By: Shimmy Blum
The Jewish community of Merrick, New York – located in Nassau County – gathered on Sunday to celebrate the completion of the new “Mikvah Mei Leah” that lives up to the highest standards of both hiddur and physical beauty.
There are approximately 30,000 Jews living in Merrick, with four Orthodox Shuls. Yet, the community has never had a mikvah until now. Previously, the closest mikvah was nearly a half hour drive away, each way. Rabbi Shimon Kramer of the local Chabad Center for Jewish Life stated excitedly at the Chanukas Habayis: “Today is the holiest day Merrick has ever had.”
Merrick is merely one of the nearly sixty mikvaos across North America that have been completed with the help of Mikvah USA, b’ezras Hashem, in addition to several new mikvah projects in progress. Nevertheless, it was among the most difficult ones to complete.
Rabbi Kramer and other Merrick leaders initially reached out to Mikvah USA in 2007 to try to build a local mikvah. The path from there on was filled with various major obstacles. Rabbi Kramer encountered incredible difficulty when trying to purchase a property that would accommodate a shul and mikvah. Finally, in nothing short of a miracle, a local non-religious Jew – who had no relationship with Rabbi Kramer – volunteered, unsolicited, to contribute nearly $1 million towards a new property.
Even once a property was found, there were an unusual amount of complications related to everything from obtaining a mortgage to hiring an architect, contractor and subcontractors. In fact, the project’s delays were so complex that renowned Mikvah USA askan Reb Mendel Klein helped work out a unique escrow agreement with the Merrick community to ensure that the project would be completed within a reasonable time period. Two Merrick philanthropists, Steve Gage and Stuart Siegel, undertook financial responsibility on behalf of the community for this agreement.
This bold step, along with Mikvah USA’s guidance and assistance in the construction process, turned out to be very effective in speeding up the project towards completion. Rabbi Kramer and other Merrick leaders worked closely with Mikvah USA throughout the process, together overcoming challenge after challenge. “The bottom line is that we share two key goals,” explains Rabbi Baruch Cywiak, Director of Special Projects for Mikvah USA, “to build a beautiful mikvah in Merrick, and to work together with genuine mutual respect.”
A Community Transformed
As hundreds of locals gathered at the Chanukas Habayis, the joy that the Merrick community felt upon this occasion was palpable. A Mikvah USA delegation traveled in from Brooklyn, including Founder and President Rabbi Yitzchok Bistritzky shlit”a, prominent Board member Reb Moshe Greenfeld, and Rabbi Cywiak.
In addition a special group of twenty or so donors towards this mikvah traveled in from Williamsburg along with their Rav, Rav Yaakov Kaufman shlit”a. These yungerleit are alumni of Yeshiva Ohr Yisroel, founded by HaRav Eliezer Geldzahler zt”l, and currently led by lbc”l his brother, HaRav Daniel shlit”a. They undertook this generous sponsorship campaign on behalf of two fellow Ohr Yisroel alumni who did not merit children for years after they got married.
By the time the Chanukas Habayis took place, the wives of both alumni were expecting healthy babies, b”H. The physician of one of the wives remarked that what he has witnessed was a “medical impossibility.” Prior to the official Chanukas Habayis program, these donors held a poignant L’chaim ceremony with Rav Yankel Kaufman, Rabbi Bistritzky and other Mikvah USA leaders, celebrating the Heavenly Hand that is there on behalf of those who spread the cherished mitzvah of taharas Yisroel. Just two days later, the wife of one of these yungerleit gave birth to a beautiful baby boy!
The main Chanukas Habayis program was opened by Rabbi Kramer and Steve Gage. They articulated the emotions of community members and the belief that the spiritual landscape of Merrick – both in tahara and overall Judaism – is now a whole other world. One local resident spoke in great detail about the importance of tahara to the families that observe it, and shared some informative details about the practical application of this mitzvah. The beautiful, welcoming and very local mikvah made this topic a whole lot more appealing for locals. A significant number of local families have already undertaken this great mitzvah for the very first time in their lives, and many more are expected to follow in the weeks and months ahead.
Rabbi Bistritzky stepped up to the podium and elaborated upon the rich history of mikvah in klal Yisroel and its far reaching spiritual benefits. “The mesiras nefesh that previous generations displayed towards mikvah knew no bounds,” he explained. “They understood that this is the key to the continuity of our People.”
Wrapping up the event, Rabbi Cywiak related his heartfelt thanks to Hashem, the Merrick community, and the mikvah’s donors, for making this seemingly elusive project a reality. In particular, he thanked Melly and Rochelle Lifshitz, stalwart Mikvah USA philanthropists, who dedicated the name of this mikvah to Mrs. Lifshitz’s mother, Leah (Lillian) Rottenstein a”h.
“Mrs. Rottenstein was a master educator not due to training, but due do to her open heart and willingness to always see the good,” said Rabbi Cywiak. “A mikvah that warmly welcomes and encourages all to tahara is a most fitting tribute to her neshama.”
Photos by JDN