September 24, 2008
New South Bay mikvah puts the ritz in the ritual bath
Mikvah Mei Menachem, a $350,000, 1,100-square-foot ritual bath facility set in north Redondo Beach on the expansive campus of Jewish Community Center-Chabad of the Beach Cities, brings an opulent mikvah option to the South Bay area. Organizers began taking reservations for the first time this week, offering the community a luxury setting with architectural flourishes more typical of a day spa.
The north Redondo mikvah, the third ritual bath for the South Bay/Long Beach area, is the crown jewel of Chabad on Vail Avenue, one of the South Bay's largest synagogues.
"In Judaism, a mikvah is one of the foundations of a synagogue. Before you build anything, Jewish education and a mikvah are the two most important things," said Rabbi Yossi Mintz, the synagogue's senior rabbi.
Mintz and his wife, Sara, first envisioned the ritual bath in December 2006 as an opportunity to bring greater Jewish observance to the cozy coastal neighborhood. But as the project progressed, the lavish design of the mikvah financially stretched the shul.
As costs for materials began creeping up over the past year, the project almost doubled from an original estimate of $180,000 to $350,000, including $50,000 for glass tiles.
"Tiles went up crazy," Mintz said. "Originally it was $16 a foot when we were picking it. When we bought it [six months later], it was $24."
Despite the increases, the couple felt it was critical not to compromise on their vision.
"The beautiful, materialist world is not opposed to tradition. It's just the opposite; we have to embrace the materialistic world and uplift it," he said. "Rather than reject it, embrace the beauty. Why should Judaism be ugly? Have beautiful homes, beautiful sukkahs and beautiful shuls."
Mintz says that if he had the means he would have continued to build, but the synagogue currently owes about $100,000 on the mikvah.
"There's only a certain amount of debt you can go into," he said.
The mikvah's gated entrance is set far enough away from the synagogue's main entrance that it's still possible to ensure client privacy. Flowers and ferns line newly paved steps that descend to what was once the basement of the 6,700-square-foot synagogue.
Female guests -- this mikvah is not for use by men -- are greeted by warm earth tones in a reception area that leads to three private bathrooms, which feature engraved mirrors, vessel sinks and embroidered bathrobes and towels.
The slight trickle of a decorative wall fountain is enough to cut the silence in the white circular mikvah room. Red blossoms, frozen in freefall behind glass, serve as a reminder of the natural world that provides the glass-tiled mikvah with its water.
A mikvah is a small pool that must contain, at least in part, water that never has touched metal, including rainwater and snowmelt. Visiting a mikvah is considered a mitzvah for both men and women, especially before marriage, after conversion and before major holidays, like Yom Kippur. But the mikvah is most commonly associated with Orthodox and Conservative women who follow Jewish laws concerning niddah (family purity) and want ritual purity after menstruation or childbirth.
"Mikvah is about transitioning from one stage in your life to another," said Sara Mintz, who will be one of about five women who will serve as the mikvah lady. "From single to married. From having your period to being available to your husband. From wanting to be Jewish to becoming Jewish."
There are about 20 mikvot in Southern California, including Mikvah Chaya V'sarah Leah in Long Beach and Mikvas Chana in Lomita. The majority of ritual baths are run by Orthodox synagogues, and all but a few are intended exclusively for women, including north Redondo's mikvah.
It's yet to be seen how many women will use Mikvah Mei Menachem, which has a suggested donation policy of $25. Current Jewish population numbers are not available, but the 1997 L.A. Jewish Population Survey found 9,100 Jews in the Beach Cities area with no significant Orthodox population at that time.
Sara Mintz says she hopes women will find the mikvah an escape from the outside world.
"Women in general are so busy, and I want them to be able to stop what they're doing, and come and enjoy," she said. "I want them to get into that right frame of mind. Women are the foundation of the home, and I want them to really feel that."
She feels the investment is worth the expense, because it will help women who have never used a mikvah to see how beautiful the experience can be. She is hopeful that the spa-like experience will nourish a craving for spirituality.
"I want them to feel like this is a special place for them," she said. "For people who have never used a mikvah before, I want them to see how beautiful the mitzvah of mikvah is."
For more information or to make an appointment, call (310) 265-3868.