Happy Eruversary

This past Shabbat/Yom Kippur marked three years since the University of Maryland/College Park Eruv became operational. It was a great project. I still consider it the highlight of my rabbinic career. There are a few stories in particular from when we were building the eruv that stand out.

First of all, the whole project was, in my opinion, a major Kiddush Hashem. It was highly visible and got excellent publicity in various local media outlets.

We primarily worked at night because the technology we employed was really only visible at night. We used a self-leveling laser to make sure that the tips of our lechis, which were ½” ground wire molding strips affixed to electricity poles, were directly underneath the electrical wire (based on the principle of gud asik). This is a relatively new but highly effective technique used in eruv-building. Normally, the lechi would have been run all the way up to the wire. This device, which cost us $200, saved us thousands and made it easy to thoroughly check the eruv regularly. The inventor of this little gadget was truly mezakeh the rabbim. We had to work at night, however, because it’s really hard to notice a red dot on a black wire in broad daylight.

So imagine, if you will, a bunch of guys walking around at 2 a.m., holding flashlights, hammers, nails, metal brackets, plastic strips, and this laser thingy, which, before we realized it an covered the extraneous beams, would shoot off into drivers, living rooms, etc. Despite letters of encouragement from the city, county, and university, we had a hard time explaining to people exactly what we were doing, and why we were doing it at such ungodly hours. Then we started getting media coverage, and all of a sudden everyone understood – ‘Oh, you were those guys on the news…’

Part of the fun was translating the theoretical into practice. In theory, it’s easy to slap a piece of plastic on a pole. In practice, there’s no such thing as a straight telephone pole. We found out what type of plastic we’d need, and then figured we’d go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and just pick it up. Wrong. They don’t sell ground wire molding. So we did some research on the web and came up with 4 or 5 suppliers of the stuff, and started calling around. I called this place in Roanoke, VA called Virginia Plastics, and get on the phone with their warehouse manager. Yes, they have 300 yards of ½” black ground-wire molding in stock. The woman then asks me if I work for an electrical company – their main clients. I responded that, no, this was for a private initiative. So the woman says, “Oh, are y’all building an ee-ruv? Did I say that right?” I nearly fell off my chair.

There were some other moments as well. When placing the last lechis in a wooded area at the northern end of the boundary – at around 3am – we found that these woods were also home to rather large spiders in large webs. At least one of our party was an arachnophobe.
I heard from a former UMD student that she had been on the Eruv Committee 10 years earlier. I later found the minutes from those meetings. That eruv had been in the works for at least a decade, but it was about a month between the time we drove the first nail into wood and the time it became operational.
Our eruv dedication ceremony was attended by various notables, including University President C. D. Mote. In my speech, I made reference to some of the challenges of eruv building. Afterward, during the reception, President Mote came over with some technical questions about how eruvin work. I invited him to attend the shiur that I had started giving on the ins and outs of practical eruv building and checking, in order to train our bodkim, but he politely declined. Woulda been nice if it could have been accredited by, say, the engineering department. No such luck, though.

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