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Palo Alto eruv approved -- after eight years

Orthodox Jewish boundary will be strung around Palo Alto

A 13-mile-long eruv, a border that will allow Orthodox Jews to carry objects from home to their synagogue on the Sabbath, will be constructed around Palo Alto after eight years of attempts to gain city approval.

"I'm looking forward to exhaling," said Rabbi Yitzchok Feldman, of Congregation Emek Beracha, who spearheaded the Palo Alto eruv effort in 1999.

"It is a real enhancement for the traditional Jewish community in terms of how they can observe the Jewish Sabbath," Eliot Klugman, 30-year Palo Altan and member of Congregation Emek Beracha, said of the clear twine that will be strung around the city to create the eruv.

For observers of Orthodox Judaism, an eruv extends the private domain from individual homes to all land within its boundaries. From sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday night when restrictions for carrying objects into public domains would otherwise apply, Orthodox Jews may carry things from their homes to synagogue or to friends' houses.

"It just makes everybody's life a lot easier," said Yvonne Boxerman, who belongs to Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto and walks two miles from Barron Park to services so she does not have to use her car on the Sabbath.

Without an eruv in place, Boxerman explained, "People with small children can't push a stroller. One parent ends up staying home with the children and not ... able to go to service on Saturday."

When the eruv effort began in 1999, debate erupted in Palo Alto over whether an eruv would breach the U.S. Constitution's required separation between church and state.

City Attorney Gary Baum said Monday it did not. The city attorney's report stated that Palo Alto is "legally compelled" to allow the eruv. Palo Alto was expected to issue a permit for its construction on Tuesday, after the Weekly's press deadline.

"It's not like erecting a cross or a Star of David or any symbol of any religion because all it is is a fishing line," he said.

"It's not symbolic in any way, which is why it's not a mixture of church and state."

Cities such as Berkeley, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles already have eruvs, and "I know they're quite common back east," Baum said.

Klugman added that the barely visible eruv would only affect those who do not currently carry objects outside of their homes on the Sabbath.

"For a segment of the Jewish community, it's very important. It's not intrusive upon anyone else," he said.

Feldman would not specify exactly where twine would be installed, though he said creek beds would also be considered part of the eruv, thus not requiring the twine to be continuous. He said the eruv would encompass "where people live" in Palo Alto and Stanford.

His original proposal in 1999 raised safety concerns because it suggested stringing twine along some of the city's utility poles.

Through "a lot of persistent work on its behalf," Klugman said, Feldman and Palo Alto Community Eruv, Inc. (PACE) submitted a new plan in 2004 that would not need to use city utility poles for twine to be linked around Palo Alto, according to a staff report.

It took nearly three more years for the group to satisfy Palo Alto's remaining conditions for the project, including providing a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week contact for an eruv maintenance contractor and insurance for the eruv.

In addition to obtaining an encroachment permit from the City of Palo Alto, proponents secured permission from Stanford University, Caltrans, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Santa Clara County and the Peninsula Joint Powers Board for the eruv to cross their lands, according to the city attorney report.

PACE will pay for and maintain the eruv, and Feldman said he hopes that construction will be complete by the end of the summer.

Klugman estimated that the eruv would positively impact 300 to 400 families in Palo Alto.

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