Hampstead Synagogue is urging members of its congregation to lobby Camden Council as a public consultation on an eruv for the borough gets underway.
The plans – submitted by United Synagogue – propose the erection of the poles and wires necessary to facilitate the extension of the existing North West London Eruv to Hampstead, Camden Town and Swiss Cottage.
Eruvim are symbolic ritual boundaries consisting of utility poles connected by wire that demarcate entire Jewish communities as single places so as to enable strict Shabbat rules to be relaxed for orthodox Jews. 40 such poles will be installed across a six-mile area of the Borough if the application is approved.
Architects behind the plans say that, if successful, the installation will ensure coverage across a swathe of North London – with the new Camden Eruv connecting with planned Eruvim in Brondesbury and North Westminster, as well as West Hampstead Eruv, installed last year.
The installation of the North West London Eruv in Golders Green and Finchley in 2003 has been credited with a boom in Jewish schooling and shul attendance in the area.
Controversially-approved plans for an eruv in Bushey, however, led to public clashes between the area’s Orthodox Jews and the wider population – some of whom accused a “powerful Jewish lobby in Herstmere Borough Council” of “social engineering”.
And groups opposed to the installation of the eruv in West Hampstead cited concerns over wildlife and its potentially “divisive” nature.
Concerns over the impact of the eruv’s poles and wires on the character and aesthetics of the local conservation area were also raised by critics in both locations – but Camden eruv architect Daniel Rosenfelder insists there will be “no harm to designated heritage assets and no significant impact on the character and appearance of Camden’s streetscape in general”.
He told Jewish News: “Each eruv allows communities to thrive by being inclusive of wheelchair users, young children and their carers who at the moment, if observant, are unable to leave their homes on Shabbat; it also removes the current religious inhibition from them being encouraged to attend synagogue services as well as communal or any other social, leisure and other activities.
“The creation of an eruv is strongly supported by the Equality Act, which encourages assistance with the ‘prescriptive characteristics’ of all minority groups on whatever ground.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews told Jewish News: “Like any individual planning application, this will have to be decided on its planning merits. However, the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ general view is that eruvs are positive. They have a beneficial equalities impact because they enable Orthodox Jews – including disabled people and parents with young children – to be mobile on Shabbat, whilst having no detrimental impact on people who are not Jewish or not observant.”
Hampstead Synagogue has issued detailed guidance to members wishing to submit responses to the public consultation.
A letter issued to attendees encourages potential respondents to include details of the perceived benefits of the “virtually invisible” eruv.
These include allowing parents of young children to leave their homes to worship and socialise at shul on Friday evenings and Saturdays, enabling members of the community to carry medication and visit friends and relatives in the Royal Free Hospital.
Up to 6,000 people could benefit if plans are approved, according to Rosenfelder. Those wishing to contribute to the public consultation can do so here.