A Pluralistic Approach to Studying an Ancient Concept

Written by Amy Chartock, National Programs Director

Two weeks ago, Carrie and I packed up and flew across the country to gather for a very specialized training focusing on the construction and maintenance of kosher mikvaot.  A dedicated group of fourteen people came together from Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Diego, Raleigh, New Orleans, Atlanta Baltimore, Ottawa, and Boston.  Maybe even more importantly, the students and faculty that comprised this group represented Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Post Denominational movements.  We spent two days huddled together in a conference room, pouring over ancient biblical texts and commentaries, examining architectural plans, drawing diagrams on a white board and learning best practices for maintaining a sparkling, kosher mikveh today.

Amy Chartock

What motivated Mayyim Hayyim to convene this gathering?  After all, we are certainly in the business of running trainings, but surely it would be easier to do it on our home turf.  Well, as the concept of community mikveh has taken root, communities looking to build a new mikveh have approached Mayyim Hayyim in search of a consultant who can oversee the design and construction of their mikveh.   Rabbi Ben Zion Bergman, a Conservative rabbi with an expertise in Hilchot Mikvaot (the Jewish laws concerning mikveh) as well as an engineering background, served as Mayyim Hayyim’s consultant in addition to other community mikvaot such as the Brandt Family Mikveh at Temple Israel Center in White Plains, the Mikveh of the Conservative Movement in Wilmette, IL, The Charlotte Goldberg Mikveh in Cleveland Ohio, The Jill and Jay Stein Mikveh in Phoenix, AZ, and of course, his first Mikveh, the mikveh at the American Jewish University.   As Rabbi Bergman is no longer traveling, we thought it wise to create a training to enable him to share his knowledge and train others to carry on in his footsteps.  Thus we packed ourselves up and headed to Los Angeles to study with Rabbi Bergman and his colleagues.

Rabbi Bergman was joined by Rabbi Scott Rosenberg of Ottawa, Canada and formally of Temple Reyim in Newton Massachusetts as well as by Carrie Bornstein, Mayyim Hayyim’s Acting Director.  Together, Rabbi Rosenberg, who served as Mayyim Hayyim’s initial Rav Hamachshir (Rabbi who provides oversight for the kashrut of the mikveh) until recently, and Carrie Bornstein spoke to the complex but important relationship between Rav Hamachshir and Mikveh Center Director.   Rabbi Rosenberg, as well as Rabbi Aaron Alexander, the associate Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinics at the AJU taught about aspects of mikveh maintenance as they relate to Jewish law.

The training proved to be a highly informative and interactive gathering which was made possible thanks to our hosts at the American Jewish University as well through support from Hebrew Union College –Jewish Institute of Religion and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America.   Recordings of the sessions will be available online at www.mayyimhayyim.org shortly, thanks in part to the generous support of the Rabbinical Assembly as well as the Masorti Foundation.  With the help of these institutions and the passionate individuals who threw themselves into this intensive study, we have widened the circle of individuals with a growing understanding of the essential components of Mikveh design, construction and maintenance.   All in all, it was definitely worth the Jet lag for me!

Amy Chartock is the National Programs Director at Mayyim Hayyim and is a trained Mikveh Guide.  She went on to coordinate Mikveh Guide training within Mayyim Hayyim and, in November, 2008, ran the first national Mikveh Guide Training Seminar for 19 people representing 13 communities from across the United States. In spring 2009, she worked with organizational partners (Jewish Milestones and The Jewish Welcome Network) to create a regional cohort of Mikveh Guides in the the San Francisco Bay Area supported by a grant from the Covenant Foundation and The Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund.  Amy has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Brandeis University and a Masters degree in Social Work from Columbia University.  Prior to Mayyim Hayyim, she worked with teens at the adolescent OB-GYN clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and with volunteers at the Jewish Big Brother and Big Sister Association of Greater Boston.

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About mayyimhayyim

Mayyim Hayyim is a 21st century creation, a mikveh rooted in ancient tradition, reinvented to serve the Jewish community of today
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