Synagogue to get sacred boundary

Times Staff Writers

An Orthodox synagogue has won permission to string a religious boundary along the beach from Santa Monica to Marina del Rey after agreeing to take steps to protect a rare bird that nests in the coastal area.

Members of the Pacific Jewish Center in Venice welcomed the California Coastal Commission’s decision last week to grant their request to run fishing line between lampposts and sign poles through several miles of prime beachfront, creating an unbroken symbolic border.

The eruv boundary, which also will stretch inland through parts of Santa Monica and Los Angeles, eases certain Sabbath restrictions by allowing Orthodox Jews to consider themselves to be “at home” within its broad outlines.

Jews within the eruv would not be in violation of a religious law that forbids them from carrying things outside their homes on the Sabbath, allowing adherents to push strollers or wheelchairs and carry their keys.


It does not relieve Jews of the obligation to refrain from work on the Sabbath.

The beachfront boundary, granted for three years, will be the first of its kind in California, officials said.

“It’s a relief and it’s very exciting for us,” said Rabbi Ben Geiger of the Pacific Jewish Center, which faced resistance from Coastal Commission staff over the safety of a protected bird and opposition from neighbors about fears of obstructed ocean views.

The boundary will run along Ocean Front Walk from Ballona Creek on the south to the Santa Monica Freeway on the north.

The roughly square border will stretch east to the San Diego Freeway.

Other eruvs wind through sections of the Westside and the San Fernando Valley.

But the beachfront version has presented unusual challenges because it will pass through the ecologically fragile nesting area of the protected least tern.

The synagogue agreed to place metallic streamers on portions of the fishing line near the nesting area to stop the birds from flying into the wire and hurting themselves.

At a hearing Thursday, coastal commissioners imposed another condition, requiring the synagogue to work with its staff to develop a system for monitoring the impact on the least tern.

Synagogue leaders will get their permit once they work out the monitoring details, which they hope to do within weeks or months at the latest.

The congregation must still raise money and obtain construction bids.

One commissioner said the compromise will help strike a balance between the competing needs of the religious community in Venice and the commission’s mandate to oversee coastal regulations and protect the environment.

The three-year permit, the official said, will allow time to evaluate the impact of the eruv.

“I think it’s a good solution,” said commissioner Sara Wan. “We don’t have a problem with this as long as it doesn’t impact coastal resources.”

One Jewish scholar said that similar boundaries in other areas have had little, if any, effect on neighborhoods because they blend into their surroundings.

“The eruv is invisible unless you’re looking for it. You can barely pick it out, even to the trained eye, from the tangle of wires crisscrossing our streets,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, chairman of Jewish law and ethics at Loyola Law School.

Eruvs tend to make communities stronger,” he added. “They make communities more attractive to young Jewish couples that tend to sink roots in the community, raise families there.”

Members of the Pacific Jewish Center said the boundary would make a big difference to children and disabled and elderly congregants who might otherwise be confined at home during the Sabbath, which starts at sundown on Friday and continues until Saturday evening.

Rabbi Geiger said that he expects Saturday services, which now attract 60 to 70 worshipers, to swell to about 100 and bring in more children.

Congregant Lea Geller said she was “thrilled” by the commission’s approval, saying that critics in the neighborhood were misinformed about the eruv.

“I’ve seen it described as a Jewish wall,” she said. “Who really wants to live in a neighborhood with a Jewish wall? In fact, it’s just a thin piece of wire.”

Geller was not among those present on Saturday morning when her husband, Michael, the synagogue’s president, informed the congregation of the Coastal Commission’s decision.

Because there is no eruv, Lea Geller cannot carry her newborn child to Sabbath services -- or push the baby in a stroller.

As soon as the wire is strung, Lea Geller said, she’ll be there regularly.

“It’s great news for us,” she said.