Austin Women's Mikvah Celebrates Grand Re-opening
By Michelle Kaman
The warm waters envelope my toes. I descend the steps and feel the warmth spread. The waters embrace me. I am transformed. I am reborn.
It is difficult to convey in mere words the joy, strength, and connection that I experience through ritual immersion. There is a kinship, an ancient tradition that I share with the ones who came before me. The women who fought and died on Masada, the women who suffered through the pogroms of the Pale, the immigrants who gave up everything they knew for a chance at a better life in the States; all of these women fought to maintain their Jewish way of life, and when I enter this beautifully modern space, I am fulfilling their dreams. I am the Jewish progeny that they prayed for; and with this special mitzvah, I am continuing a Jewish tradition that stretches back millennia.
There is a low boxy building near the University of Texas. Walking past you would think it contains storage for one of the seventeen floor buildings popping up in the West Campus area. In actuality, it contains one of the best kept secrets in the city: Chabad of Austin’s beautifully renovated women’s mikvah.
A mikvah is a natural body of water or a gathering of water that has a designated connection to a pool designed specifically for immersion, according to the rules and customs of Jewish law. The body of water is ‘natural’ never having rested in a man-made containment vessel until flowing into the concrete lined underground pool. A typical mikvah contains roughly 200 gallons of water.
Most Jews see the synagogue as the central institution in Jewish life, but Jewish law states that constructing a mikvah takes precedence even over building a house of worship. Both a synagogue and a Torah scroll, may be sold to raise funds for the building of a mikvah. In fact, in the eyes of Jewish law, a group of Jewish families living together do not attain the status of a community without a communal mikvah.
In 1985 Rabbi Moshe Traxler, then rabbi at Chabad at UT, opened Mikvah Taharah of Austin, or Austin Women’s Mikvah, just a few blocks west of the University of Texas campus.
Last January, Chabad of Austin launched a massive renovation campaign to completely renovate and update the mikvah. A large portion of the project was underwritten by Mikvah USA, an organization dedicated to building and upgrading mikvahs around the country. Etty Brish of ELB Design made this project her ‘baby’ and devoted countless hours reimagining and renovating the space. The interior was gutted and construction began with a clean slate.
The affect is remarkable. The mikvah now resembles a luxurious spa. The dark browns and reds of the 80s decor have been replaced with sparkling whites, grays, and blacks. Gleaming silver fixtures, shining white air tub, rain showerhead and backlit mirror create a luxurious experience. Blue, hand blown, glass sconces are perched above the pool itself, like drops of glowing water.
In honor of the mikvah’s rebirth, Chabad of Austin held a grand re-opening luncheon at the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center @ UT on January 17, 2016. Over 120 people enjoyed a sushi and salad bar, sponsored by Whole Foods Market; a cocktail bar, sponsored by Tito’s Handmade Vodka and desserts crafted lovingly by Stacy Pomerantz. Ginny B Photography did photography.
The lunch was emceed by Mussy Levertov, director at Chabad Young Jewish Professionals of Austin, and chair of the Mikvah’s Renovation Committee.
Sarah Karmely, a well-traveled and widely acclaimed speaker, joined the community for the celebration. She addressed the mitzvah of family purity and the wonderful benefits and blessings the observance of mikvah brings to traditional family life.
Following her talk, Rabbi Yitzchok Bistritzky of Mikvah USA spoke about his organization and presented the lead donor with a commemorative plaque.
Rabbi Yosef Levertov, Executive Director of Chabad of Austin, described the long history of mikvaot and the local mikvah in particular and introduced his wife, Rochel Levertov, to present Etty Brish with a token of appreciation for her tremendous dedication.
The afternoon concluded with a ribbon cutting and tour of the new mikvah.
The Austin Women’s Mikvah is located at 2101 Nueces St. Austin, TX 78705. To tour the Mikvah or to make an appointment, contact Rochel Levertov at 512-905-2778. To see more photographs, visit www.chabadaustin.com/austin-mikvah.