By Deb Silverthorn
If you build it, they will come. In 1994 Mikvah Israel Dallas was organized, envisioning — then building — its mikvah on McShann Road in North Dallas. A quarter of a century later, this holy place for the women of the community is getting a makeover.
“The mitzvah of mikvah empowers the woman of the house to be in the driver’s seat bringing holiness to the family,” said Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, dean of Dallas Area Torah Association and Rav of Mikvah Israel, who has been associated with this mikvah since its inception. “It is a mitzvah that is observed by many, for whom the tradition is passed down in their families, and for many who take on the mitzvah without any prior experience.”
Aviva Rosenberg was among the first to lead the charge of bringing a mikvah to the North Dallas Eruv.
“It took two years, but it was a gift to all of us,” said Rosenberg, working alongside many including Cheryl Epstein, Leni Hirschberg, Emily Jacobson, Joan Margolies and Marilynn Wohlstadter. “We needed to be able to be closer on Shabbat, to have space for four or five or six women to prepare at a time if necessary. It was important then and it’s important now, and I’m so grateful for the people who are pushing forth.”
The interior of the mikvah will be completely renovated from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, with paint and tiles, flooring and fresh coats of everything, everywhere. The six prep rooms are being redesigned; one of the six is being expanded and planned for anyone who would like to use it, but primarily as a kallah room — for a bride’s first immersion experience.
In addition, the keilim mikvah, located on the exterior west side of the mikvah building, which is used specially for dipping cooking utensils, plates and the like, will be completely renovated.
“It’s a big project but we have confidence it’s going to be a place of great experience. Since we started talking three years ago, prices have risen for materials and labor but we believe we will make it happen,” said Cindy Winston, Mikvah Israel Dallas’ president. “Through the years we have attended to the ‘have-to’ repairs and such. Now, it is more than deserving of this absolute and complete renovation.”
Winston and her team had a security assessment provided by Bill Humphrey, director, community security of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas; they will follow his recommendations.
Susan Hollander, a graphic designer and home pastry chef by profession, moved to Dallas six years ago. Her parents and grandparents founded synagogues, day schools and a mikvah.
A Shabbat afternoon conversation with Rebbetzin Annette Wolk, of blessed memory, about how many women didn’t use the mikvah or even know about it, and that in general years had gone by and it needed updating, inspired Hollander.
“I heard her and wanted to do something. We hosted a night for women, with a representative of Mikvah U.S.A. — which is advising Mikvah Israel Dallas through the renovation — and 70 women came and supported us, supported themselves,” said Hollander. “Unfortunately, Annette passed away, but I know she knows what we’re doing and I’m certain she’s proud.” The renovated immersion pool will be named in Wolk’s honor.
“I grew up with role models who lived by creating and giving back,” she said. “Making sure that we can have this beautiful space, in which to share this beautiful mitzvah, is inside me. The legacy of those before us, of what and how they built, and how we must do the same, must continue.”
Hollander connected with Winston but just as momentum was building, the pandemic set in. It was just months ago that plans were again set in place.
Caryn Peiser is enthusiastic about serving the community. “Hashem orchestrates our lives beautifully and I’m in a place where I can help. It’s my honor and we’re at the point where it has to be a community endeavor. It’s not about the Orthodox mikvah; this is something that can be meaningful to any Jewish woman.
“We have to break the misconception and I want so much to share this mitzvah. It affects all of our lives directly or indirectly,” said Peiser. “We have guests from around the world and many new families have made Dallas home.”
One of many area mikvah educators, Rebbetzin Batya Epstein, says many women who have come to her for learning have no family experience or reference of mikvah. They were referred by a friend or they read about it; however people come, she’s glad.
“So many who come to mikvah feel they’ve touched kadosh, a holiness and eternity beyond themselves. There’s a high-level connection to Hashem, a tangible reach to Him, that is special to us,” said Epstein. “The ‘moment’ of any time in the mikvah lives on through the intimacy with one’s husband, and the relationships of her home, and with those around her, are sure to be elevated.”
In order to spread the word throughout the community, hoping to reach women of every congregation — and those unaffiliated — who want to learn more and or experience the mikvah firsthand, parlor meetings are being held, from now through the summer, to educate one and all.
“Raising money and raising awareness of the mikvah isn’t for me — it’s for my family, for the next generations,” said Brett Diamond, who sits on the fundraising committee and who led a parlor meeting for men on Monday, May 16, at which Rabbi Israel Lashak spoke.
“I credit my wife Roxy with so much in our own Jewish journey, with inspiring us and educating us,” said Diamond. “Twelve years ago, I’d never heard of the mikvah, and this week alone I’ve said the word 67 times.”
It was at a baseball game of Diamond’s children that a spark was lit. While Roxy sat talking to Gitty Goldschmidt, somehow the subject of the mikvah arose. Goldschmidt, a longtime interior designer, who was here visiting the family of her son, Torah Day School of Dallas teacher Rabbi Kevin Goldschmidt, revealed that her first project more than 30 years ago was a mikvah in Argentina, where she was then living.
“Full circle and the cycle of life, no kidding,” said Goldschmidt, who lives in New York and is now visiting Dallas for weeks at a time. She has offered her services, resources and price breaks through the completion of the project. In addition to her design expertise, Goldschmidt is also a certified kallah teacher, one who teaches brides about the laws of family purity. “It’s time to share of ourselves and to a new generation.”
She added, “We’re all in and it’s going to be modern and stylish and shining and just stunning. Our goal is to infuse a deeper understanding of why the mikvah is so meaningful and important, so precious and vital.” Construction is hoped to begin after the High Holy Days, and last four to five months; the committee wants to complete fundraising first.
“Everything is from Hashem and we are each put in this world with talents and purpose, something to accomplish,” said Goldschmidt. “We each have to use those talents in a meaningful way, and this could not be more meaningful.”
There are annual memberships available for women visiting the mikvah, $100/year and then $15/visit, and guest passes for $40/visit. Scholarships are available: No one will ever be turned away for financial concern.
“Truly,” said Rabbi Fried, “it’s the wisdom of Hashem to ensure shalom bayis — peace in the home — which comes from the mikvah, the purity and freshness. It’s the crux of our Jewish existence to beautify a mitzvah and, no matter how one becomes connected in this moment, we all have the opportunity.”
For more information, to arrange to visit the mikvah or make an appointment, for educational opportunities or to make a donation to the project, visit MikvahIsraelDallas.org, call 972-776-0037 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.