An eruv consists of a series of symbolic barriers that surround an area within which observant Jews are permitted under halachah to carry things outside of the home on Shabbat, an act normally forbidden.
Practically speaking, an eruv makes life easier for observant Jews in a number of ways, including allowing parents to push a stroller or even carry their youngsters outside the home.
Members of the Center City Eruv Corporation — a nonprofit group formed in 2000 that's responsible for the project — have long hoped that an eruv would help make living in town a viable option for religious families.
The Center City Eruv will essentially stretch from Washington Avenue to Poplar Street, and run from Interstate 95 all the way to the Schuylkill River. For the most part, the eruv boundaries are demarcated by thin wires connected to existing structures, like telephone polls, as well as wooden polls put up alongside Interstate 95. The Schuylkill River also serves as a natural boundary.
In November 2005, the Philadelphia City Council signed a bill — introduced by Councilman Frank DiCicco (D-District 1) — that gave the project the green light. Street signed the bill into law shortly afterward.
Michael Carasik, vice president of the Center City Eruv Corporation, said part of the reason the process took so long was because the group had to shuttle back and forth between various city departments to work out the hair-splitting details of using utility polls and other objects.
"These things always take years," he said.
"First of all, we just had to raise a lot of money in order to be able to build it."
According to an earlier brochure put out by the group, it would cost about $50,000 to build the eruv and $15,000 to maintain it. Carasik said that he wasn't sure if the final tally matched those numbers.
Rabbi Dov Brisman, religious leader of Young Israel of Elkins Park, an Orthodox congregation, is overseeing the eruv and inspecting it periodically to make sure it's still functioning. It's possible, especially after a bout of bad weather, that certain wires or polls could come down, which would negate the eruv for a particular Shabbat.
For now, Carasik said that the best way to check whether the eruv is up or down is via the Web (www.centercityeruv.org). He added that the corporation may create an e-mail list or find some other way to communicate the eruv's status on a weekly basis.
Carasik noted that it's going to "make life a lot better for lots of individuals. In the long run, it's also going to strengthen the Jewish community."