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Tensions in the Eruv
Like any small, close-knit community that experiences quick changes, the St. Louis Park eruv goes through tensions and conflicts. Mostly, they stem from the relationships among members of different synagogues, and between religious and nonreligious Jews. While we can only attempt to understand a small snapshot of the community dynamics, we will reflect on two current areas of tension: real estate and Jewish identity.
Though most people don’t exactly know where the eruv starts and ends, one of the noticeable differences comes in property values. Historically, the emergence of eruvs in American neighborhoods have often increased the costs of homes, because they become more desirable for observant Jews.1 This, of course, creates tension and worry, especially because many observant Jews, the ones who have a need for the eruv, often don’t have the money it takes to live there. Many observant Jews spend their days studying the Torah, rather than working full time. Interestingly, though residents of the St. Louis Park have mentioned an increase in property values, a few people that we talked to have also seen the contradictory effect. One non-religious woman mentioned that she had trouble selling her house in the eruv for the right value because the Orthodox community all wanted one rabbi to move in.
“Basically what happens in this neighborhood, when something goes up for sale, the Orthodox community wants to buy it immediately."
“Basically what happens in this neighborhood, when something goes up for sale, the Orthodox community wants to buy it immediately. We were told that if our house had been on the market, and it wouldn’t have been in the eruv, we probably would have been able to get more for our house, but no one would bid against us because they wanted another rabbi to move in,” she said.2
A few other people mentioned similar stories, with realtors helping the Orthodox community get houses and work out mortgages. Of course, this comes with different sentiments for different people. Those who are not part of the Orthodox community feel like they are getting swindled; one woman said, “It’s a fix. The fix’s in. You can get in if you’re Orthodox, and you can’t get out with anything if you’re not." On the other hand, observant Jews see it as a beautiful support system. One Orthodox Jew mentioned being able to move into the eruv was a sign of God. It changed her life, allowing her family to walk to synagogue, and for her children to have more freedom leaving the house. For her, it was “night and day,” a difference that wouldn’t be so significant for a non-observant Jew.3
With such minimal research, we do not completely understand the process or helping Orthodox Jews move in, or how often it occurs in the neighborhood.
Portlock, Sarah. "Jewish Ritual with Real Estate Results." The Real Deal, June 2, 2008. Accessed June 11, 2016. ↩
Throughout our research, many Jews mentioned judgments about how other Jews practiced their Judaism. Members of Darchei Noam sarcastically wished us good luck when we went across the street to visit Bais Yisroel. And, as it turned out, the security guard at Bais wouldn’t let us enter, possibly seeing us come from the other synagogue. Non-religious Jews who live in the eruv told us stories about feeling unwelcome, mentioning that the Orthodox community wouldn’t talk to them.
One person said, “None of the other Orthodox people in the neighborhood would talk to me, except one couple with a dog. Because I was Jewish, but I wasn’t Orthodox, so that was even worse. I was like an apostate."4 Less observant Jews openly criticized observant Jews, questioning their need to follow such strict laws. One person told a story about an observant Jew not calling 911 when their house was on fire during Shabbat or another who wouldn’t use an umbrella. “As if God would care. I mean, I don’t think God’s a micromanager."
"I just think that it’s just so odd to me that stuff like that would be so important,” one non-observant eruv resident said.5
Yet, at the same time, many members of the Orthodox community feel that it’s not Judaism without following all of the rules of the Torah. They see other denominations, such as reform or conservative, as being more about entertainment than a personal spiritual connection to God. “I didn’t feel like the people were there for themselves,” one woman said about a conservative service.6 She also said that the community has been taught by Rabbi’s in the past to not associate with non-Orthodox Jews:
"...Many people think that being Jewish is like a smorgasbord - eat what you want. No. It's not. A Jew lives by a set of laws. It’s called the Torah. The Torah tells us what we can do and what we can’t do."
“Being Jewish is a way of life. It is not a religion; it's a way of life. Many people think that being Jewish is like a smorgasbord - eat what you want. No. It's not. A Jew lives by a set of laws. It’s called the Torah. The Torah tells us what we can do and what we can’t do. If you just say, ‘I want to be Jewish, but I don’t want to follow the Torah’ well what kind of Jewish is that? It’s someone's form of Judaism; some invented religion, but it’s not real... It is Torah observant Jews that have preserved the Jewish Nation; the Torah; and Jewish Law for the last 3,000 years, not some new offshoot that appeals to "everyone" because it is new and easy."7
Many Jews in the eruv wonder from where this tension stems. One St. Louis Park resident wondered why there wasn’t more solidarity, especially within a group of people with such a history of oppression and anti-Semitism. After thinking about it, he said that it might come from everyone using the same word:
“I think in times of self-definitionally if you’re all using the same word to define yourselves but some meanings are so different,” he said. “Orthodox Jews would say that they’re Jewish like I would say that I’m Jewish but we have so little in common. I think that might be part of where it comes from, especially over time. I wonder if it’s a uniquely immigrant thing too, I wonder if over in Eastern Europe there’s still “those Jews." 8
Though we can only make guesses to such a complicated issue, we can't help but wonder if this tension over Jewish identity is connected to fear. The Orthodox Jew that we talked to showed fear of losing "real" Orthodox Judaism in America, while more secular Jews might fear that more restricted Judaism is keeping Jews from really fitting into America. We also have to wonder if this tension is more elevated in a neighborhood like St. Louis Park, with such a small concentrated Jewish community that formed in the presence of isolation and anti-Semitism.
Elliot. “Interview with Elliot.” Interview by Maggie Goldberger and Maya Margolis. May 4, 2016. ↩