Renovated mikvah opens in Teaneck

Renovated mikvah opens in Teaneck

The new mikvah in Teaneck

With its marble countertops, elegantly tiled floors, stylish chandeliers, and 18 preparation rooms, the Teaneck Mikvah clearly is not your grandmother’s ritual bath.

It seems more like a spa, where women can come to be pampered.

It wasn’t always this good. The mikvah’s building on Windsor Road used to be drab, but the community put up a new building and furnished it with more updated amenities.

The Teaneck Mikvah Association will mark its renovation project at its third annual fundraising event on Nov. 19 at Congregation Keter Torah, which will feature entertainment by the violinist Sarah Charness. A versatile performer, Charness plays a range of music from classical to pop and electronic, and has appeared at venues around the world, including at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, and the Chicago Theater.

The celebration is an opportunity for the broad range of women from the community who appreciate the mikvah’s services to gather in one room. That’s according to Miriam Greenspan, who is president of the Teaneck Mikvah Association. While it will be an enjoyable social event, it is also the mikvah’s primary fundraiser, and the association hopes to raise enough that evening to cover its annual operating expenses, she said.

Alisa Levy, the event’s chairwoman, said that the mikvah is a vital Jewish institution that benefits everyone, and she hopes people will show their support for it by coming to the fundraiser. “Over 500 women of all ages and from many different synagogues attended the past two years and we hope to have the same turnout this year,” she said.

Violinist Sarah Charness is set to perform on Nov. 19.

The Teaneck Mikvah Association has reached a milestone in its history. Not only was its renovation project successful, but new expansion is underway at a satellite location on the south side of Teaneck. The association recently bought a home on Sterling Place, across from the Teaneck Jewish Center, which is being renovated into a complete ritual bath, Greenspan said.

That facility is expected to be completed within the year, allowing women who live on that side of town to use the mikvah on Shabbat and holidays when they can’t drive to the one on Windsor Road, she added.

Although a mikvah can be any natural body of water or pool of gathered rainwater, most modern mikvaot are tiled and heated pools of chemically treated tap water that conjoined to a pool of naturally gathered rainwater. Special rooms where women prepare for immersion by bathing and showering surround the pools, because it is forbidden to enter a mikvah with anything that would prevent the water from having direct contact with any part of the body. A fixture in most established Jewish communities, a mikvah is an essential component of the laws governing Jewish family life. Traditionally, married women visit the ritual bath on a monthly basis to acquire greater spirituality.

“Mikvah attendance is part of the rhythm of intimacy that continually recharges the marital bond, weaving youthfulness and romance into the very fabric of a home,” Yaakov Neuberger, rabbi of Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, said. “Additionally, the mikvah experience per se, the careful preparation, the moment of immersion, and the reconnecting with generations of matriarchs of our past, all come together to give expression to the spiritual presence within.”

Immersion in the mikvah is also part of process of conversion to Judaism for both men and women.

Some men have the tradition of immersing in a mikvah to prepare for Shabbat and holidays, but the Teaneck mikvah is not open for that purpose.

Pre-menopausal women are the primary users of a mikvah. The Torah forbids couples from physical intimacy during menstruation. Immersion in a mikvah by the woman at the conclusion of her menstrual cycle marks a new beginning of spiritual purity and the possibility of resumed physical intimacy.

Over the last few years, the number of women using the Teaneck mikvah has doubled, according to mikvah officials. The renovation project and accompanying satellite building will help accommodate the growing number of women from around the area who use the mikvah.

That’s roughly 900 women each month, Greenspan said. The state-of-the-art Teaneck mikvah charges a basic entrance fee, which does not cover the facility’s operating expenses. “There are many costs associated with running a mikvah, including payroll, insurance, electric, and water,” and the association does not want to discourage mikvah use by raising entrance fees, she added.

“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback about this mikvah,” Greenspan said, pointing out that the mikvah frequently runs tours for group of schools, sisterhoods, and synagogues. “There’s a general feeling that it has created a positive influence on our lives. Everyone feels a part of it.”

For example, the second floor of the building has a conference room that hosts sessions for such groups as Project Sarah – an organization that aids victims of domestic abuse – and classes for mikvah attendants and class instructors for brides. “It’s opened us up to becoming more involved in the community.”

Then there are the extra little touches. “We try to do nice things. When brides come – and we have over 100 a year – we give them gift to try to make it a positive experience,” she said.

The original mikvah building was built in the 1970s on Windsor Road next to the Reform congregation Temple Emeth, with six preparation rooms and two mikvaot. As the Jewish community grew in the subsequent decades, the mikvah underwent expansion to meet a growing demand. The 2008 rebuild not only gave the mikvah 18 preparation rooms and four mikvaot, it also made it more appealing to its growing younger clientele.

The mikvah crosses various neighborhood, synagogue, and school lines. It is not by any means an Orthodox-only institution.

“We not only see people from Teaneck, Bergenfield, and New Milford, but people from other neighborhoods, as well,” Greenspan said. Other communities – including Tenafly, Fair Lawn, Paramus, and Englewood – have their own mikvaot. But Teaneck has one of the most elegant, she said.

Both Greenspan and Levy stressed that support for the local mikvah is a communal responsibility and said they hope many people will pitch in.

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