Singing and prayer punctuated the air at the ribbon-cutting and mezuzot-hanging ceremony for Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue’s new mikvaot, or ritual baths.
After four years of planning and fundraising, Ohev Sholom now has three mikvaot – one for women, one for men and one for dishes and other cooking items.
Some 100 people gathered last Sunday for a day of learning connected with the mikvah. Plans were made for a mosaic mural that is to be designed and created by women. There also was a writing workshop in which women were encouraged to use sensory and descriptive language to describe their connection to the mikvah.
“Water is very important. Water grounds us in everything we are in Tanach,” the Jewish Bible, said Dasi Fruchter, a student at the Yeshivat Maharat. Fruchter conducted a session titled “The Sacred Power of the Mikvah” in which she discussed the numerous biblical references to water – from the more obvious ones about Noah and the flood, Jonah and the whale and the parting of the Red Sea, to women gathering water at the well, Hannah’s tears and the placing of Moses in a basket into the Nile’s water.
Submerging into the mikvah “is like a death. We lose our breath for a moment. The idea is to let the experience take you and then you come out anew.” All kinds of emotions are appropriate, she said, including reverence, fear, awe and respect.
When the green ribbon was snipped, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld pumped his fist triumphantly and declared, “What we are going to do today is celebrate an amazing day. I want to thank our shul for believing this was important. A mikvah has the deepest hopes and dreams of a congregation.”
Briefly alluding to Rabbi Barry Freundel, formerly of Kesher Israel Congregation, who is charged with six counts of voyeurism for allegedly filming women as they prepared to enter the mikvah, Herzfeld said, “The name of mikvah in this city went through a dark period.” And congregant Jill Sacks, who worked closely with Herzfeld to make the mikvah a reality, said she hoped her synagogue’s ritual bath would be used by anyone “who needs a sacred safe space.”
After the various sessions, people grabbed their coats, walked out into the cold and watched as a few young children cut the ribbon to officially open the building. Everyone then slowly walked from the men’s side to the women’s, praising the newness and examining the prayers on the walls. They checked out the separate baths and changing rooms for men and women.
Talk during the omelet, lox and bagels brunch centered around the excitement of finally having a mikvah of their own.
“It’s so important for our synagogue” to have a space of its own and for that space to be demystified, said Ohev Sholom’s Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman.