A single strand of wire held high by a few dozen poles wouldn't be much of a fence, but it has become a bitter symbol setting Jew against Gentile, and Jew against Jew.
A group of Orthodox Jews has struggled for six years to create London's first ``eruv'' - a district that is a symbolic extension of the home. An eruv allows Orthodox Jews to participate in the life of a neighborhood without violating a religious ban on carrying objects outside the home on the Sabbath.
The government finally gave the go-ahead, but opponents are threatening court action to block the erection of the wire that would mark the boundary of the eruv.
Some non-Jews view the eruv as an attempt by a minority to appropriate their north London neighborhood. Some Jewish neighbors worry about a fundamentalist swing back to a Jewish ghetto. Supporters feel the erection of a hardly noticeable wire would do no harm to their neighbors while making their own lives better.
``I want to be able to carry with me a little present for my grandchildren - some fruit, an apple,'' says Julia Nussbaum, a resident of Hampstead.
Without the eruv, Jewish mothers cannot wheel their infants in strollers for walks on the Sabbath, and worshippers must leave their house keys and prayer books at home when they go to services.
Ms. Nussbaum, who uses a wheelchair, looks forward to the day when the eruv allows her to socialize with friends at synagogue.
``I hate being stuck here on the Sabbath. I haven't been to synagogue in 10 years,'' she says.
But when Environment Secretary John Gummer approved the eruv in September, saying the environmental impact would be negligible, Nussbaum's neighbor Jeffrey Segall told a newspaper the eruv would lead to ``social disintegration ... it's the equivalent of a Nazi symbol.''
That reaction and others like it baffle officials of the United Synagogue, which backed the eruv.
``I simply don't understand the fuss,'' says Edward Black, who heads the eruv committee. ``There are more than 120 cities outside Israel with eruvim.'' He cites Washington, D.C., where the eruv includes the White House, and communities as far afield as Sydney. The United States has about 100 in all.
London's eruv, now being plotted by town planners, would encompass 6-1/2 square miles including several northern suburbs in the borough of Barnet, where the majority of London's 300,000 Jews live.