OAK PARK -- It seemed like a real mitzvah.
Chabad of the Conejo's 120 families would spend $20,000 on a religious structure that would benefit all local Jews.
Common in Los Angeles and most big American cities, the eruv -- a thin monofilament line strung from light pole to light pole to symbolically extend a Jew's private domain to everything within the loop -- would enable Jews to carry keys and push strollers on the Sabbath without violating Halacha, or Jewish law.
But the eruv, constructed in late December, was met by public disgust.
``Is it me or am I the only one that finds this strange?'' Carlos Bernal of Oak Park wrote in an e-mail to local officials. ``Why don't we install a crucifix at every stoplight? Or the picture of Muhammad at every pedestrian crossing?
``I'm not a religious guy and certainly don't have anything against the Jewish faith ... but this rubs me the wrong way.''
Jews were equally critical of the glistening wires that zigzagged across residential streets -- a threat to property values and unsuspecting birds.
``It is not some biblical thing that says, `Hang some fishing line.' It's an arbitrary man-made work-a-round,'' said Susan Flores, a Reform Jew who, like most, does not keep Sabbath.
``While you are making stuff up, why don't you make up something that is a little less obtrusive.''
So less than a month after the Conejo Eruv was erected in Agoura Hills, Oak Park and Westlake Village, its supporters tore down the Oak Park section.
On Friday, organizer Tom Block said the lines still up in Agoura Hills and Westlake Village, where they were properly permitted, would come down within the week because they serve no purpose if the eruv is incomplete.
``It is a dead issue at this point,'' Block said. ``The eruv is gone.''
Yet, despite the contrition of eruv committee member Eli Eisenberg at a heated public meeting last Tuesday, rancor has not subsided in this tight-knit bedroom community of 15,000 in eastern Ventura County.
Vitriol ran so high at the Municipal Advisory Council meeting, during which only one of about 30 speakers favored the eruv, that a Jewish reporter for the community paper left in tears.
``They can practice wherever they want,'' said Tom Hughes, president of the Morrison Estates Owners' Association, which threatened eruv organizers with legal action. ``But it is unreasonable to think they are going to string wires all over someone else's -- or their -- community where 99.9999 percent of people don't share their religion.''
Block, a 47-year-old real estate investor, sought permission to string the wire between Southern California Edison street lights two years ago.
Although he said the plan included Agoura Hills, Oak Park and Westlake Village, the paperwork identified it as the Agoura Eruv, and the permits applied only to Agoura Hills and Westlake Village -- something he said he didn't realize.
The Conejo Eruv -- pronounced A-roov -- was shaped like a Hershey's kiss. Using the Ventura Freeway as its base, it extended north on Kanan and Lindero Canyon roads until the two intersect, then continued on Lindero before meandering through the Morrison Estates -- 360 large homes with regal lawns and price tags approaching $2 million.
In a community where utilities are buried -- with only street lights and electrical lines along the road -- it didn't take long for residents to spot the thin wire 30 feet overhead.
Then people noticed the injured hawks.
In all, three red-tailed hawks were found lying in the road. They were taken to a wildlife center, and one had to be destroyed. Residents said they suspected the eruv.
``Such an injury could have been caused by a large number of obstacles, including monofilament line,'' wrote Duane Tom of the California Wildlife Center in a letter for Tuesday's meeting. ``However, it is impossible to know if such a line was indeed the cause of the hawk's injury.''
By then, about 80 people had called or e-mailed Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks. When she asked the Public Works Agency why they approved the eruv, they directed her to Edison.
That's when she discovered the permits didn't exist, and Block agreed to dismantle the Oak Park section.
``I was on top of the world with it, happy about the whole thing two weeks ago,'' Block said. ``And it just crashed.''
The concept of enclosing a community so Jews can behave on the Sabbath as if they were within their own home stems from the 40 years Israelites spent wandering the desert after the Exodus. Jewish rabbis developed the rules when forming the Talmud centuries later.
Running a monofilament wire from post to post creates a series of ``door frames'' that, according to Jewish law, act like a wall.
Without it, Orthodox Jews cannot take a bottle of wine to a friend's house on the Sabbath, and those with small children have trouble attending synagogue. Driving a car is prohibited, regardless.
``I didn't understand it. I'm Jewish,'' said Todd Haines, chairman of the Municipal Advisory Council. ``Bad Hebrew school, I guess.''
In fact, all five members of the council are Jewish. None are Orthodox, and none were familiar with the high-wire loop.
Though only Orthodox Jews follow the laws regarding an eruv, they say that all Jews -- Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and secular -- benefit from having one in the community because it helps them subconsciously follow a stricter interpretation of God's law.
Chabad of the Conejo, which has five houses, is part of an Orthodox Jewish movement that began 250 years ago in the Russian town of Lubavitch.
Hasidic Jews are known for their black hats, long beards, evangelical outreach to less observant Jews and an anxious awaiting for the Messiah. (The voice mail greeting of Rabbi Yisroel Levine of the Oak Park Chabad ends, ``And, of course, we want Moshiach now. Bub-bye.'')
On Conifer Street, the Oak Park Chabad is a single-story house with a black mailbox, red-tile roof and four palms on the lawn. The only hint it might not be a home is the stucco wall where a garage door should be and a line that splits the driveway into two parking spots.
Often using residences, Chabads blend into neighborhoods as seamlessly as most eruvin -- plural for eruv.
Nationwide, at least 70 eruvin exist. The approval process often takes years, and many proposals have died amid unattainable requirements.
``Imagine getting a permit to open a restaurant. But the city says that there can be no chairs in this restaurant, because people could fall off them and hurt themselves. And there can be no silverware, because they could be used as weapons. Lastly, there shouldn't be food, because people could choke,'' the leader of a Jewish group in Palo Alto told the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California after abandoning its plans in 2000.
``Other than that, feel free to open a restaurant.''
In other communities, including L.A., eruvin have been erected with scant concern.
The Los Angeles Community Eruv, the largest in the world, encompasses everything within the Ventura Freeway, the Santa Monica Freeway, Vermont Avenue and the San Diego Freeway.
In the San Fernando Valley, an eruv runs from the Ventura Freeway to Sherman Way and from the San Diego Freeway to the Golden State Freeway. Against the cluttered city skyline, few ever notice.
``L.A. has a mentality of live and let live,'' said Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, who is involved with the Valley Eruv. ``A lot of people do things that are strange to other people, but they say, `Fine, you do your thing that is strange and I do my thing that is strange. We'll leave each other alone.'''