The installation of a religious marker across some streets in Agoura Hills has drawn the attention of locals who are concerned about its impact on wildlife.
Leaders of the local Jewish community say the controversial practice is an expression of religious faith and is respectful of the community and the environment.
The eruv, a delineation of public areas where Orthodox Jews can traverse on the Sabbath, was placed in the Lake Lindero and surrounding neighborhoods of Agoura Hills. The border consists partly of fishing line installed about 20 feet above the ground as it runs from street to street and marks the areas where Jews can carry their small children and belongings on Saturdays.
Rabbi Moshe Bryski of Chabad of Conejo said the eruv is essential to the Orthodox Jewish community and allows members to observe the laws of Shabbat while still taking part in community activities.
“(On Shabbat) we cannot carry (items) in a public domain. If I wanted to carry a key six feet outside I would have violated the Sabbath,” Bryski said. “Pushing a stroller, a bicycle, carrying a gift are all not permitted in a public domain.”
Bryski said prior to having an eruv, members of the Chabad who had young children couldn’t visit their friends or go to synagogue because they were prohibited by Jewish law from transporting the young ones and their strollers across public areas.
“If an eruv is (installed) it deems that particular area within its domain as private, and thus you’re allowed to carry,” he said. “We have nine Chabad centers in the Conejo Valley. This eruv is specifically for (Chabad of Conejo).”
Critics argue that birds can fly into the eruv lines and become injured.
A 2007 attempt to install an eruv in Oak Park drew similar criticism following unconfirmed reports that three hawks had broken their wings by colliding with the fishing line.
Bryski said concern for the wildlife is unfounded. Eruvs around the world use fishing line, but the Agoura Hills eruv is unique because it also uses mostly existing borders, such as fences, mountain ridges and walls.
“There’s not a single report in the entire world of a bird being harmed by an eruv. The only place, somehow, was in Oak Park,” Bryski said.
“Birds can see worms from who knows how far away. There was a bird that was found 11 years ago that was wounded, and all of a sudden it became, ‘it must have been from the eruv.’ That story became fact and then there were hundreds of birds all over the streets, like part of the 10 plagues.”
Bryski believes the fear has been overblown.
“Everyone believes they’ll see a few thousand feet of string hanging around the border. The reality is, this eruv is 95 percent not string,” Bryski said.
Bonnie Clarfield-Bylin is a former ranger with the National Park Service and a current member of the National Audubon Society, a nonprofit conservation organization that protects birds and their habitats.
“Raptors may have keen eyesight; however, this is for hunting, not for seeing nearly invisible wire. When ornithologists catch birds they use mist nets because (the birds) don’t see them,” Clarfield-Bylin said. “Unfortunately bird wings have become broken due to taut wires. If (the line) is not taut, entanglement can also occur.”
Clarfield-Bylin said she is also concerned because the plastic monofilament fishing wire is harmful to the environment.
Tom Block and Zol Kryger are members of Chabad of Conejo who installed the new eruv. Block said fishing line is the least obstructive material that can be used, and is durable enough to last for years before it breaks. An eruv maintenance professional will check the lines every week and dispose of broken wires properly.
“It’s the standard eruv material. It’s a big concern that we don’t want to impact the area, that’s why we made so much effort to make it a primarily existing structure,” Block said.
“The whole idea is to have as little impact on the area as possible, to make it something that literally cannot be seen. (At) the right time of day, the sun can hit it and give off a little glint, but other than that it’s really hard to see them.”
Block and Kryger started working on the Agoua eruv in 2008 after the one in Oak Park was taken down. In Oak Park, the fishing line was attached to utility poles owned by Southern California Edison, but the company had not given permission for them to be used.
“What Tom (Block) wanted to find over the last decade was, can we find an eruv, not that large, that doesn’t cross county lines, doesn’t cross city lines, but (is) specifically for this community right here,” Bryski said.
Bryski said he would be happy to speak to members of the community who have concerns about the eruv’s impact on the environment.