Let me be perfectly honest. When I was asked to write this “column” somewhat over a year ago, my immediate (and post-immediate and post-post-immediate) reaction was to respectfully decline. Baruch Hashem, I am kept quite busy with all sorts of other things, and the relentlessness of a column subject to an inexorable deadline, week after week after pitiless week, seemed to be an encumbrance that made no sense to voluntarily accept upon myself. Add to that the fact that I do not consider myself to be a particularly good writer, which to my mind means that I cannot ever hide behind style or technique in lieu of something of actual, real, substance. And do I really need to artificially embrace and take upon myself a burden of delivering in writing (which increases the burden one-hundred fold) a substantive and authentic Torah thought which would satisfy my harshest critic — myself!?
At the end of the day, I decided to do it. (Have you noticed? Sometimes I do wonder.) And the reason is that someone (who needs to ask me mechilah every Erev Yom Kippur for this) pointed out to me that it would be a wonderful opportunity to have a public forum to speak to the residents of our town/neighborhood/vincinity if ever I would want to get some sort of message across to them (assuming they speak English). And, while the word public in public forum seemed to be a bit of a stretch for this community, er, journal, I allowed myself to be seduced by thoughts of persuasively making my case for any number of idealistic causes that I believed in to a more-or-less captive audience (assuming you don’t simply turn the page).
Of course, similar to most things in life, things have not (yet) turned out that way. Meaning, I do not recall using this space as a bully pulpit (yet). [Bully pulpit: a public office or other position of authority of sufficiently high rank that provides the holder with an opportunity to speak out and be listened to on any matter.]
But now the time has come (and remember — I don’t want to threaten anyone, but if it doesn’t work, the rationale of my accepting to write this column is thrown into question!).
When I first became acquainted with RBS-A, I was struck at the lack of proper mikveh facilities — both quantitatively and qualitatively. Quantitatively, if I may fast forward the numbers as they exist and apply today, the rule-of-thumb normally used for a community such as ours in terms of frumkeit level (taking into account, of course, all the families that live here, for what I have to say here applies to the general community, RBS-A, as a whole), average age, and population, results in requiring three times (three!!) the number of rooms presently in use in RBS-A as this is being written. And even, im yirtzeh Hashem, in the very near future, as one facility finishes much-needed renovations and re-opens, we will be needing two times, twice, as many! That means we have only 50 percent of what we need! (And this does not take into account the many hundreds (at least) of new apartments already planned and about to be built, or being built). This of course results in intolerable “solutions”: traveling (sometimes impossible), or just plain waiting (unbearable), which leads to frustration (not a good mood for the exalted mitzvah), and general unhappiness. Qualitatively, once again, to go back in time, I was also struck by the lack of privacy in the local facilities, certainly by Western and American standards! And the very aesthetics (or shall we say lack thereof) was also a shock, as I was used to facilities of almost luxurious standards. Isn’t RBS-A a “resting place” of Western olim? Don’t they (we) want, and have, nicer homes, nicer shopping facilities, better services? Don’t they (we) want a tasteful design, a softer look and feel, creating an environment worthy of this mitzvah?
I asked and questioned, and basically was met with resignation and shrugs, and an acceptance of how this mitzvah is generally done here. And I said, “Doesn’t the Western oleh, the Anglo, ‘deserve’ to have their standards met in privacy, aesthetics, cleanliness, service, less waiting time? If anything is ok to wish ‘American standards’ for, it is certainly a mikveh!”
And now, after various delays and obstacles, and also after realizing that a different approach is needed to the “customer service” aspect, various askanim, under the guidance of various rabbanim, and with the approval, endorsement, and sanction of many many more, are involved in all aspects of building a new, private, independent-of-all-“politics,” beautiful mikveh emphasizing halachic integrity, aesthetic beauty, privacy, convenience, comfort, cleanliness, and sensitivity to people’s needs and concerns. (Note that the key word is a different approach, not a different practice in any way — that cannot be so, for halachah is an objective standard determined by each person’s rav, or at times is a joint decision of the many rabbanim in charge of the halachic nihul of a particular mosad — but a different approach means a particular sensitivity to a person’s background, with more explanations and more choices, being more friendly, more accessible, more understanding, and more accomodating).
Next week, im yirtzeh Hashem, we will examine the halachic appropriateness of having a mikveh with such (perhaps) over-the-top qualities… though I have yet to meet the person who doesn’t think it worth having!