Renovated mikvah deepens mitzvah for local Jewish women

Mimi David is Director of Women’s Education at Aish St. Louis and she has been a longtime teacher at Esther Miller Bais Yaakov of St. Louis. 

BY MIMI DAVID

Mazel tov! The whole shtetl buzzed with the news. Chanka, the butcher’s daughter, was engaged to Yankel, the carpenter’s son.  It was a local match, so the whole town got involved in the wedding preparations. A week before the wedding, Chanka could be found sewing the last few stitches on her trousseau and organizing the gifts the neighbors graciously brought to her parents’ house.  

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. There stood her future mother-in-law, bearing a special gift for the bride. In her arms, tied with a beautiful white bow, was a large wooden axe.  

“This is for you, my darling. You will need this when you go to the mikvah, to break the ice before you get in.”

Of course, that is not exactly what happened back in the shtetls. The frozen water, on the other hand, was most definitely part of the experience. Our great great grandmothers all went to mikvahs that were cold and unfiltered, or simply the local river.  They went anyway, despite the hardships they entailed, and continued the tradition by teaching their engaged daughters to do the same.

Fast forward 100 years. Today’s mikvahs are often gorgeous  structures resembling a spa. With modern furnishings and gleaming tile, they are filtered and chlorinated. Communities take tremendous pride in their gorgeous mikvahs, and for regular users, the state of a local mikvah is a very important part of their monthly mikvah experience.

The most-used local mikvah is located on the Millstone Campus near Creve Coeur, and it was getting old. The décor was outdated and starting to look grungy. The bathtubs did not drain well, and some of the doors would not close all the way.  

While always very clean, it never felt pristine because of aging tile and grout. For women who are committed to this mitzvah, the state of the building was not a deterrent; of course, we would go anyway. Yet it made the experience less comfortable.  

I’ve seen mikvahs in other cities that are beautiful and make women feel special. For women who are not as committed to this mitzvah, the state of our local mikvah was, sadly, a big turn-off.  A full overhaul was in order.

Thanks to the tremendous generosity of local philanthropist Michael Staenberg, Mikvah USA and many local donors, our mikvah underwent a $400,000 renovation. The new mikvah — the Staenberg Family Mikvah — is incredible. Women are reporting that their experience has been transformed. 

Sparking glass doors have replaced drab shower curtains. Beautiful, modern and fresh, the new white and gray décor and sparkling pools feel so clean and inviting. Going to the mikvah now feels like a pampering experience, with amenities in a setting that is feminine, welcoming and relaxing.

The mikvah process is simple. We book our appointments at stlmikvah.org and pay via the website. The attendant then contacts the user to confirm her appointment. She can prepare at home if she chooses, but the new rooms and tubs are so inviting that many choose to get ready there. Preparation includes removing make-up and contact lens; cutting, cleaning and filing fingernails and toenails; brushing teeth to get rid of any food between teeth; and showering or rinsing thoroughly with a nonmoisturizing soap or body wash. The idea is that there be no barriers between you and the waters of the mikvah. Preparation and immersion take about an hour and are an enjoyable, private experience.  

The mikvah process may be simple, but what it accomplishes is anything but. The water provides women with an opportunity to not just completely transform spiritual status, but also to have a “date with God.” Mikvah waters surround us completely, allowing us to literally touch the Divine. The experience helps us reconnect with ourselves, reminding us of what is really important. 

This gift – for that is what going to the mikvah truly is – is one Jewish women do not take for granted, and that is why we use our time in the water to pray for our husbands, families and ourselves.  

COVID-19 has added a level of depth to the mikvah experience.  I am a trained and certified mikvah mentor (who has done extensive training and is certified by Mikvah USA to teach women of all ages and stages about the mitzvah of mikvah), and there is a thought I like to share.  

Some women cannot use the mikvah because they tested positive or were exposed to the coronavirus. With incredible sacrifice, these women have the privilege of keeping the mikvah safe by staying home. The fortunate women who are well have the privilege of using the incredible spiritual powers of the mikvah experience to pray for those who are unable to use it right now. 

The mitzvah of mikvah is a treasured part of my marriage.  Chanka may have received an axe but, for me, the gift is so much more. The spirituality and the experience are the most beautiful present of all.

For more information about the St. Louis Mikvah Association – Taharath Israel, visit www.stlmikvah.org/


Mikvah101

Mikvah in Hebrew means collection, in this case a collection of water for ritual immersion in Judaism. Observant Jewish women typically visit the mikvah once a month to purify themselves seven days after the end of their menstrual cycle. After the immersion takes place, a woman can resume sexual activity with her husband, which is not permitted during her period or for the seven days following it.

A mikvah is also used by observant men for purifying themselves before the Sabbath, brides or grooms before their wedding day and as the final act of a conversion to Judaism.