After years of effort, members of Congregation Anshe Chesed moved closer to constructing a mikva, or ritual bath, to serve their Linden community.
On Sept. 14 Mayor Richard J. Gerbounka and the Linden Planning Board gave their unanimous approval to the Modern Orthodox synagogue’s plan.
The congregation hopes to break ground next spring and to have the mikva up and running by next fall. The plans call for the spa-like pool to be housed in an extension of the synagogue at 1000 Orchard Terrace.
“I’m very excited,” said Leah Helfgott of Linden, who has been part of the effort since her family joined Anshe Chesed seven years ago. “It works, it makes sense, and it’s the culmination of a very long process.”
Helfgott, whose husband Dovid is congregation president, said that women members generally use the mikva at the Jewish Educational Center’s Bruriah High School for Girls in neighboring Elizabeth or at Bris Avrohom in Hillside.
Now, she pointed out, they will have one that is within walking distance for many synagogue members.
Periodic immersion in a mikva is essential for women observing the Jewish laws of family purity and for men who opt to perform certain purification rituals.
“I wholeheartedly support the installation of a mikva at Congregation Anshe Chesed,” wrote Mayor Gerbounka, responding to an e-mail from NJJN. “This is an important religious ceremony for our Orthodox Jewish community and anything that encourages this group to relocate to our city is a major benefit to the City of Linden.”
The plan to build the mikva is the latest piece in efforts by the congregation and the national Orthodox Union to attract observant families to the area. The Helfgotts themselves were living in Teaneck when they were introduced to the Linden congregation through the outreach program. It was designed to acquaint young Orthodox couples with small-town synagogues in the region. About 15 couples have come over the past few years, attracted by the affordable housing and proximity to Jewish day schools, and by a $10,000 incentive package offered by Anshe Chesed.
The lack of a mikva, Helfgott said, has been a deterrent for some.
“We hope that this will help us attract new families,” she said. “It’ll put us on the Jewish map, as a fully fledged Orthodox community, with an eruv and a mikva.” An eruv is a boundary of string and natural markers that defines the area in which observant Jews are allowed to carry items beyond their households on Shabbat.
When the leader of the congregation, Rabbi Joshua Hess, arrived two years ago, he and his wife, Naava, became enthusiastic supporters. Over the past 18 months, he said, one hurdle after another was overcome. He was jubilant about the planning board approval.
“Our long-time member and attorney, Charles Winetsky, did a fantastic job explaining our need for a mikva and we couldn’t be happier.”
Now comes the next challenge: raising the funds. According to the plans drawn up by Springfield architect Steve Prawer, the mikva will be housed in an extension added to the side of the existing synagogue. Given its location — next to a bicycle store and a busy street — there were a number of issues to iron out. Those were settled with guidance from mikva specialist Rabbi Yirmiyahu Katz of Brooklyn.
The design has a $350,000 price tag. Dovid Helfgott expressed confidence that the congregation will raise the funds.
The extension, about 12 by 15 feet, is on the side that faces St. George’s Avenue. The Linden officials had actually given the go-ahead to a previous proposition that would have involved acquiring a new property. It turned out that the property in question wasn’t available, and the congregation withdrew that plan.
Discussions about a mikva have involved Yeshiva Zichron Leyma, which shares premises with the congregation. The new, scaled-down concept has won approval from yeshiva head Rabbi Gershon Neumann, who was part of the group representing Anshe Chesed at the planning board meeting.
Said Dovid Helfgott: “For Orthodox couples, it’s harder to take a congregation seriously if it doesn’t have a mikva. Spending this kind of money shows we’re serious about the future, that we plan to be around for a long time.”