Inside the Eruv: A glimpse into Mandarin’s not so noticeable pedestrian highway
BY MATT FRANZBLAU
Federation Communications Director
Driving through Mandarin down one of its main thoroughfares such as San Jose Blvd. or Scott Mill Rd., it may be easy not to notice one of the Jacksonville Jewish community’s most important and valuable components. At first glance, a simple string or rather mundane slice of 2x4 lumber fixed alongside a telephone pole is just that, unnoticeable and seemingly unimportant, but many passersby would be rather surprised to find out that these small components transform large pieces of electrical equipment into a complex and vast grid, known as the Eruv of Jacksonville.
“One of the laws of Shabbat is that you are not supposed to transfer items or objects from one domain to another,” said Etz Chaim senior Rabbi Yaakov Fisch. “There are public domains and private domains but the idea of an Eruv is to make the entire community a private domain through a structure such as fences and posts.”
The notion of not carrying on Shabbat wasn’t born out of modern times, instead the law finds its roots from a historically biblical perspective.
“The biblical source for this is in the book of Exodus in the Torah when the Jewish people were bringing raw materials for the construction of the tabernacle,” Fisch explained. “So Moses said on the Sabbath, you should not go ahead and bring the objects inside.”
In Jacksonville’s case, the community’s Eruv transforms an approximate 10-square mile stretch of Mandarin into private quarters through rather inconspicuous means of string, wires, posts and fences, which enable the more observant members of the Jewish community to complete tasks such as pushing baby strollers and carrying their kids to shul on Shabbat. It also makes it possible to take other items such as religious paraphernalia or food from their homes to others in the neighborhood on the Sabbath.
“The Eruv is also really a symbol of unity because we are all members of this community,” Fisch explained. “So basically what the Eruv does is enhance the quality of life for the Sabbath observant Jew because otherwise people who have young kids would be stuck at home and unable to push or carry their children to synagogue.”
But it hasn’t always been this way for the Shomer Shabbos Jew in Jacksonville, as the Eruv as it is known today did not exist in its current form a mere two decades ago. In the late 20th century, more specifically, 1998, former Etz Chaim senior rabbi Aaron Goldscheider and some of his congregants began to discuss the idea of implementing an Eruv right in the heart of synagogue central, Mandarin, where three houses of worship, Etz Chaim, the Jacksonville Jewish Center and Congregation Ahavath Chesed (The Temple) were separated by just two and a half miles.
“Rabbi Goldscheider got a group of about four or five guys together and we went down to south Florida to see how they did it there,” remembered founding exploratory Eruv member Jimmy Jaffa. “We had a couple of manuals and books and I used my prior experience with construction, knowing what type of wires we could use.”
After getting permission from JEA to use their poles and from Comcast to use their wires, the group, headed up by Jaffa, whose family joined the synagogue around the same time, began to lay out plans and piece together the city’s first attempt at transforming the public domain into a private one.
“We went around working on it and it took us about two to three months to do,” recalled Jaffa of his groups’ efforts. “I just remember we had a teenager named Sammy Kadish helping us at the time and if we ever needed anything, he had it in his pockets, whether it was a lighter to seal the end of a rope, a knife to cut something or a screw driver to tighten something, he had what we wanted.”
Ultimately what Jaffa and his crew wanted was in a sense a fully functioning, walled off portion of the city, through a complicated means of electrical wires and thick rope.
“Modern construction has a number of things, but what we are replicating is a historic post and beam construction,” Jaffa told of the skeletal makeup of the Eruv. “Basically it’s a walled city and what we have is a wall with a lot of openings in them in the form of big windows which are telephone poles and a wire running across it.”
Even though the construction of the structure is rather simple, the specifications of what constitutes an Eruv can be very detailed, right down to the very inch.
“To be considered a wall, the slope has to be in seven feet and it has to go up 40-inches,” Jaffa explained. “It could be a wall or a fence, but it has to be 40-inches high and a gate cannot be more than 16-feet wide, with nothing on top of it, so those are some of the parameters you have to work with.”
Because of these strict guidelines and specifications, the Eruv requires constant supervision and care to make sure each beam, post and significant stretch falls in line with halachic standards.
“The Eruv has to be inspected on a weekly basis to confirm it’s still valid and the structure is still up, meaning nothing fell or collapsed because of the weather or work on the power lines,” Fisch explained. “So one week I do both the east side and the west side of the Eruv and the other week Rabbi (Avi) Feigenbaum inspects the east side, while Steve Shapiro does the west side.”
For those not as familiar with the geographical layout of Mandarin, the east side of the Eruv denotes anything east of San Jose Blvd., such as Sun Beam and Old St. Augustine Roads in addition to Crown Pointe and Hartley Roads, while the West side consists of Scott Mill and Haley Roads as well as the Beauclerc area. The southernmost point of the Eruv is I-295 off of San Jose Blvd., and the northern most point north is Beauclerc Road, also off San Jose.
Since the Eruv became first fully functional in the fall of 1999, it has not been kosher close to a half dozen times, and one of those occasions occurred most recently, only a few months ago following Hurricane Matthew.
The Eruv was down on the Shabbat during the storm and the synagogues were closed as well, but the next week it was repaired,” Jaffa remembered. “Another tree fell down on Hartley and St. Augustine Road, but really bigger problems occur during road construction.”
When instances like these occur, much of these repairs to the Eruv falls on the shoulders of Jaffa, who sometimes can get emergency phone calls at all hours of the day and night.
“98-percent of the time its fine after inspection but if there is a problem, I call Jimmy and with the assistance of sometimes Art Rosenthal, they go ahead repair the Eruv,” said Rabbi Fisch.
“I am trying to teach the next generation, so Art has in his truck, rope, a pole and string,” explained Jaffa of his right hand man. “A late Friday afternoon call to fix the Eruv can be problematic, especially if the repair requires more that one person or I am out of town.”
But if that’s the case, Jaffa and Rosenthal will quickly head out to make sure the Eruv is kosher before the sun goes down and the Sabbath begins.
“Jimmy donates his time and labor and other cities I’m told spend thousands of dollars on hiring a whole crew to make sure their Eruv is up and running, so that’s very significant,” Rabbi Fisch conveyed.
But what’s more significant the Rabbi went on to explain is what the nearly 5,000 feet of rope means to the Jacksonville Jewish community as a whole.
“Besides helping people walk to synagogue on the Sabbath by carrying something, it has really helped the community grow,” he explained. “People now invite each other over for Shabbat lunches and dinners and they can bring food in addition to their young children, but without and Eruv in place it’s a lot more restrictive.”
But the Eruv’s significance doesn’t just stop at the doorsteps of the many observant Jewish families who call Jacksonville home.
“One of the reasons people consider when relocating to a community is quality of life and for an observant Jew that means an Eruv,” Rabbi Fisch stated. “So this has really helped be a catalyst for the growth of the Jewish community here and that’s immeasurable.”
What can’t be counted in feet and inches or the number of poles can be tallied by spotting the amount of baby strollers lining the entryway at Etz Chaim Synagogue each and every Shabbat. While this number along with the length of the Eruv continues to grow in the coming years, so will the smile on Jaffa’s face, knowing he played a pivotal part in the helping the Jewish community here in Jacksonville survive and thrive.
While the Jacksonville Eruv is just one of many throughout the nation and even the world, those wanting to see if Mandarin’s is up and running each Shabbos can easily do so, by calling the official Eruv Hotline at 904-262-3565, ext. 6. More information can also be obtained by logging onto etzchaim.org/eruv-of-jacksonville, where a detailed map of the structure can also be found.
Donations for the Eruv are always gladly accepted, in the form of funds by writing a check to the Etz Chaim with a note that it be used for the ‘Eruv Fund’ or via volunteer hours by inquiring with either Rabbi Fisch or Jaffa.
Jacksonville's not so visible pedestrian highway