The downtown eruv is now a fait accompli.
Installation of the eruv was completed this week after 10 months of work and supervision, said Rabbi Etan Mintz, spiritual leader of B’nai Israel Synagogue in East Baltimore’s Jonestown community.
“It’s completely up,” Rabbi Mintz said of the ritual enclosure that enables observant Jews to, among other things, carry items and push baby strollers on Shabbat in accordance with Jewish law. “This has been many years in the making and a lot of hard work, and there have been so many people involved — volunteers, donors, folks from the city, so many city agencies and property owners, private individuals. It couldn’t have happened without them.”
Spearheaded by B’nai Israel, a modern Orthodox synagogue founded in 1873, the eruv stretches a half-mile radius, covering from the World Trade Center and Harbor East to Little Italy and Jonestown. It includes B’nai Israel, the Little Italy headquarters of Chabad of Downtown and the Jewish Museum of Maryland complex.
A second phase will eventually extend the eruv to Johns Hopkins Hospital and Upper Fells Point.
Baltimore’s other eruvim are located in Upper Park Heights and in the Johns Hopkins University/Homewood campus area.
Rabbi Mintz said the construction and supervision of the eruv cost “in the tens of thousands” of dollars, all paid through private donations. He said he will personally oversee the regular maintenance of the eruv and bring in contractors when a problem or concern arises.
Construction of an eruv requires the implementation and constant maintenance of thin, strong wires strung high above the ground between utility poles and existing structures, such as public buildings or walls.
“Once it’s up, it’s a lot of work to keep checking on it,” Rabbi Mintz said. “But this is an important piece of infrastructure, a marker that there is a viable Jewish community here. Now, people who like to live downtown but need an eruv can do so. It also allows those living here to have more community connectedness and observance of Shabbat.”
He noted that the eruv boundaries also include several hotels to enable observant visitors and tourists to fully observe Shabbat while in Baltimore.
“It’s important that there are amenities to make Jewish life and community possible in Baltimore,” the rabbi said. “In other places, an eruv has really made a big difference. [The eruv] benefits visitors and attendees, and allows for the future growth of a community.”
In particular, Rabbi Mintz credited Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Betsy Gardner, Jewish community liaison to the mayor, for making the eruv project reach fruition.
Last May, Young signed a proclamation at a City Hall press conference marking the installation of “The Downtown Eruv District.” The project was approved May 1 by the Baltimore City Board of Estimates.
At the City Hall proclamation-signing ceremony and press conference, Young said, “With this project coming to fruition, it will assist in reviving a once-vibrant Jewish neighborhood where families who are observant can now choose to move into the city and purchase homes, where doctors of Johns Hopkins Hospital, patients and their families staying at the Tikva House, will now be able to keep the commandments of the Sabbath and walk around the downtown area freely, where observant families can come and vacation and spend their time at the Inner Harbor, Fells Point and Harbor East.”
The proclamation stated that the city will rent the eruv boundaries to B’nai Israel for a ceremonial annual fee of $1.
“The Office of the Mayor of the City of Baltimore deems it in the public interest that those of its residents of the Jewish faith for whom the request has been presented be granted the rights requesting, and likewise deems it to be of no detriment to the rights and general welfare of other members of the public,” the proclamation read.
Among those lending their financial and moral support to the project was Dr. Marc Attman, owner of Attman’s Deli on Lombard Street.
“This is another step in bringing Jewish life to Baltimore,” he told Jmore last May. “We saw what happened in Park Heights [with the installation of the eruv there in 1979]. Nothing would make me happier than seeing families walking to shul on Shabbos downtown.”
Pikesville real estate developer Daniel Klein also supported the eruv project. “Our family was inspired by Rabbi Mintz’s passion and long-term vision for future growth in the city,” he said last May. “We need more visionary thinkers like him.”
Rabbi Mintz said he was not certain when the second phase of the eruv project — to cover Hopkins Hospital and Tikvah House, a home base for Jewish families caring for loved ones receiving treatment at Hopkins — will begin. He said the eruv may eventually extend to Patterson Park and Federal Hill.
“We’re taking it one step at at time, to see how difficult it is to maintain an eruv,” he said. “We want to start small and build in the future. This alone is a very big deal.”