Leaders in Evanston Jewish community discuss eruv expansion


Julia Esparza/Daily Senior Staffer

Robert Matanky speaks at a community meeting. Matanky said the expansion of an eruv into Evanston would draw more practicing Jewish families to Evanston.

Julia Esparza, Assistant City Editor

Leaders in the Evanston Jewish community met with residents Tuesday to discuss the expansion of an eruv — a physical enclosure that permits practicing Jewish people to carry items during the Sabbath — eastward from Skokie into larger areas including Evanston and Northwestern.

At a community meeting Tuesday, Robert Matanky explained the layout of the proposed expansion and was met with concern from residents about its aesthetic aspects and affordability. The eruv would be a physical enclosure, likely in the form of a wire, surrounding the area of Evanston from the lakefront near Northwestern’s campus west to the North Shore Channel, Matanky said.

Matanky said the enclosure would benefit Evanston by attracting more practicing Jewish people to the area, since Jewish Law forbids members from carrying anything from an enclosed “private” domain into an open “public” area on the Sabbath.

Matanky assured the 50 people who attended the meeting the eruv would not be disruptive and that the costs of installation and upkeep would be covered through private donations within the Jewish community.

“The word eruv literally means mixture. The purpose of an eruv is to allow people in a community to mix with their neighbors,” Matanky said. “It’s designed to be inclusive.”

Several audience members expressed concern about the eruv’s design, saying it would look out of place at the golf course and lakefront.

Matanky said the Jewish community would continually work with the city to maintain the eruv’s safety and appeal. He added that he was open to hearing suggestions about the design, saying growing ivy on the poles that hold the wire, for instance, could help it blend in with its surroundings.

“We’re looking to have something that is not offensive, that blends in because this is all about neighborhood-ness,” Matanky said.

Matanky added he has worked on the construction of over 20 eruvs in the United States and abroad and “nobody has proposed an eruv that is more aware of the aesthetics nearby or more expensive.”

He added that despite the project being “purely private,” construction would have to occur on public property and require a lot of permits. Matanky said the construction has already received approval from NU officials since the eruv will encompass much of campus.

He said the University offered to pay for the portion that will be on the NU campus.

Abigail Shay, a SESP sophomore who attended the event, said her sister remembers talking about the issue when she attended NU eight years ago. She said the potential creation of the eruv around NU is both a personal triumph and that it will help the University.

“(The creation of an eruv) will have a positive influence on the university by allowing it to recruit practicing Jewish students,” Shay told The Daily.

She said the eruv will allow Jewish students the ability to feel included and welcomed on campus. Other universities in the country, such as Princeton and Harvard, also have eruvs.

Rabbi Andrea London said during the meeting that several leaders signed a letter supporting the project. She added that it is a religious freedom issue.

“Evanston is opening and welcoming to people of all religious backgrounds,” London said. “We believe Evanston should be an opening and welcoming place for people within the Jewish community.”

Aldermen will continue the conversation at individual ward meetings and bring it before City Council for further discussion.

A previous version of this story misstated the name of one of the speakers at the event. His name is Robert Matanky. The Daily regrets the error.   

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