Archeological digs from ancient times through the middle ages, and recent discoveries of mikvehs hidden in cellars throughout the former communist bloc, offer abundant evidence that this is one of those mitzvahs that Jewish people kept to stubbornly, even in the worst of times.
But as was true of so many Jewish rituals, mikveh became a casualty of modern Jewish alienation. Many Jewish women have never even heard of mikveh; for many others, it is a tradition shrouded in misconception. But a determined effort in the past few decades to educate Jewish women has proven a remarkable willingness on their part to reclaim this mitzvah. And when a thoroughly modern, middle-class American community decides to support a mikveh, it’s fair to surmise that the tide has finally turned.
When Rabbi Mendy and Chanie Posner arrived in the upscale city of Plantation, Florida, nearly ten years ago, to what Chanie describes as a “spiritual desert,” a local mikveh did not even seem like a remote possibility. Home to 10,000 Jews—more than 20% of Plantation’s population—Jewish awareness in this city was at an all-time low. But that did not deter the Posners from generating Jewish interest and lively involvement through the small, storefront Chabad House.
It wouldn’t take long for services to attract a minyan twice daily at the center and draw 100 people on a typical Shabbat. A Hebrew School, holiday programs, and weekly classes established by the Posners meant that the local Jewish community could almost hold its own. But still missing in Plantation was a mikveh, essential to every Jewish community, and with Jewish involvement on the rise, Plantation’s growing number of observant women were forced to go elsewhere for this staple of Jewish family life. In the earlier years they would travel an hour away to Miami for a mikveh, and later the commute was shortened when a mikveh was opened in Fort Lauderdale. But some eight years into Posner’s arrival here, Plantation still remained without a mikveh of its own.
So when Fanit Panofsky told Rabbi Posner of her plans to relocate her spa from small, rented facilities to a huge plot of land and a custom-designed brand new building, he jumped at the idea and added to it. A mikveh, he insisted, would be the perfect complement to the spa facilities, combining physical pleasure with spiritual fulfillment, and making for an all-around oasis of complete bliss. Confident in the merit of this proposal, and reminded of her great-grandmother who operated a mikveh in Morocco, Fanit wasted no time coordinating architectural and interior design plans with the halakhic prescriptions for a kosher mikveh, and the project was completed 18 months later.
“For us it was a dream come true,” says Chanie Posner, who operates the mikveh. Described by one patron as “breathtaking,” a term not often associated with mikvehs—even modern-day ones—Mikveh Shulamit shares the Contour Day Spa’s tasteful décor, and Fanit attributes much of the spa’s incredible success to the Mikvah, which she makes a point of advertising in the spa’s brochure.
An opening event for the mikveh drew nearly seventy women as Chanie discussed the history, significance and tradition of the ritual in Jewish life, followed by a tour of the magnificent facility. “There’s a lot of misconception about mikveh,” says Chanie, but Mikveh Shulamit is changing that radically, as increasing numbers of women—locally and from nearby cities—who never entertained the idea, are beginning to commit to a new way of life, as they reclaim the mitzvah of mikveh.