to Cherry Avenue.
The rabbi told me there were challenges getting the line strung, but Long Beach’s is very simple. “Irvine has one and Los Angeles has a major one,” he said.
Long Beach’s eruv is easiest to see at the places Greg mentioned in his question.
Not all Jews adhere to the eruv. In fact, Mr. Long Beach is Jewish and is just learning about it.
Rabbi Newman said that he and the 100 families that use the enclosure “pride ourselves in being a family-oriented community. … It allows us to keep our values and our culture to a much greater extent by having the eruv.”