Of course, there are mikvehs in New York. The city is filled with ritual baths serving its many observant Jewish communities. What the city doesn’t offer is a bath along the lines of Mayyim Hayyim in the Boston area, which was the brainchild of “Red Tent” author Anita Diamant. She dreamed of an aesthetically appealing “community mikveh” that would expand the definition of immersion to mean a ritual that could mark any passage.
Rabbi Sara Luria wants to bring a Mayyim Hayyim-style mikveh to New York and has been working toward that goal since the spring of 2012, a year before she was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Her vision involves a construction project, daunting enough in the city’s hot and complex real estate market, but not only that. Like Diamant, she wants to enlarge the community’s vision of what mikveh can be.
“Our [mikveh] is going to be designed so that it meets Jewish people in their lived experience,” she said. “It’s another Jewish home for people … any transition can be set in a Jewish frame at our mikveh.”
Rabbi Luria has already attracted donors — this year, her budget was about $100,000 — and hired staff. With those resources she has not yet signed a lease on a space, or even focused too much on real estate, but she has already started changing practice around mikveh. She’s trained 28 mikveh guides who work at local mikvehs using rituals written to mark bat/bar mitzvahs, say, or divorce, or infertility. She’s reached out to the Orthodox community and hosted a series of salons to talk about what a new mikveh might be.
And the mikveh isn’t her only project. She’s also working with two lay leaders to create a Jewish community for young families in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.