Strings Attached: The Debate Rages On

Letters from the Issue of March 7, 2002

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.


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.

No, this case and your article should be called "Orthodox Jews Not Welcome" or "Payback Time Against Orthodox Jews."

Rabbi Chaim Casper

Young Israel of Bal Harbour


Surprise! The courts have already spoken: Kudos to New Times on yet another sensationalistic and factually erroneous piece of, um, journalism. Not to mention the cover art, which was tasteless even by the publication's usual standards. Although Gaspar González did do an accurate job of depicting the physical nature and background of the eruv itself, he based the entire piece on a fundamental error and refrained from mentioning case law that pointed out this error, including a 1987 case overturning the ACLU on this exact issue.

Irrespective of the faulty subtitle and text, the eruv does not constitute a religious symbol by any stretch of the imagination. To quote Judge Anne Thompson of the U.S. District Court of New Jersey: "The eruv ... is not a religious symbol. Neither the boundary markers of the eruv nor the eruv itself have any religious significance. They are not objects of worship nor do they play any theological role in the observance of the Sabbath. Under Jewish law, the eruv does not alter the observance of the Sabbath, it merely allows observant Jews to engage in secular activities on the Sabbath" (ACLU of New Jersey v. City of Long Branch). The holding in that case followed a 1985 New York case, Smith v. Community Board No. 14, which also held that allowing the eruv to be constructed on public land was not a violation of the "establishment clause."

In retrospect, however, one cannot fault Mr. González excessively. After all, if the ACLU, that great protector of civil liberties and religious tolerance, still thinks the eruv is a religious symbol, who is Gaspar to argue?

Sholom Boyer


Thanks for helping my students to understand: I suppose I should thank you. When I teach my class on the Holocaust here at Florida International University, it is always difficult to get students to recognize and understand both the nature and the pervasiveness of anti-Semitic images and the seeds of hatred they sow. At best they think such depictions are things of another time and place. And then I saw your cover illustration for Gaspar González's article "Strings Attached," which might easily have been lifted from a Nazi-era propaganda sheet, or from the exhibit "The Art of Hatred," still on view at the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach.

Perhaps illustrator William Taylor should see the exhibit; he might be surprised as to how well his illustration would fit into a long line of "images of intolerance in Florida culture." While the portrait of the Jewish man is bad enough, adhering to many of the classic stereotypes, what really caught my eye was the ball of string he holds in his hands: an almost perfect echo of the globe so many propagandists included in their images to show the "threat" of Jewish domination over the entire world. Disturbing, to say the least.

Oren Stier

Miami Beach

An apology would be nice: I was extremely shocked and troubled at the cover illustration for "Strings Attached." Its depiction of a Jew in such a derogatory manner is offensive and disgusting. While your paper has every right to publish an article about the eruv, the choice of this picture is a dark blot on the journalistic integrity of Miami New Times.

Those who are familiar with the history of anti-Semitism will recall how Nazi Germany used offensive caricatures of Jews in order to degrade, humiliate, and dehumanize Jewish people. Caricatures, which were published in children's textbooks and other publications, were an extremely effective tool in their effort. Similar derogatory caricatures of Jews were used later by the communist Soviet Union for the same purpose.

New Times owes a strong apology not only to the Jewish community but to all your readers and to all decent-minded people. I am not only writing on my own behalf but also on behalf of the many who have expressed to me similar sentiments.

Rabbi Solomon Schiff, executive vice president

Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami

Remorseful or evasive? You be the judge: Who can believe that reasonable people viewed the words of New Times editor Jim Mullin in last week's "Letters" section as remorseful? I quote from the editor's note: "In a telephone conversation following publication, Rabbi Donald Bixon ... maintained that the drawing ... was analogous to an illustration of “a black man with big lips eating a piece of fried chicken with a watermelon patch in the background.' A stinging analogy indeed. New Times sincerely regrets any offense taken by our readers. None was intended."

Did not the insertion of a quote from an alleged telephone conversation serve to deflect and make the caricature containing an intentionally drawn nose and facial defects seem like humor actually produce an opposite and aggravating effect?

Besides words, are you taking action to repair damage?

Mel Kimmel

Miami Beach

What a difference a string makes: I have only recently been introduced to your excellent publication, in which I find many things of great interest. For example the article "Strings Attached." I am a nonpracticing Jew and I would be most interested to learn in what religious book the ultra and other denominations of very religious Jews have found it written that when they do not want to observe the instructions of these books, they can tie a bit of string around somebody else's property and consider the resulting area their home. Fascinating!

In other words, if they don't like the rules, they can alter them.

Audrey Zurawel

Bay Harbor Islands

Who will speak for the coconut palms? Thank goodness someone has finally exposed this ridiculous violation of the separation of church and state. The eruv is by far the most flagrant and serious violation of the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment I have ever seen. Since September 11 we have seen a poignant demonstration of what happens when religion is allowed to run wild. One of the most valuable things we have that keeps our nation great is freedom of and freedom from religion, which requires a strict separation between church and state. So fundamentally important is this that the authors of our Constitution put it in writing.

I know of many people who feel bothered by the fact that this enormous religious structure, stretching for miles along the most pristine public property we have, is allowed to exist by the City of Miami Beach. It is even more outrageous that the city actually participated in erecting the structure.

This is not merely an innocuous religious symbol analogous to a Christmas manger scene. We're talking about ugly, twenty-foot poles stuck in the sand dunes stretching as far as the eye can see, marring an otherwise natural setting. Coconut palms have been defaced for the sake of this religious practice by nailing plastic pipes to them in order to attach the string from tree to tree.

The city is only adding insult to injury by defending the eruv and making Miami Beach seem like just another Southern hick town.

Pocho Cifuentes

Miami Beach

Someone needs new glasses: When I arrived in Miami in 1987 I soon noticed the unsightly strings and poles along Miami Beach. At the time I asked a local friend what was that "mess." She explained it had to do with Orthodox Jews. I said, why are Jews allowed to create such an unsightly situation? She said it was probably because they control politics in Miami Beach.

Subsequently I have wondered if all religions could deface the beach scenery with various religious displays. If all religions were treated equally in Miami Beach, we would see a comical mess of unsightly displays.

Gaspar González's article rightly highlights the separation of church and state. But that aside, what about common sense? Who in their right mind thinks this is an appropriate use of public domain? The rabbi in the article who thinks no one should be bothered by the poles and strings because "they are not obvious" needs to change his eyeglass prescription! His prejudice is really at play here.

Doug Black

Coconut Grove

That string threw me for a loop! The eruv is not the only religious symbol on public property in Miami Beach. The three-par public golf course along Pine Tree Drive sports a mikvah, a Jewish ceremonial bath. What was once a fairly challenging 140-yard par-three on the third hole became an easy 90-yarder.

Abraham Galbut was quoted by Gaspar González as "not being able to imagine a scenario in which there ever would be a problem" with the eruv. I encountered a problem with it once while running on the Surfside jogging path shortly after a tropical storm. While running my final stretch, I found my legs suddenly tripped up and my body doing cartwheels. I had tripped over the eruv string, which apparently became unkosher after the storm.

Ain't this town great?

David Horstman
North Miami


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >