LA Community Eruv in Crisis


Rebecca Klempner

The LA Community Eruv is currently undergoing a financial crisis which threatens to shut down the eruv. While the eruv‘s management has been warning Angelenos of the impending disaster for months, their requests for funding have not received the response necessary to keep this crucial community service running.

Los Angeles’s eruv is one of the world’s largest. Approximately 8000 – 10,000 Orthodox families live within its boundaries. Presumably, most of those people rely on it weekly, yet only 1000 families have been contributing yearly to the eruv. Just under 300 responded to the recent appeal.

In order to stabilize the situation, so that no crisis of this kind happens again, those who run the eruv ask that each family in the Jewish community send in a check for $54. They urge those who can afford larger contributions of $250 to $2000 a year to commit those amounts. 100-120 of those larger donors would go a long way.

The eruv prevents every Jew within it from violating Shabbos when they carry outside their home, whether they know about the eruv or not. Howard Witkin – one of the founders of L.A.’s eruv – stresses this ahavas yisrael angle. “The very idea of eruv is that I don’t have to build one for my sons and [myself] in my backyard. But if a stranger moves in, we have to make an eruv to gather him into our family… We are uniting us all together as a community. We are looking out for each other.”

In fact, Temple Beth Am and other Conservative organizations and individuals contribute to the eruv, because they recognize it is a communal responsibility and realize they benefit from it.

The LA Community Eruv needs to raise $220,000 to cover annual operations, pay for a new truck (the current truck used to check the perimeter is 45 years old), and replenish the Emergency Reserve Fund. The eruv‘s managers have been dipping into that Emergency Reserve Fund in order to keep things going during the fiscal crunch, but the account has been cleared out. One of the managers paid for a recent eruv-related bill with a personal check. Obviously, he cannot continue to do that.

As Angeleno Laura Weinman insisted to me, “Everyone [who] utilizes the eruv should support it with whatever they can contribute.”

Why, then, do so many people living within the eruv fail to contribute? With many Jewish Angelenos struggling to pay exorbitant rents and day school tuition, perhaps some people feel they can’t afford it. Others think of it as tzedakah – one more charity on a list of many worthy causes. They view contributions to the eruv as optional.

One person I spoke to pointed out, “Our checks towards eruv maintenance aren’t really donations – they are user fees.” He suggested that if we reframed our contributions that way, as payments for an essential service like we use weekly rather than as charitable donations, maybe we’d feel more obligated to write a check. “Just as we pay for roads of a city, this is sort of a communal tax.”

After some people questioned the size of the money requested by the eruv’s managers, they sent out an email detailing how they spend the $120,000 yearly budget. “We have a crew of three rabbinical inspectors with drivers that check the eruv every week. We also have a crew with our own dedicated lift truck that spend[s] hours every Thursday night and often Friday making repairs. Then we have insurance, special insurance for Caltrans, D&O liability, auto insurance, etc. We also spend several thousand dollars each year on truck maintenance and repairs to keep it safe and usable.” They added other expenses relate to trees and road/housing construction which interfere with the perimeter.

While running Los Angeles’s eruv costs a lot of money, the human cost of losing our eruv would be immense. Resident Cookie Richards explains, “Not having it means…that me and my husband and our baby can’t all go outside at the same time. We can’t take walks [on Shabbos]… I can’t bring a book with me to shul so that I can give a dvar Torah over at the women’s service [at the Community Shul]. It means that we can’t invite friends over who have children, and it means that we can’t go out to eat either.”

Jennifer Shofet shares the same concern. “I will be depressed sitting at home with three toddlers and a newborn not being able to leave the house the entire Shabbat, like many other mothers here in the city.”

Even those without small children at home would suffer without an eruv, says Gila Sacks. “I have [a] special needs son who often has me walking back and forth from home to shul on Shabbat, carrying various things he needs.” The frail and the elderly use the eruv for walkers, to carry medicine or other essentials, and eruv use greatly expands the ability to do hachnossas orchim.

To those who don’t use the eruv, Mr. Witkin says, “If you don’t have it, other people can’t participate in Shabbos. Picture a community where young mothers can’t go to a simchah… Maybe you don’t use it now. Picture you hit 70 and need a wheelchair.”

Mr. Witkin hopes increased eruv awareness, and understanding of its role in oneg Shabbos, will motivate people to send in their contributions by check or via the eruv’s website,