Two ritual enclosures that allow Shabbat-observant Jews to carry items beyond their homes are nearing completion in Northern Virginia.
Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown is expanding its eruv, or ritual enclosure, into Arlington. Rabbi Hyim Shafner said the completed eruv will enclose Congregation Etz Hayim, Chabad Lubavitch of Alexandria-Arlington and Kol Ami: Northern Virginia Reconstructionist Community, as well as Arlington National Cemetery and The Pentagon.
An eruv in Fairfax is expected to be completed this summer, said Rabbi Sholom Simon, president of the nonprofit Fairfax Eruv Committee. Once completed, it will encompass Chabad of Northern Virginia, Congregation Olam Tikvah and Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.
Simon said Fairfax was an ideal location for an eruv due to its high concentration of observant Jews.
“Between Olam Tikvah, the Chabad here and the JCC, it’s sort of a natural area where it’s probably the greatest concentration of Jews in Northern Virginia that would benefit from an eruv,” Simon said.
An eruv is a boundary made of wires strung along telephone poles that allow observant Jews within that area to carry items in public on Shabbat as they would at home.
Last month, the Fairfax Eruv Committee put out a call for inspectors to make visual inspections of the boundary to make sure it is intact, make minor repairs and report larger repairs.
Shafner said there is a planned inspection of the Arlington eruv by an eruv expert in July.
Originally, the plan was to expand the eruv over the Potomac into Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood. That way Kesher Israel congregants could walk to and from the synagogue over the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge. Shafner said many of his congregants, especially young adults, can’t afford to live near the synagogue.
“Things are so expensive in Georgetown,” Shafner said. So the synagogue decided to expand the area of the eruv to include another more affordable neighborhood for congregants to settle in within walking distance of Kesher Israel.
Construction involved following the path of utility poles on foot to scout out the best route for the eruv’s wires. The synagogue also needed permission from government agencies to string the eruv along poles and through public spaces like parks.
“There’s very few people that will have to walk or carry anything more than two miles from the synagogue,” Shafner said.
Jews in Fairfax had discussed establishing an eruv for over a decade, according to Simon.
But interest in a Fairfax eruv was kickstarted by the release in 2017 of a demographic study of the Washington region Jewish community. The report showed 41 percent of Greater Washington’s Jewish population lives in Northern Virginia.
Last year, the eruv committee applied for and received a $35,000 grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington for the eruv’s construction and maintenance.
“In terms of the whole community, it’ll have a dramatic, long-term effect,” Simon said. “It’ll help build institutions around here. And that’s very exciting.”