Keeping the Sabbath in Lynn May Become Easier

1  map
Borders of a possible eruv in Lynn have not been established
yet. Star shows location of Congregation Ahabat Sholom.

Jewish Journal Staff

Most major cities with an Orthodox community have one. New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Miami; Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, and Boston (that is Sharon and Brookline-Brighton-Newton). Yes, each has an “eruv,” or a demarcated area within which observant Jews can “carry” — be it a young child or a casserole dish — on Shabbat.

While Lynn, Massachusetts is not Crown Heights, or even Brookline/Newton for sheer number of observant members of the tribe, a fair number of Orthodox and other Jewish families on the North Shore would like an eruv of their own built in this community.

And no one, by his own account, wants one as much as Rabbi Avraham Kelman of Congregation Ahabat Sholom in Lynn, whose congregation numbers over 150 families. In addition to making the community stronger and more Orthodox-friendly to residents of the new zone, the rabbi contends that building an eruv would be a boon to the city of Lynn. It would also attract more observant Jewish families to the area.

But a couple of significant obstacles stand in the way. There’s the cost, upwards of $20,000, and the approval of a recognized expert in eruv construction and the laws that govern it. Rabbi Kelman has been in touch with a few of the rabbis that rule on such matters, and hopes one of them will be able to visit soon.

“The rabbi I have in mind also teaches, and hopefully he’ll be free sometime toward the end of December,” said Kelman.

Besides a favorable ruling from a recognized rabbinical authority, a host of other people must be consulted, including city officials, architects, and builders. “It is a long process,” Kelman laments.

The word eruv actually has nothing to do with the marked boundary itself. It means to merge or co-mingle. Indeed, observant Jews are prohibited by Torah law from carrying products from a private domain to a public domain. The eruv, in effect, turns public into private space by building a wall or a fence around a particular area, or stringing plastic wire across the top of existing boundaries such as telephone poles or street lights.

Dr. Jesse Hefter of Newton was a volunteer with the Greater Boston Eruv Corporation which oversaw construction of the 18-square-mile eruv that encompasses parts of Brookline, Brighton and Newton completed in 1992. It took eight years and approximately $30,000 to complete the project. An Orthodox Jew and a scientist by profession who works in research and development for Verizon, Hefter has been to Lynn and worked with Rabbi Kelman on a proposal for a North Shore eruv on a number of occasions.

Although the proposed area for an eruv in Lynn is near in size to the four-square mile Nonantum Eruv in Newton, the initial cost is entirely related to construction and whether or not existing structures will serve as acceptable boundaries. For Lynn and Swampscott, the biggest issue is whether or not the seawall will be the eastern boundary, or if wire will have to be strung across the streetlights.

Gary Kaplan, immediate past president of Ahabat Sholom, says if the seawall as it stands is deemed acceptable, the overall cost of construction would be considerably less. As he sees it, the boundaries being discussed would be the ocean to the east, the commuter rail tracks to west, around Ahabat Sholom to the North and Central Square to the south.

According to Hefter, the cost of building and maintaining the Boston Eruv was funded 100 percent by voluntary contributions. “We had a very large fundraising campaign and we received some start-up money from Combined Jewish Philanthropies; but the lion’s share was raised by voluntary contributions.” In addition to initial consulting and construction costs, the cost of an eruv also includes checking it before every Shabbat and High Holiday season, repair costs, taxes, insurance and liability.

Although the Massachusetts communities with eruvs all have larger populations of observant Jews than Lynn, Hefter contends that the numbers make no difference. Referring to efforts to also build an eruv in Malden, he says, “Lynn and Malden have a lot going for them. An eruv would not only improve the quality of life for observant Jews on Shabbat, but for everyone who lives in these communities. It would put them on the map.”

Kaplan agrees. “I think it’s not only feasible but necessary for the good of the Jewish community in Lynn and the North Shore in general,” he says.

Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of Chabad of the North Shore said he would be “delighted to participate and support this project.”

Rabbi Samuel Zaitchik, Emeritus of Ahabat Sholom, said he tried for many years to initiate construction on an eruv but “couldn’t get the funds.” He suggests that the community would need a patron or patrons to support an eruv and believes that many people in Lynn could afford to support it.

Comparing Lynn to Sharon, Rabbi Zaitchik contends that building an eruv in the near future is entirely possible and very important for the community. “Sharon became a Jewish metropolis because of the eruv. It established camaraderie and a positive atmosphere for everyone. I know this community would have the backing of all the synagogues, and it would be a mitzvah to have an eruv built here.”