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Ritual Connection

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A century’s old Jewish tradition of ritual bathing is renewed at south Charlotte’s Ohr HaTorah’s new mikvah.

South Charlotte’s Congregation Ohr HaTorah, the area’s Orthodox Jewish synagogue, recently opened a new mikvah, an essential ritual bath for brides and married women following the traditional commandments of family purity.

The new mikvah, one of only a handful of such baths in the Carolinas, comes nearly 35 years after Rabbi Yossi Groner first came to Charlotte from New York in 1980 and established the area’s first Chabad Center.

“The Rebbe (the late Menachem M. Schneerson, world leader of Judaism’s Chabad movement) made a stipulation we should build a mikvah as soon as possible after arrival,” said Groner, director of Lubavitch of North Carolina and chief rabbi at Congregation Ohr HaTorah.

While Groner had a small mikvah built in the basement of his home in 1981, he recognized it posed the challenge of limited access for many and he felt a larger, more attractive mikvah would better serve the community. For years he dreamt of building a larger one.

“In Jewish life, family is very important,” he said.” Having children and raising children is revered. The Jewish Day School and the mikvah both speak to this. The school in terms of how we raise children, and the mikvah in terms of how the child is conceived.”

Under Jewish law, married women (and brides-to-be) follow the mitzvot, or commandment, to purify themselves after a menstrual period and prior to intimate relations with their husband. This is done by immersing in the mikvah where up entry, women recite a prayer.

Family purity

“The concept of family purity is as original and ancient as Judaism. It originates in the Torah itself, in the book of Leviticus,” said Groner. “The literal translation of the Hebrew term mikvah means ‘a collection of a stationary body of water.’”

Ohr HaTorah built their new mikvah following intricate guidelines documented in the code of Jewish law extending back to the Middle Ages on how to purify, or make Kosher, the water. A special expert on the design and construction of the mikvah was consulted in the process, a project that took nearly 18 months to complete.

The mikvah opened in late December of 2015 and will be officially dedicated at a ceremony and open house on Feb. 29th.

For Ohr HaTorah congregant Dr. Judy Laxer, mikvah became a monthly respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a way to connect to generations of her ancestors, and an opportunity to experience a closer relationship with her husband.

“I first used a mikvah as preparation for my marriage many years ago,” said Laxer, a dentist with Laxer, Long & Savage Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics in South Charlotte.

I came to revisit the practice about five years ago out of a sense of personal desire and a sense I could connect with a higher power. I also felt a connection and a sense of belonging to women of my past. My husband was very supportive and we believe it has enhanced the intimacy of our partnership through a greater sense of holiness and a stronger sense of connection.”

Dina Massachi of south Charlotte noted that her use of mikvah provided a routine welcome pause from what can at times be a chaotic, hectic schedule.

“I like the fact that this is time where I am removed from my calendar, the phone, and other demands allowing me to leave them behind,” said Massachi, who noted the ritual has become spiritual for her though she doesn’t consider herself to be overtly observant.

These women’s experiences illustrate that many Jewish women come to mikvah from varying degrees observance of Jewish law.

“Mikvah allows for the bonds between a couple to be not only physical but spiritual,” said Groner. “It keeps anticipation and excitement in the marriage.”

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