Letters from the Issue of March 7, 2002

More debate about "Strings Attached"

Strings Attached: The Debate Rages On

This string goes over the line: Regarding last week's letters to the editor about Gaspar González's article "Strings Attached," it seems New Times has gone from one extreme to the other. First I agree with those readers who voiced offense at the cover illustration. It was in poor taste. But I disagree with your decision to publish only those letters favoring the Miami Beach eruv [marked along the eastern shoreline by an elevated string that forms a boundary, the inside of which is considered, by Orthodox Jews, a symbolic extension of the Orthodox Jewish household].

Those letters miss some very important points I'm sure were raised in other letters you received that agree with the ACLU. First this eruv is not "invisible." Perhaps the reader who described it as such was thinking of the eruv that had been around prior to this newly expanded one. The current eruv is extremely visible, large, and ugly. It consists of many tall white poles stretching out across the sand dunes of the beach. These poles now appear along the causeways entering the Beach and are attached to street signs.

Details

Another important point missed by a reader who compared this to a nativity scene or a menorah is that this is a permanent structure that is always there. Also it is not confined to a single place but surrounds the entire island of Miami Beach. Many other cities have eruvs, but these are made up strictly of existing structures and are truly "invisible." The Miami Beach eruv crosses the line. It far exceeds even the loosest interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. In fact the Miami Beach eruv makes Jews look almost as bad as the article's cover illustration.

Frank Garcia

Miami Shores

The opposition within: Forgive me, but out of curiosity, is the attorney who is objecting to the eruv Jewish? If so it would fit the profile of anti-eruv people throughout the United States. As you can imagine, eruv disputes (and the acceptable location of Orthodox synagogues) constantly occur throughout the U.S. There was a story of such a dispute during the summer of 2000 in the New York Times Magazine about a community in Cleveland.

Before coming to Miami I lived in Providence, Rhode Island, and Brookline, Massachusetts, both of which had eruv confrontations. I also remember reading years ago about a proposed eruv in the New York Five Towns area. The common thread running through all these disputes is that the anti-eruv forces were always (and I mean always) led by Jews. Whether it was led by a true desire to prevent church-state entanglement or a desire to keep the Orthodox out of the neighborhood, I do not know. I don't claim to be able to see into anyone's heart. But as a result, I patently reject all insults aimed at anti-eruv people.

I do, however, have trouble understanding the mantra of the anti-eruv people who cry "church-state entanglement." State sponsorship of religion would mean, in layman's common-sense terms, that the state pays for the eruv and demands that the public accede to its requirements. As noted in your article, no one would recognize the eruv or have their personal freedom impinged if they didn't know what it was and where to look for it. It requires no public funds and uses private-sector workers (the eruv committee) to maintain the eruv. In fact it requires less city and state participation than Christmas decorations put up year after year by the city using taxpayer monies and municipal employees, and which are clearly noticeable to anyone walking or driving down the street.

It is unfortunate that the Jewish anti-eruv forces feel threatened by the Orthodox and do not want them in the neighborhood. Here in Surfside the Young Israel and Midrash Sephardi synagogues have been in a protracted court battle for the right to open a synagogue. U.S. Magistrate Stephen T. Brown has acknowledged that the (Jewish) Surfside leadership has said at an official town meeting: "We do not want those kinds of people [i.e., Orthodox Jews] here in Surfside."

When I was the rabbi of Young Israel, I tried twice to reach out to the Surfside leadership to say, "Let's negotiate a mutually acceptable resolution." Both times I was rebuffed. Instead Surfside has racked up $600,000 worth of legal fees (according to copies of legal bills obtained by Young Israel from the Surfside Town Hall), all because the leadership does not want to see a bunch of Orthodox Jews pray at a new synagogue here in town.

It should be noted that the establishment of Orthodox synagogues in Surfside have only benefited the community. Note how property values have increased as Orthodox families have purchased homes within walking distance of their synagogues as we cannot drive to services on the Sabbath. And the existence of an eruv has encouraged numerous families to buy in this area, which has caused property values to increase that much more.

Gaspar González framed this as a constitutional issue. I see the eruv (and synagogue) issue pointing to a religious-freedom case. The fact that the Miami lawyer who filed the complaint with the ACLU chooses to remain anonymous only buttresses my personal view that, in this case, it is not a church-state issue. If it were a church-state issue, I would hope the attorney would have the chutzpah to make a public stand.

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