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Jews fenced in by Aussie intolerance


'Eruv' by Chris JohnstonOn Sydney's North Shore, where unchecked development is steadily defacing a genteel precinct, it's not the proliferation of nondescript high rises or the disappearance of federation homes stirring controversy. Rather, it's a clutch of standard-issue utility poles and interconnecting strands of wire piquing the interest of journalists and politicians alike, and catalysing the prejudices that lurk within this superficially harmonious community.

The dissent resulted from the proposed construction of an eruv, a symbolic wall that would envelop most of the suburb of St Ives, home to around 3000 Jews, many of whom share South African heritage. Eighty-five per cent of the eruv exists already in the form of utility poles; 11 residents have given consent for additional poles to be constructed on their land.

Common to cities such as Washington DC, London, Paris, Johannesburg and Sydney's own Bondi, the eruv's presence enables observant Jews to leave their homes and undertake activities otherwise forbidden outside of the home on the Shabbat and holy days: the pushing of prams, the use of walking sticks, the carrying of children.

The media blew the dog whistle at once with provocative headlines such as 'Jews seek religious freedom with a ring around St Ives' in the Sydney Morning Herald and 'Renewed Jewish push for St Ives "enclosure"' in the North Shore Times. The headlines captured not just the essence of a local news story, but the deep fears of a broader society whose much-vaunted religious and cultural tolerance is not necessarily observed in practice.

The more rational objections were aired by people fearful of the change an eruv might bring to St Ives' leafy skyline. With the battle against big developers already lost, residents are wary of further threats to their rapidly changing streetscapes.

'We're going towards undergrounding wiring [and] having less posts and poles ... [H]ere we are getting a proliferation of poles and wiring when it's totally unnecessary for the wider community and just convenient to a small fraction of the population,' said Christiane Berlioz, President of the St Ives Progress Association.

The proposal also drew the ire of atheists who, critical of the supposed irrationality of an eruv, labelled it an 'imaginary fence' and a 'piece of string' that adults believe will enable them to 'pick up keys on the Sabbath'.

Implicit in these comments is derision for all faith-based beliefs: the transformation of the Eucharist into Christ's body during a Catholic mass, the reincarnation of a Hindu after he or she has died.

But a libertarian country such as ours ensures a rich variety of religious expression, from the overabundant carols at Christmas time to the effusive Islamic calls-to-prayer to the knock-knocking of door-to-door evangelists.

Given that eruvs are inconspicuous, and religious freedom in Australia is a fait accompli, there can be only one explanation for the prevailing sentiment, and that is a subtle prejudice which represents the great big elephant in the room for anyone living on Sydney's North Shore.

It's an intolerance which sees Jews routinely characterised as loud and arrogant; where all residents of South African origin are regarded as Jewish until proven otherwise; where, in a particularly alarming development, a local shop is rumoured to be scrapping its kosher section in the hope of 'attracting more Australians'.

'The truth is that Jews believe they are chosen, and that they are better than everyone,' said a writer on a North Shore Times forum. 'Have they brought apartheid in their suitcases after it was exiled from South Africa?' asked a local resident in her objection to Ku-ring-gai Council.

In releasing its valves, this supposedly liberal community has given voice to an ugly form of discrimination, one that should have been nipped in the bud when Jews arrived in this country on the First Fleet. If the construction of an eruv was a litmus test for the strength of our society's pluralism, then the suburb of St Ives — or those jumping onto its bandwagon — would surely have failed it.

Despite the backlash, the Jewish community is confident that reason will prevail, says the CEO of the Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff. 'We are hopeful that with goodwill and understanding there will be a realisation that it's a positive step, because it allows people to carry out the requirements of the faith without impacting anyone.'

If the application now before council is denied, it will be a sad day indeed, not only for the Jewish community of St Ives, but for the whole of Australia: yet again, our country will have sacrificed one more wedge of the multiculturalism it loves to lay claim to.

Catherine MarshallCatherine Marshall is a South African-born journalist. She works for Jesuit Communications and lives in St Ives.


Topic tags: Catherine Marshall, St Ives, Eruv, intolerance, sydney, bondi



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Existing comments

Should the wall be built, or not? Ultimately this is a local planning issue. However, the fact that a religious community seeks to have a physical manifestation within a much larger 'non jewish' community (beyond a place of worship) does raise questions about community, exclusion and place. The wealthy white "refugees' of South Africa began abandoning their country for Australia and the UK only after the end of "apartheid" in the hundreds of 1000s. Having enjoyed the benefits of white rule in SA they have walked out on the new SA.

Adam | 02 August 2010  

Here we go again! As soon some people don’t agree with an action of a group, they are called racists, bigots and are classified as intolerant. Political correctness is stifling any reasonable discussion. Political correctness has become a weapon of mass destruction destroying the diversity of opinions in Australia.
In fact Australia is one of the most tolerant countries in the world. It has effective laws to protect people against any discrimination based on race or religion. Australia has also laws to provide for proper urban planning and a better environment. Tolerance has to be a two-way road. Most Australians are very tolerant towards people of different cultural backgrounds and religions. I think they have a right to demand similar tolerance towards themselves from groups of different cultural and religious background.

Beat Odermatt | 02 August 2010  

Isn't this legalistic mumbo jumbo and superstition what Jesus came to save us all from?

Benson | 02 August 2010  

Perhaps a little less ruthlessness toward the Palestinians in their own country would help other Australians to think more kindly towards the Jews in Australia

David | 02 August 2010  

The article states that the eruv allows "observant Jews to leave their homes and undertake activities otherwise forbidden outside of the home on the Shabbat and holy days...". However, there are many Jews who regard themselves as observant but do not observe this particular tradition.

Also, belief in Jewish "chosenness" originates with Jews themselves, not from those who are critical of them and their proposal to build an eruv.

Maureen | 02 August 2010  

Since the concept of an eruv is a legalistic fiction, could a virtual eruv be created by outlining the area affected on a virtual map which would give notice of its existence on a Kosher GPS system?

Jordan Rivers | 02 August 2010  

To my mind an eruv is no bigger a fiction than the bible, the stories muslims tell themselves to justify burka wearing and Winnie the Pooh. You guys are missing the point entirely. Yes the idea is daft but if it has no material effect on the greater community, let it be. Only kindness matters.

Jennerator | 02 August 2010  

Adam, you are right in your statement but wrong in the claim that the South African Jews left ZA only after the end of apartheid. In fact they have been coming into Australia, particularly Sydney, since the Sharpeville riots of 1960. The Jewish community virtually run business in ZA; their participation in business ownership,health professions is disproportionate to their percentage of the 'white' population. When ZA had restrictions on capital exported from ZA, the Jewish 'refugees' to Sydney were able to settle in the most expensive suburbs. Black ZA gave them cheap labour to accumulate their wealth. One ZA satirist, Pieter Dirk Uys, said in one of his world famous programs, 'when the Jews get going, it's time to leave, when the Portuguese get going, it's too late !!' The financial exploitation of Black Africa began with Jewish control of the diamond and then the gold mining industry, and spread to the control of the whole financial community.Their 'stand' against apartheid was only a farce to try to have the Black community believe that the Jews were on their side. Most were Communist ( at the time) influenced. Semites never become Australian first. St Ives, another Warsaw ghetto??

philip | 02 August 2010  

I don't have a problem with an eruv, as humourous as the idea is to me. But then I'm sure Jews find people's belief in Jesus' resurrection a humourous stumbiling block also.

'Implicit in these comments is derision for all faith-based beliefs' - this is quite an imaginative interpretaion.

Is it also a case of 'Jews fenced in by Aussie intolerance' for Masada College in St Ives? Masade College is a High School, with a fence around the perimeter, and with heavily armed security guards on the gate. A fence around the perimeter is not out of the ordinary, I wonder if armed securty guards at a NSW High School is? Is St Ives really that dangerous???

Damien | 02 August 2010  

Oh dear, I don't care about the stupid poles but don't you think whining about not having a "wall" is a bit ludicrous? The notion of not pushing a pram on a given day is ludicrous and yet jews call muslims people living in the dark ages with old fashioned views.

Walls and jews are not a good look and if a muslim community dared to even try and build a school they would be pilloried.

Wait, they have been. And beaten in the streets, rioted against and so on.

Marilyn Shepherd | 02 August 2010  

Maybe the author's interpretation of events is correct, but she certainly hasn't made her case.

Jim Jones | 03 August 2010  

As a (non Jewish) ex South African also living in Australia, I find this nonsense embarrassing. I hope Australians in general don't form some kind of crippled, stereotyped image of South Africans from what they see on this page.

Joe | 03 August 2010  

I recommend that interested readers consult google about eruv maps of Melbourne and Perth, where I live. Ethicists among Eureka readers will be fascinated by the casuistry involved in determining that an eruv can be defined by wires which noone else would believe to be a fence or wall. Perhaps 3,000 Jewish people live in the area under discussion, but only 300 would find declaration by a Rabbi, sometimes an American Rabbi, that a real eruv
[walled enclosure] was established by wires, and would be convinced.

I can contemplate possible Catholic Eruvs, for example, one which declares that in Fitzroy and Collingwood contaception may be legally practiced by Catholics because an American theologian or Bishop approves establishment of this eruv.

Gerry Costigan | 04 August 2010  

It's just like the wall on the West Bank only smaller.

Peter D Harrigan | 06 August 2010  

The racism and generalisations in the comments are extraordinary. Equating local Jewish community issues like an eruv with Israel is ludicrous. I'm also not sure what the role of South African Jews in Apartheid has to do with an eruv in Australia.

Should white former South Africans be denied rights simply because of where they came from. Who knows what they did during Apartheid, while an interesting subject, I'm not sure it is relevant in a discussion about an eruv.

Some of the comments below are extremely bigoted and dangerous, as a Jewish person they make me very uneasy.

Matt | 06 August 2010  

I had to go to wikipedia to find out what an eruv actually is which is indicative of the clarity of this article or lack thereof. Even now I wonder how a deity would be offended by pram-pushing on the sabbath but not offended if there is a stringed up circumference a few hundred metres away. Is God love or is God rules? Strange ones. I know I know we have a few odd ones ourselves but most I hope derive ultimately if tenuously from outward imperatives: love thy neighbour or try to act like you do....you should see some of my neighbours!

Andrew Coorey | 06 August 2010  

Moslims, after 9/11 are frequently seen as untrustworthy and possibly even as 'terrorists' ignoring the fact of invading and killing many civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan caused many to be unhappy with Christians and Jews.
Jews occupying Palestine, killing many Palestinians and forcing many to leave, and continue the oppression in GAZA and the occupied territories of the West Bank, and recently killing 9 peaceful civilians on a boat in International waters, and only a few days killing three Lebanese, Zionist and other fundamentalist Jews are seen as a danger to international peace. Israel would like to attack Iran, and would like America to do so. Australia provides a considerably amount of support for Israel, financially, and especially politically. Look how Australia votes in the UN. Australian Jews are allowed to serve in the Israeli military forces without fear of losing their Australian citizenship, thus Australians are directly oppressing Palestinians.
Yes, the Jews in St Ives should be able to live in peace and practice their religion without interference.
But peace loving Christians, in Australia and elsewhere, are increasingly concerned with the plight of Palestinians and are doubtful whether Israel would allow Palestinians to have their own sovereign state without the fences. The religious Jews deliberately ensure that the peace talks go nowhere, whilst the building of fences and Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank goes on and on.

Ben Leeman | 06 August 2010  

I too think the number of anti-Jewish statements in these comments is appalling. I am a Christian and pro-Palestinian; but I shudder at comparisons between an eruv - which is clearly not a barrier - and the Separation Wall, which is a barrier of the worst kind. Like Catherine, I am concerned that religious bigotry of this kind is a threat to all religious people.

Thanks for your article Cathering. One correction: I'm not sure that the Muslim call to prayer is as welcome as you imply. In the Sydney suburb of Auburn the call cannot be broadcast except on one day of the year for Mosque Open Day. i'm not sure if similar restrictions have been put on church bells.

C. | 13 September 2010  

This is how Israel was started and now they have undeclared nuclear weapons. The Jewish people who live in the ERUV in South Africa have stopped non-Jews from buying into the area.

What happens if 100 bikers want to set up an area where they can all live and have it clearly marked out, would this be acceptable?

If Jewish people are not happy they can move to Israel.

Louise | 08 November 2010  

Israel has just brought in a policy where everyone living in Israel has to swear allegiance to Israel being a Jewish state regardless of their religion, so if Jewish people want to start talking about tolerance, how about they start with setting an example.

Jacqui | 08 November 2010  

In response to Philip & Adam, SA Jews did not pretend to be on the side of Ant-Apartheid activists, many Jews were actively involved in resisting apartheid. The ANC was littered with Jewish names and many prominent politicians of Jewish heritage bravely spoke out against apartheid.

I can remember back when living in SA when the question was asked: "How can one, in all good concience, support the pro-apartheid Nationalist government, as a post-holocaust Jew?"

Just be careful you aren't jumping to conclusions about South Africans who have emigrated to Australia and please do not tarnish people with a stain that they do not deserve.

Raquel | 30 April 2011  

In addition to my post above, I would like to say that I am neutral on this Eruv. There are positives and negatives to it. The positive is that it demonstrates tolerance and freedom of religion. The negative is that it has been and continues to be perceived as some sort of separate development (aka apartheid) and that's not good either.

It saddens me that people are like this but the reality is that it is creating conflict and that in itself is not desirable nor positive for Jewish people.

Raquel | 01 May 2011  

I worked with a South African Jew for 3 years. There is a difference in their attitudes and treatment of their own as opposed to other religions. I do understand that it probably is because they UNDERSTAND one another.This is a form of racism.

Bad weather | 08 July 2011  

The article says "it's not the proliferation of nondescript high rises or the disappearance of federation homes stirring controversy". This is totally wrong, factually: objection to unaesthetic over-development has dominated Kuring-gai's local newspapers for at least the last 3 years, and objections to the unnecessary eruv poles -- especially on public land -- should be seen in that context.

The article says "the Jewish community is confident that reason will prevail". Opponents of the eruv also want REASON to prevail, and for orthodox Jews to realise that nothing bad is going to happen if they push a pram to the synagogue on Saturday morning without an eruv in place.

If you want real examples of restrictions on freedom of movement, ask the non-Jewish residents of Newhaven Place if they have ever been stopped from returning home by Masada's armed guards.

Eric | 29 August 2011  

Im both shocked and surprised at some of the comments left here. Some are blatantly racist and the others just ignorant ... The author has already pointed out that 85% of the Eric exists already on private land and the other 15% requires the approval of council and is discrete in appearance ... In other words unless your a practicing Jew your never going to notice it. How did such an innocent request become the right of some people to trash talk Australian Jews and Australian South Africans ... frightening that these attitudes exist in our country!!!

Emmanuel S | 09 February 2013  

I do not agree. I think we live in this country and we don't have the right to contravene their way of life to accommodate ours. I think we need to understand that it will not be taken well. This is pretty extreme. People will resent it, they do not understand it, it is alien to their way of life. I think if you really feel that strongly about this, you should move to a community where you can do all of this. Not everyone is that tolerant. It's just a fact. And it's the reason I have been so unhappy in St Ives because I do not wish to wear this burden of a label on me. As if I think a certain way just because of where I come from.

Rachelle Harris | 16 September 2014  

Intolerance of Aussies? How dare you say that. We have always been too tolerant

Alan Barry | 23 February 2015  

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