We are fortunate to live in Kew Gardens Hills, which is such a vibrant, frum community, filled with young couples from Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, Yeshivas Ohr HaChaim, Lander College for Men, Queens College, and more. Our community is known for its beautiful achdus, and this was highlighted recently with the start of a new holy project in Queens. Ashkenazim, Sefardim, Jews from every background, came together with a like-minded goal: to reconstruct our Kew Gardens Hills Mikveh. The mikveh has not been renovated or modernized for the past 20 years. Any homeowner will attest to the fact that there is wear and tear and a need for upgrading after that many years.
However, it isn’t just an issue of repairs and modernizing; it’s an issue of reconstructing our mikveh for the next generation. In such a large frum community, the mikveh needs to be a beautiful, modern place that caters to women so they enjoy it and feel comfortable when performing this vital mitzvah. The first thing a community needs to build before shuls or schools is a mikveh. Baruch Hashem, our community boasts many wonderful shuls of all different types, as well as many wonderful schools. Our mikveh needs to reflect the value we place on this mitzvah.
The Gemara tells us that when building a community, the first thing that needs to be established is a women’s mikveh. The Chofetz Chaim expounds upon this and says that if anything goes wrong with the mikveh or it does not accommodate the community’s needs any longer, we have to collect the funds by any means necessary to reestablish the mikveh’s primacy in our community. This reconstruction will reestablish our mikveh as honoring and valuing this mitzvah that is the foundation for every Jewish home. The mikveh should be m’hudar and feel beautiful and safe for every woman from any home.
Esther Rosenkranz and Yelli Koenig were co-presidents of the Women’s League of the Mikveh for 15 years, taking care of fundraising and daily needs maintaining the mikveh. A few years ago, they handed over the mantle of the presidency to a younger generation of women, who feel just as passionate about the mikveh and its importance. Mrs. Rosenkranz shared, “We spend so much time picking esrogim that are beautiful, and lighting our menorahs with the finest olive oil, and preparing Shabbos and Yom Tov meals to everyone’s palate; we must use the same passion for our mikveh. This is the mitzvah that upholds all the others.” A committee of over 60 women formed for this project. These are women from all different cultures – Ashkenazim, Sefardim, etc.; in addition, there are 23 shuls on board that will be part of an appeal for this project. A committee member added that the conditions of the mikveh currently do not reflect how important it is to us. We need to beautify and reconstruct it so that it reflects how much we as a community value this mitzvah. The new committee leaders include: Chayala Hartstein, Sarala Turkel, Sara Gherman, Sara Fried, and Aliza Gabay.
Mrs. Rosenkranz added that the vision for the new mikveh is that “the mikveh is collaborative: Every corner of our neighborhood has been involved and invested in making sure that this mikveh becomes a reality. We have plans for it to be beautiful, feel like a spa, to be a place where women feel excited to do this mitzvah. We want it to be a place that women feel pride in and feel simchas ha’mitzvah when they are there.”
The Satmar Rav was once fundraising for his Torah mosdos, and when he saw that the community mikveh was not up to par, he took the funds he had collected and changed his focus and began collecting for the mikveh. A mikveh takes priority over any other Torah institution.
Young women have voiced concerns and demonstrated a lack of enthusiasm for our mikveh because of several important deficiencies, which, im yirtzeh Hashem, will be remedied with the planned reconstruction. Based on feedback from many young women, it was clear that many did not feel comfortable using the current mikveh.
There is currently a lack of privacy on entering the mikveh and on leaving. In addition, the rooms are tiny, the hallways lack privacy, there is no ventilation, and there is no central air conditioning. Also, basic facilities in the rooms are missing.
Three years ago, a committee formed and began working on this holy project. One woman who volunteered as a mikveh lady during COVID shared her perspective on the renovations: “I saw the m’siras nefesh of women coming in the beginning of COVID when there was so much fear, and no one knew what would happen. Shuls and schools closed, but the mikveh never closed. “I get emotional when I talk about this.” She shared how she saw how frightened some women were to remove their mask, yet all of these women came and bravely performed the mitzvah.
In the beginning of COVID, before testing was available, there was also tremendous m’siras nefesh from women who were ill, or were worried that they were exposed, and so they refrained from going to the mikveh. They did this selflessly for the good of the community. A huge number of sh’eilos came in during this time to the rabbanim in the community about whether or not to go to the mikveh because of exposure to COVID. There was a lot of m’siras nefesh also from women who bravely stepped up to volunteer at the mikveh, even with the threat of this then unknown disease. It was hot and they were wearing masks. They came to help. We owe them a beautiful mikveh in return for all their m’siras nefesh.
Hearing about the courage of these modern-day women connects to this past week’s parshah, Sh’mos, which teaches us about the acts of the righteous Jewish women in Egypt. The Kiyor of the Mishkan was made of the mirrors that the women used to beautify themselves so that they could continue to have children even in the face of slavery and torture. Here, in the face of an unknown plague, women bravely went to the mikveh or refrained from going for the good of the community, and others volunteered so that the mikveh never closed.
Rebbetzin Yael Marcus of the Young Israel of Queens Valley noted, “We need to focus on the next generation. We need to focus on the future. We have to make this mitzvah as beautiful as possible and as easy and desirable as possible, because it is such an important mitzvah.” In today’s busy world, when it is difficult to leave the house at night, it should not be stressful to go to the mikveh. Instead, it should be a place where women feel relaxed and pampered.
The committee received the most efficient plan, both financially and timewise. A talented architect, Mr. Robert Bahary, of Bahary Architecture, has been working tirelessly over the past two years, donating his talent and services on the beautiful design for the reconstructed mikveh.
It was decided to keep the mikveh in its current location as that is central to the neighborhood. Currently, the mikveh has nine cramped rooms. The new mikveh will include a design that optimizes privacy for entering and leaving the mikveh, with a wet hallway and a dry hallway that include one way in and one way out. It will include 11 spacious rooms, a new reception area with comfortable seating, an elevator with a handicap accessible room, a beautiful kallah suite, and high-efficiency heating and cooling. Before designing the new mikveh, the committee toured many mikvaos around New York to help them come up with the design. The new mikveh will be upgraded aesthetically like a spa, so it will be an experience women look forward to. The new mikveh will be more spacious, with amenities like beautiful tiles and more space to put belongings.
Kallos in our community should feel that our mikveh is on par with other beautiful mikvaos in other communities. The goal is to enhance the experience from start to finish, from scheduling an appointment, to the waiting room process, to privacy in using the mikveh, and to exiting. The flow is redesigned for the most pleasant experience.
The keilim mikveh will be a separate entity from the women’s mikveh. The men’s mikveh will be completely new, with space for all men who use the mikveh every day or certain times of the year.
We are changing boros: the well system, the network of pipes, and water collection. The committee is working with Mikveh USA and local rabbanim to make sure it is holding to the highest standards possible.
Every generation needs more, and we hope we can give that to them. This committee of volunteer women and couples who stepped forward and spearheaded this project deserve tremendous hakaras ha’tov from the community.
This writer spoke with Mrs. Zelda Braun, who shared information about the beginning of our mikveh. Rabbi Peretz Steinberg, Charlie Sues, and Simon Kopelowitz did the fundraising. The first couple to live in the apartment in the mikveh building was Mr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss. When Mrs. Braun moved to the neighborhood in 1975, the mikveh was in the planning stages. It opened on Erev Yom Tov 1979. The women’s mikveh opened before the men’s, and there was an argument because men wanted to use the women’s mikveh. It was determined that since it was a custom for men to go on Erev Yom Tov to the mikveh, but it was halachah for the women to use it, and they would feel uncomfortable using it if men had used it, the men would have to refrain, and that is what happened.
At the time that the mikveh was designed, there was a lot of attention given to details. The newer amenities that are available now were not available at that time, and the mikveh was on a tight budget. Here is a list of some of the master builders and people who helped make the mikveh possible: Mr. Charles Sues, Simon Kopelowitz, Jack Rapp, Mr. and Mrs. Rubin Markowitz and Sharon, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Brach, and Mr. and Mrs. Irving Grunberger.
Rabbi Peretz Steinberg shlita was one of the main founders, and his father Mr. Alex Steinberg a”h funded the mikveh.
The community pitched in at that time and donated time and products. There was a business that donated 100-pound soap drums. Mrs. Braun remembers rolling the drums with the help of her husband and Mrs. Dreyfuss towards the mikveh. Another business helped with washing towels for the mikveh for Erev Yom Tov. Mrs. Braun shared that she has tremendous nachas seeing the dedication of young women and couples who are working on this new beautiful mikveh. “The commitment of these young women is exhilarating.”
She noted that the frum community in the 1970s was set on creating a beautiful mikveh because they wanted to see the community grow and flourish, and that is what happened. “That care and concern we saw at the beginning we are seeing now.” There is a lot of hard work by a lot of volunteers. She mentioned Mr. Jack Wiesel a”h, who was president of the mikveh, and he took care of the mikveh for many years. There were many more volunteers who helped with the mikveh in the beginning.
It is important to remember the hakaras ha’tov we have to the original builders of the mikveh. This is a special building, and the renovations will be made on that same foundation. We will keep the original plaques as they are part of the ongoing history of this mikveh.
The committee wants to bring physical renovation and also a spiritual awareness of the tremendous beauty and importance of the mitzvah of Taharas HaMishpachah. Mrs. Rosenkranz shared, “I feel so privileged to be counted among dedicated women who have devoted their time and efforts on behalf of this project. Many of us have been raised here and are now raising our families here in Queens, and we feel passionate about our amazing community. We are grateful for our rabbanim who have supported our mission, and are indebted to the families and individuals who have helped us finance this incredible project. We need all the help we can get to make sure this dream becomes a reality for the entire Queens community.”
Rav Yigal Haimoff, Rav of Yeshiva Ohel Simcha, noted, “It is about time to change the mikveh. I hope it will bring more people into the mikveh.” He added that it is the most important institution we have in Queens, so everybody has to pitch in. He wishes a yasher koach to those who took it upon themselves to work on this project. It was very much needed as the rooms currently are too small and not accommodating. He noted his pride that his students from 30 years ago are very involved in this project.
Rabbi Herschel Welcher, rav of Congregation Ahavas Yisroel, stated, “It is a very important mitzvah, and we should be m’kayeim this mitzvah b’hidur as with every other mitzvah. Renewal of the mikveh is a tremendous z’chus for those involved.”
Rabbi Peretz Steinberg, Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Queens Valley, shared, “It is extremely important for the mikveh to be a beautiful and attractive place so people will want to come.”
Hashem should bless our community with a beautiful new mikveh that will bring only blessings and simchah to our neighborhood and klal Yisrael!
By Susie Garber