Plans are in the works for a new mikvah in Squirrel Hill on the site of the former ZOA building at 6334 Forbes Ave.
The property is currently under contract to be sold by the ZOA to The Jewish Women’s League for Taharath Hamishpocho for the purchase price of $400,000.
The current mikvah, located on Shady Avenue, was built in the late 1960s, said Faithe Milch, president of the Mikvah Association of Pittsburgh, and “is starting to show wear.”
Because of moisture damage, “it would be hard to renovate,” Milch said.
A mikvah is a ritual bath, most commonly used by Jewish women to achieve ritual purity after menstruation and childbirth. It is also used for conversion to Judaism. Others use the mikvah to kasher utensils and cookware, and it is also used by some Jewish men to achieve ritual purity. Separate mikvahs exist in Squirrel Hill for women, men and utensils.
The Pittsburgh Jewish community has had a mikvah since the late 1800s, Milch said. The first one was located in the Hill District, in a community building, and remained there until 1947, when a group of “younger women thought they needed their own building.”
“They raised money and bought a house in Oakland on Oakland Avenue, and fixed it up with a mikvah and an apartment upstairs for the mikvah matron and her family,” said Milch. “That served Pittsburgh until the 1960s.
“In the 1960s, there was a group that felt it was time to move the mikvah to Squirrel Hill,” she continued. “They bought the house on Shady Avenue in the late ’60s, and fixed it up very nicely. It’s been lovely for a number of years.”
The current mikvah was renovated about 15 years ago, Milch said.
The Mikvah Association of Pittsburgh, which maintains the current mikvah, is not the group that decided to go forward with the purchase of the new building.
“The board that made the decision to go ahead with this building is an independent board that was formed for that purpose,” Milch said.
The current building on Forbes Avenue will have to be demolished, and a new building erected, said Judi Kanal, chair of the new mikvah committee.
“The building that’s being used now is an old home in Squirrel Hill and was not built for the purpose of a mikvah,” she said. “The current facility needs to be updated and therefore we are being proactive and forward thinking and sensitive to the needs of the community as opposed to waiting for a crisis or an emergency, and would therefore need to have an emergency campaign.”
Although a zoning hearing for the property is scheduled for the first week of February, Kanal is not sure when the deal will close.
“We are currently negotiating with the ZOA regarding closing and have not established a firm timeline,” Kanal said. “We are in the midst of preparing our fundraising timetable as well.”
The group has already hired Seigle Solow Horne Architects to develop a preliminary design and budgeting.
Although the new mikvah will be housed on Forbes Avenue — a very public street with a lot of traffic — Kanal said that privacy needs will be given top priority.
“Everything that will be built will be built with complete discretion and understanding the needs of the community,” she said.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)