Orthodox Jews who want to use a strand of fishing line several miles long to create a symbolic religious enclosure are getting entangled in a dispute with beachfront residents and California environmentalists, who fear the string will snag birds and spoil the ocean view.Environmentalism isn't a religion?
The 70 or so families who attend a synagogue on Venice Beach’s boardwalk are asking coastal regulators for permission to string the line above one of Southern California’s most popular stretches of sand. Within that enclosure, the Orthodox would be free to do things they are forbidden to do outside the home on the Sabbath, such as pushing strollers and carrying bundles.
The problem: California law calls for the protection of public views along the coast and the habitats of nesting shore birds.
Some fear that endangered California least terns that nest nearby will fly into the fishing line and get killed. Others say that the galvanized steel poles that will be erected to hold up the fishing line along the beach will be an eyesore . . .
“This is really nuts,” Mark Massara, director of the Sierra Club’s California Coastal Program, said of the eruv proposal. “To the extent that we’re allowing public property to be used for religious purposes is very troublesome.”
In a letter to the Coastal Commission, Marina del Rey resident Plinio J. Garcia pointedly suggested using the Christian cross or the Muslim crescent to string the fishing line.And we can't have least terns bouncing off of equal-time Moslem Eruv crescents now, can we?
“The birds would see those just as well,” Garcia wrote. “See where I am going with this? It opens up an entire assortment of problems, which the poor least terns should not be victimized for.”
Earlier this month, the Coastal Commission staff recommended the panel reject the project. But the Orthodox have since offered to hang reflective streamers in some places so that the birds do not run into the line, and they said they would paint the poles to make them less noticeable. They have also said they would not run fishing line in front of residents’ windows.He added that the least terns were demonstrating outside his house.
“We don’t want to kill birds or anything like that,” said Howard Shapiro, who is overseeing the eruv project.
The Jewish group says it needs the eruv to keep young families in the area, which in the 1940s hosted a thriving Orthodox community. Some families have left because there is no enclosure, said Rabbi Ben Geiger.
The Coastal Commission staff, which has been working with the Orthodox group to try to resolve environmental concerns, may recommend approving the eruv for a three-year trial, said Peter Douglas, executive director.
“We try and accommodate religious practices any way we can,” he said. “It’s just that we have a balancing act to do, taking into account other public interests including wildlife impacts.”