A plan by an Orthodox synagogue in Venice Beach to create a symbolic enclosure known as an “eruv” several miles along the beach is scheduled to come before the California Coastal Commission Thursday, November 16th.
The Pacific Jewish Center, 505 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, has proposed to erect the enclosure by stretching fishing line between existing street lights and light poles along the beaches in Santa Monica, Venice and near the Marina del Rey entrance channel.
The religious enclosure, or eruv, would permit Orthodox Jews to perform certain work or “carrying” actions in public such as pushing, pulling, lifting and throwing — activities that, under Jewish law, are forbidden on the Sabbath.
During the Sabbath, which lasts every week from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, many observant Jews are confined to their homes because they are not allowed to do actions such as push strollers and wheelchairs or carry canes and medication, Pacific Jewish Center members say.
By creating a symbolically enclosed area in an eruv, observant Jews are permitted to perform the carrying actions because they are within what is considered a private area.
The eruv along the beach would complete the enclosure of much of the Santa Monica, Venice and Marina del Rey communities.
Eruvs already exist in other areas of Los Angeles and major cities, including New York, Chicago and Boston, but officials say an enclosure created along Southern California beaches would be the first of its kind.
About 70 families attend services at the Pacific Jewish Center on the Venice Beach Boardwalk.
Pacific Jewish Center Rabbi Ben Geiger said the synagogue wants to erect the eruv along the beach to allow those members who are confined at home during the Sabbath to attend services and be part of the religious community.
“It’s a day where people are really able to feel like a community,” Geiger said of the Sabbath.
While the eruv will allow observant Jewish families in the area to carry things on the holy day, the enclosure will not have an impact on people who don’t observe the Jewish Sabbath, Pacific Jewish Center members say.
Geiger said he has been working since 2002 on the eruv proposal, which has already received approval from the cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Los Angeles County and the state Department of Fish and Game.
The application to the California Coastal Commission of the $20,000 project is “the last stage,” he said.
The coastal commission, which has final say on state coastline development, is scheduled to address the Pacific Jewish Center proposal. The coastal commission staff has recommended approval of the project with conditions, after initially recommending denial.
Staff had originally opposed the project because of concerns about potential impacts to public access with downed lines or poles on the beach, as well as impacts to public views of the beach, said Teresa Henry, district manager for the California Coastal Commission South Coast District.
Commission staff also initially denied the project due to concerns about possible negative effects on the endangered least terns of the eruv lines in the birds’ nesting area near the Marina channel, she said. Staff were concerned that the birds might get injured by crashing into a line that is difficult for them to see.
But after the Pacific Jewish Center proposed certain changes to address the coastal commission staff concerns, the staff has given the okay, saying the potential impacts have been reduced to an “insignificant” level.
“We believe that the visual impact has been minimized to a level where it will be insignificant,” Henry said.
Geiger said the concerns expressed by commission staff were “understandable” and the Pacific Jewish Center revisited its proposal to ensure that the issues were accommodated.
“I feel that we have addressed their concerns satisfactorily,” Geiger said.
Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen of the B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester said he supports both the effort of the Venice synagogue to create an eruv and the commission’s desire to protect the environment.
“I hope they find a way to work something out,” van Leeuwen said of the two groups. “They are two concerns that I agree with — the need to protect the environment, but also the need to accommodate members of the congregation to be Sabbath-observant.”
In an effort to settle the staff concerns, the Venice synagogue has proposed to inspect the poles and lines on a weekly basis and replace any downed lines as needed. A 24-hour hot line number will be set up for the public to call and request that any downed lines or poles be removed.
At the site where the eruv approaches the least tern nesting area, the applicant plans to install streamers to increase visibility of the line and avoid impacting the birds.
The applicant has also proposed to minimize the visibility of the eruv poles by painting them colors that will blend in with the colors of the surrounding beach and sky.
The Pacific Jewish Center has agreed with the coastal commission staff recommendation to limit the project permit to an initial three-year period.
Based on the project conditions, the coastal commission staff has recommended approval, saying that the updated proposal is consistent with the Coastal Act, Henry said.
The Coastal Act focuses on the issues of public access, protection of views to and along the coast and protection of environmentally sensitive habitat.
“We feel that with these conditions, the project can be found to be consistent with the Coastal Act,” Henry said.
If the Pacific Jewish Center receives coastal commission approval for the eruv along the beach, synagogue members hope to have their enclosure operational within a year, Geiger said.