‘It’s a communal responsibility’

‘It’s a communal responsibility’

The sages say that before a Jewish community builds a synagogue or buys a Torah, it should build a mikvah, the ritual bath used to observe laws of family purity and complete conversions.

The Teaneck mikvah on Windsor Road, next to Temple Emeth, was built in the 1970s, and the township’s mikvah association opened a second ritual bath this spring. Set across the street from the Jewish Center of Teaneck, it is positioned to better serve families on the south side of town. The two mikvaot serve about 1,000 people each month, but rely solely on donations to cover operating costs. Now, many of Teaneck’s Orthodox synagogues are creating a new kehilla fund fee in their membership dues to help support the mikvah.

“Certain things are communal responsibilities,” said Michael Rogovin, president of Teaneck’s Netivot Shalom. “The eruv and the mivkah are really critical to our functioning as an Orthodox community.”

“It’s really not a charity, it’s a religious obligation the community has taken upon itself,” said Miriam Greenspan, president of the Teaneck Mikvah. “It’s said that before one gives money to their shul, the first obligation of the community is to build a mikvah. It’s a good message to us to send to the community and also to our children that this is a basic part of our Judaism. It’s something we value and support.”

The mikvah holds an annual appeal on Shabbat Parshat Noach – the Torah portion that includes the story of the flood and Noah’s ark – because of the tie-in with water, but it was not particularly successful, she said.

The shul presidents from most of the synagogues in the Teaneck/Bergenfield area meet periodically through the year to provide support and best practices for incoming presidents, said Jonathan Gellis, president of Keter Torah and co-president and co-founder of the presidents’ group with Shimmy Tennenbaum, past president of Bnai Yeshurun.

One of the committee’s first decisions was to institute a community-wide $18 fee per family, which the shuls would collect to support the maintenance of Teaneck’s eruv. After that program proved successful, the mikvah association approached the council. A majority of Teaneck’s 17 Orthodox shuls have signed on to the mikvah fund, and Mr. Gellis expects to have full participation by the end of the year. The shul fee won’t solve all of the mikvah’s fundraising issues, but it will help, he said.

“It’s almost unfair to just rely on volunteers to raise all of the money to operate such a cornerstone of the community,” he said. “We’re trying to give everyone the opportunity to participate to alleviate the burden on the volunteers.”

Netivot Shalom alerted its members about the new fee last week, and so far the response has been positive.

“We see it as our communal obligation,” Mr. Rogovin said. “Of course, with the tough economy, some members may have difficulty meeting all of their obligations, and we work with them to accommodate their needs. But the addition of a kehilla fee has not generated any opposition.”

The mikvah is something for which everybody in the Jewish community should feel responsible, Netivot Shalom’s Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot said.

“In Europe, that was the model and everybody contributed because everybody recognized the significance,” he said. “Like in America, we pay taxes for things we don’t immediately use but we recognize the importance of them for a flourishing society. Even if I’m 70 years old and my children have finished public school, I pay taxes because it’s important for my community. We’re all in this together.”

Asked if the kehillah fund could become a model for additional fundraising for the day schools, Rabbi Helfgot said it is “the ideal structure.” Mr. Rogovin, speaking for himself and not on behalf of the shul, is open to exploring the creation of a similar fund for day schools and “making it a communal obligation just like in the public school system, where the majority of people who pay do not have kids in the school system because it’s not tuition – it’s a communal obligation to provide education.”

For now, though, the shuls are collecting for only the eruv and the mikvah, which are “very important parts of observant Jewish life,” Rabbi Helfgot said.

“One of the pillars of Jewish law is taharat mishpacha, keeping the laws of family purity and ensuring people who are observant have access to a normal healthy married life,” he continued. “Whenever Jews came to a new community they ensured there was a synagogue, a mikvah, a cemetery, and a school. These are the touchstones of life to have a normal healthy family and healthy marital relations and to sustain our holiness, including in the sexual realm.”

In addition to money, the fee also can help raise awareness. For women, going to the mikvah is a private matter, and so children do not learn as much about it, Ms. Greenspan said. Creating communal support for the mikvah “is a good message to give our future generations. It’s just a good message in general for all communities to see that Bergen County believes this is a responsibility.”

To learn more about Teaneck’s mikvaot, go to www.teaneckmikvah.com.

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