It was an ironically fitting rainy Sunday afternoon for the dedication of a swanky new mikvah off Montgomery Avenue.
The Lower Merion Community Mikvah saw a crowd of nearly 500 people Oct. 29 for its official dedication ceremony, which included an array of speakers, a ribbon cutting, live music and brief tours of the ritual bath facility.
The outdoor wedding-like ceremony, equipped with gift tote goodie bags atop white chairs decorated with shiny bows, took place in the parking lot covered by a large white party tent. Union Avenue between Birch and Bala avenues was blocked off for the event.
The mikvah’s creation has been a long time coming — approximately eight years from its initial concept — said Stuart Rudoler, treasurer of the mikvah board and emcee of the ceremony.
“We’re looking forward to women having a beautiful place where they can go to perform this mitzvah,” he said.
The luxurious mikvah — a nearly $4 million project — embodies that of a lavish spa: The rooms are bright, open and accommodating, including towel warmers, handicapped accessible showers and lifts, and a buzzer system, among other amenities.
More than 350 families donated to create the facility — totaling about $3 million. The large building was originally an old warehouse owned by the Lower Merion School District, neighbored by homes of Jews and non-Jews along the otherwise quiet street. Now, in addition to two pools for women to immerse themselves and 10 prep rooms, it also houses a neighboring men’s mikvah with a separate entrance.
The mikvah is named in memory of Monica Rasch Kohn, who was a beloved member of the community and a key factor in its creation until her death two years ago.
Rudoler worked closely with her during the project.
“She taught me in doing community work, the most important thing is to be careful of everybody else’s feelings,” he said. Instead of having to “break some eggs to make an omelette, Monica really tried to break no eggs and make everybody happy.”
“I’ve never met anyone like her,” said David Caroline, Kohn’s son-in-law. “She was a builder. She built houses, she built institutions, she built a family. But her real knack and her real skill was connecting with people.
“It’s evidenced by the fact that the community chose to recognize her for this dedication.”
Along with Kohn’s longtime commitment to and work benefitting the mikvah, her family, the Kohns and Raschs, made a significant donation.
The mikvah previously available in the community was housed at Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia. Small and only able to accommodate a few women at a time, it has since closed.
“Since the mikvah is something that’s done privately, it was a little bit difficult because there oftentimes were school functions in the evenings,” said Dvasha Stollman, co-chair of the mikvah board, “so it really didn’t afford the women of our community the privacy that they would like and deserve.”
A freestanding, upgraded space in size, comfort and walkability was a necessity, Rudoler added.
Designers planned the mikvah with many constituencies in mind. One prep room and one of the two immersion pools is handicapped accessible. In addition, one prep room is specifically for brides, with a large Jacuzzi bathtub and standing shower.
The men’s mikvah is off to the side of the building. In between the two entrances is a mikvah for immersing dishware.
Stollman said the women’s section will be open for about two hours a night, and the space can accommodate as many as 25 women at a time.
A one-time use is $30, or there are membership options at different annual gift levels.
The mikvah is scheduled to officially be open for use in two or three weeks, once enough rainwater is collected in a tank to comport with Jewish legal requirements governing the operation of a mikvah.
“This is an essential part of family life in the Jewish community,” Stollman said. “All segments of the Orthodox community worked together to ensure that this was built.”
Mikvah Director Carly Chodosh reiterated that a mikvah is a community obligation that comes before a synagogue, school or even a Torah is bought.
“This is a unifier in our community,” she said. “This mikvah was built with every segment of our community in mind, and we were able to accommodate every single tradition and every single halachic requirement of a mikvah.
“The excitement is tangible.”
As the community continues to grow, Chodosh said the mikvah was created not just for women now but for those 50 years in the future.
After the ceremony, the white tent doors leading to the building’s entrance mimicked a chuppah, accompanied by a rim of white flowers hanging overtop the podium.
Touring the facility, the yet-to-be used varnishes gleamed and sparkled. Women’s mouths fell agape in elation, smiling about the new site and praising its beauty.
“We just don’t want to leave,” they laughed.
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