Long Beach Orthodox Jews adjust to Sandy-damaged eruv

Long Beach's eruv boundaries were forced to shift because of superstorm Sandy. Videojournalist; Patrick Whittle (April 4, 2013)

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Amid the destruction wrought by superstorm Sandy in Long Beach, one of the biggest disruptions to the city's Orthodox Jewish community is the one that might be the least visible.

The boundaries of the Long Beach eruv -- a symbolic religious zone that allows Orthodox Jews to carry items, wheel strollers and use wheelchairs within its space on the Sabbath -- were shifted by Sandy, as a result of the October storm's destruction of the city's oceanfront boardwalk.

The change has left dozens of families unable to attend synagogue, or in some cases leave their homes at all, on Saturdays if they want to remain in accordance with religious law.

The Long Beach eruv -- one of about 20 on Long Island -- encircles most of the city and is marked mostly by wire strung on utility poles.

The southern border of the eruv was formerly located above the boardwalk. After Sandy destroyed the boardwalk, volunteers from different synagogues relocated the border a block north, to utility poles on Broadway and Shore Road.

The new borders are "not ideal," because they exclude several multistory apartment buildings where many members of synagogues live, said Rabbi Chaim Wakslak, who serves as the authority on the eruv for Long Beach's Jewish community.

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But, Wakslak said, the border will have to do for now.

"It's a very big hardship," said Wakslak, who is rabbi of Young Israel of Long Beach. "One of the major attractions of the community for religious Jews, especially young people, is the presence of an eruv."

City officials have agreed to work with local synagogues to make the eruv part of the rebuilt boardwalk, which has yet to break ground. The new boardwalk is unlikely to be complete before the end of the summer, city officials have said.

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The shifted boundaries have left about 50 of the city's roughly 250 Orthodox Jewish families outside of the eruv, Wakslak said.

Rabbi Eli Goodman of the BACH Jewish Center in Long Beach is among those affected. The change in boundaries means two of Goodman's four children are unable to attend synagogue, because they cannot make the 20-minute walk on their own and he cannot carry them under Jewish law. He also has been arranging with baby sitters to care for them, he said.

"A lot of people cannot take their children out on the Sabbath," Goodman said. "It makes a world of difference."

City public works Commissioner Jim LaCarrubba said the new eruv will be welcomed on the new boardwalk "in the same fashion it was on the old boardwalk."

Jeff Rosner, who attends BACH, said restoring the eruv boundaries will make the community whole again.

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"For a Jewish community, there are certain things that we need for a community to be vibrant, and one of them is an eruv," he said.

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