With less than a year to go before the expected opening of a new mikvah in Squirrel Hill, organizers report that more funding is needed to complete the project. Construction, however, “is continuing apace,” according to mikvah building committee chairwoman Judy Kanal.
A mikvah, according to Jewish law, is a gathering of “living” waters, such as rainwater or snow. Such a ritual bath is used by married women for spiritual purity and by converts as part of their being welcomed into the Jewish people.
The first evidence of a mikvah in Pittsburgh dates back to the turn of the last century, when a ritual bath was located on the North Side. From there, to the Hill District, to Oakland, as the Jewish community moved, so did a mikvah. When Squirrel Hill became the center of Jewish life in the late 1960s, a new mikvah was built there as well. Although the Squirrel Hill facility was renovated 20 years ago, growth in demand has necessitated a new, modern building.
Several years ago, a group of men and women from across the community committed to raising funds to build a new mikvah to serve the needs of the growing Jewish population in Squirrel Hill. The old ZOA building at the corner of Forbes and Denniston was purchased and torn down and a crew broke ground in September. So far, the mikvah has a foundation; weather and government approval permitting, walls will soon go up, said Kanal.
The goal is for the new facility to be ready for use by Rosh Hashanah next year, but “we are still tens of thousands of dollars away from our goal of $1.82 million,” she said.
Kanal envisions the mikvah as being “a welcoming environment, beautiful and modern.”
“The building will enhance the observance of the mitzvah and fit in with the surrounding area,” she said.
The Jewish Women’s League supports the mikvah partially through its annual lecture and dinner reception, held this past Sunday at Congregation Shaare Torah. Two women who have dedicated themselves to supporting every part of the mikvah ritual were honored this year: Faithe Milch, president of the Mikvah Association of Pittsburgh, and Surah Brodie, financial secretary.
From keeping the books, to negotiating with litigious neighbors, to dealing with maintenance problems, to raising funds, these two women have labored tirelessly, without regard for recognition, compensation or honor for more than 40 years, said organizers. They received a standing ovation as they passed the torch of leadership to incoming president Jennifer Lebovits and incoming financial secretary Tzippy Rosenberg.
The event featured a video interview with Milch and Brodie reminiscing about their years of involvement with the mikvah, followed by a lecture by inspirational speaker Chaya Kalazan. Kalazan spoke about Chanukah and the secret of how the Jewish people survived in exile.
Simone Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.