After six years of fundraising and construction, Squirrel Hill’s new women’s mikvah will soon be open for use.
Judy Kanal, a board member who is heading up tours of the new ritual bath on the 6300 block of Forbes Avenue, said that the decision to build a new facility had been under consideration for some time.
“The old mikvah was falling down slowly, and we were proactive in building [a new one],” she said. “We started talking about it in 2008,” but just after the discussions began to get serious, the economy crashed and the committee decided to hold off. It wasn’t until 2010 that “they started fundraising in earnest.”
Though it was “very difficult to fundraise,” Kanal said, the community has been generous in backing the nearly $2 million project. Donor plaques honoring the contributors will be erected next to a fountain in the mikvah building.
Tzippy Rosenberg, co-president of the mikvah’s board of directors, said that the construction committee visited a few mikvahs before designing the building so that they could see firsthand what worked. Many of the smaller details of the building — the radiant heating on the floors, the special preparation room for brides — came from the facilities they visited. Together with J. A. Lott Design and Associates, a local interior design firm, the women on the committee deliberated over every part of the building.
“There was a lot of attention to detail,” said Kanal.
For Rosenberg and Kanal, the beauty of a mikvah is paramount. “You want people to be enticed to come,” said Kanal. If the facility can provide a “warm, comfortable” experience for people, perhaps more of them will come.
“Every mitzvah that we do,” echoed Rosenberg, “we try to beautify it.” Going to the mikvah should make women feel “totally comfortable and pampered. We want it to be a calm and serene experience.”
Gittel Goldberg, who was touring the new mikvah, said of the building, “It’s really clear how many people were involved and put their heart and soul into this.”
Chasi Rothstein, a coordinator for Chabad House on Campus at the University of Pittsburgh, said, “It’s such a beautiful statement of how much pride we take in our community.” It sends the message that “this is worth doing.”
What the mikvah will lack, however, is Malka Markovic, the longtime attendant at the neighborhood’s previous mikvah. The 92-year-old Markovic, who lived above the ritual bath, was its primary caretaker for 28 years. She will not be moving to the new location.
“Her absence will definitely be felt,” said Goldberg.
“We’re all going to miss her cozy bubbie feel, definitely,” added Rothstein. Said Rosenberg: “We can’t replace Mrs. Markovic, there is no question.”
“We were tremendously blessed for the many years she worked diligently” for the women of the community, echoed Jenny Lebovits, co-president of the board of directors. “We are extraordinarily thankful for everything she has done.”
Rosenberg said that all of the new women who will be staffing the mikvah underwent professional training.
After so many years of conversations, planning, and fundraising, Kanal, Rosenberg, and Lebovits feel a strong sense of excitement as the opening of the new mikvah nears, though the committee has not yet set a specific date. Kanal even described it as being akin to giving birth.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Rosenberg. “We’re very grateful to all the people who worked on this.”
Masha Shollar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.