After 130 Years, Poughkeepsie’s Jews Get an Eruv
JNS.org – In the rich, nearly 130-year history of the organized Jewish community in Poughkeepsie, NY, pushing a stroller or carrying any possession in public areas on Shabbat — without violating the laws of the day of rest — was out of the question.
The observant Jewish community of New York State’s Mid-Hudson Valley isn’t the super-sized Jewish experience of New York City or its suburbs, but you could still find a weekly Torah class, immerse in a beautifully maintained mikvah or attend a Jewish War Veterans meeting — and, now, after a six-year effort, you can also find have an eruv.
The project was led by a dedicated force of nature named Harold Warren, a retired court stenographer and the second vice president of Poughkeepsie’s historic Congregation Schomre Israel.
Warren decided Poughkeepsie needed an eruv — the halachically-required boundary allowing Jews to carry in public spaces on Shabbat — when he noticed that many young couples were leaving, in part because the city lacked one (the difficulty accessing kosher food and the closure of a Solomon Schechter Day School are also cited as factors).
As Poughkeepsie’s younger Jews “became more educated than their grandparents, [they] expected more infrastructure” for the local community, Warren told The Jewish Link, and when they found non, they left.
When Warren and his wife became more observant some 10 years ago, he delved into the daunting tangle of red tape involved in eruv construction (in modern times, an eruv is typically wires mounted on telephone poles). This included dealing with utility companies, municipal rules and local officials — in addition to educating the mostly non-Jewish residents of the city about this foreign concept.
The synagogue — with 84 member families, a part-time rabbi and a budget deficit — faced an uphill climb.
There was a lot of “jumping through hoops,” Warren recalled, as he worked at this project for more than half a decade.
After obtaining a foundation grant for the eruv, he started the process of explaining the Jewish legal concept to the region’s Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. as well as Verizon. Then came meetings with two different municipal government agencies: the City of Poughkeepsie and the Town of Poughkeepsie. The city consists of some 25,000 residents, while the town is comprised of unincorporated villages and is home to more than 140,000 people.
Each time elected offices changed hands, Warren would need to again explain the eruv concept to new officials who were unfamiliar.
Throughout the process, Warren worked closely with Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer from Monsey, NY, an expert in eruv construction and planning.
Finally, with the utility companies on board and the municipal officials up to speed on their Jewish knowledge, the eruv received the proclamations and resolutions it needed earlier this month.
Warren said he is excited “to get the word out” about Poughkeepsie Jewry’s major win.
“This is the beginning of reviving an old and friendly Orthodox community,” Warren said, adding he’s excited to put Poughkeepsie “on the Jewish map.”
“It’s a nice small town with a couple of local theaters and golf courses,” he noted. “The Mowhawk Preserve is a lovely place for hikes.”
The next step will be a Jewish day school, Warren added, but “first we need children.”