Alexander Clark Real Estate

‘The Front Steps’: What’s an Eruv, and What Does the Richmond’s Do?

It’s Hanukkah, and while sources like Rabbi Sari Laufer write that Hanukkah is not actually a major holiday in most Jewish traditions, it remains the most prominent in American culture and as good of a time as ever to ponder our eruv.

The Richmond, you see, is not just a neighborhood: Rather, in the eyes of certain ancient Jewish customs, it’s actually one big communal home.

As writer Lorne Rozovsky explained in 2009, the traditional Jewish holy day of rest (usually Saturday) bars the observant from many everyday practices.

“It is forbidden to carry something, such as a tallit bag or a prayer book, from one’s home along the street, or to push a baby carriage from home to a synagogue, or to another home, on Shabbat,” Rozovsky wrote.

This is because even transporting something as simple as a bag from one place another may be considered labor, and thus forbidden. Note that not all Jewish people observe such a tradition–but for those who do it can be a major challenge, because how can you get from your home to temple and back if you can’t so much as take your wallet six feet out your front door?

In the very old days of walled Jewish quarters, the solution was to interpret things more broadly: A neighborhood was like a home in many ways, and it was surrounded by walls to boot, so perhaps some carrying was permitted as long as it stayed within those confines?

That worked well enough for people then, but modern cities don’t have huge interior walls; instead, people in neighborhoods like Manhattan and, yes, the Richmond scout out an eruv, a series of barriers forming one large, continuous “virtual enclosure.”

(Clement Street. Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In some cases, when a gap appears in the boundary, synagogue staff will employ a solution as simple as a wire running from one building or utility pole or tree to the next–anything to finish a connection and allow those who live inside the eruv to get where they’re going one day a week.

SF neighborhoods did not always have eruvs of their own–they’re actually a fairly modern innovation, with the Richmond eruv dating to just 2012. What did people do before that? “They didn’t carry anything,” a Sunset rabbi told me in 2016. That was a burden, but people made do, as they have for thousands of years.

If you don’t know, the Richmond eruv stretches from Golden Gate Park to Clement Street, and from 16th Avenue to 43rd Avenue, and was the fourth in the Bay Area.

What does this story mean for those who don’t observe such traditions–and indeed, what does this have to do with real estate? Well, whether we realize it or not, the eruv is a landmark–a small and subtle one that most of us walk past without ever noticing, but still a remarkable one.

There are not many such places in the world, relatively speaking, and it emphasizes our constant theme here: That a lot of people will go to a lot of ends just to live in the Richmond.

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