We have all heard the tales. Our grandmothers and Rebbetzins back in Russia who were Moser Nefesh to keep the Mitzvah of Taharas Hamishpacha. Those who went out under darkness into the wilderness, cutting a hole in the ice to dip into freezing water, tying a rope around their waist to ensure they wouldn’t drown. These women traveled far distances by horse and buggy to ensure that they could keep the Mitzvah B’hidur.
That was the olden days.
Or was it? To a few dedicated Jewish women across North America, these tales hit close to home, reflecting a very current reality – updated with a few key details (switch out the horse and buggy for a Boeing 737). Jewish women in remote cities and towns without a Mikvah have long had to go to extreme lengths to keep the vital Mitzvah of Taharas Hamishpacha, from traveling hundreds of miles by plane, train and car, to dipping in a freezing lake.
These are a few of their stories:
A Freezing Dip
Winters in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a province nestled in central Canada can get as cold as -40 F. But the small local Jewish community of 200-300 individuals stays warm and is thriving thanks to local shluchim Rabbi Raffi and Sarah Kats. The Katses moved to Saskatchewan in the summer of 2011, knowing that keeping Kosher, providing their children with a quality Chinuch, and access to Mikvah would be a struggle.
“We knew it would be an adventure when we moved out here but we were dedicated to going on Shlichus where we could make a difference,” says Sarah. The shlichus wasn’t the only adventure. Every time Sarah needs to go to Mikvah, the couple starts looking into travel arrangements, refreshing updates on weather forecasts, and planning complex family logistics. When her family was still small, Sarah would take a six-hour bus ride with a baby to the closest Mikvah in Edmonton, Alberta. A few years later, the family graduated to family trips – packing the children in the car and staying overnight in a hotel before turning around the next morning for the long trek back home.
But sometimes icy roads and other considerations make travel impossible. Then Sarah has had to turn to local options: beautiful crystal-clear lakes and rivers – that can be freezing even in warmer months. Sarah describes how she would have to psych herself up just to make the icy plunge and sit in the car, dreading the experience. Even when the temperature is more pleasant, the dangers are still there. Sarah has been hurt on jagged rocks as she slipped and fell while going to Mikvah at a local spring-fed lake.
Saved by a Miracle
500 Jewish households live in or near Kelowna, British Columbia, located on the west coast of Canada. The closest Mikvah is a 5-hour drive via a treacherous road called “Hell’s Highway” that makes its way through 3000-foot mountains. Rabbi Shmuly and Fraidy Hecht have enjoyed building up the Jewish community throughout the Okanagan region over the last 10 years. In the summers, the mitzvah of Mikvah can be accessible enough. Fraidy usually opts to use a natural local lake for Mikvah during the 2-3 months that it is warm. But in the winter, the freezing water is dangerous and driving or flying to Vancouver or Spokane, Washington are the only options.
Fraidy says that one winter, Mikvah night fell out on Chanukah – the same evening that they had planned a community event. Flying after the event wasn’t an option, so the couple would have to make the trek by car. After the event, the Hechts set out on an attempt to cross the mountain on icy roads covered in snow. Shmuly was behind the wheel when a frightening car accident spun their vehicle across the highway into the path of a semi-truck. Miraculously, their car landed safely in a deep snowbank at the side of the road. After digging themselves out, the Hechts were relieved to be safe and continue on their way. While they describe it as their own personal Chanukah miracle, it is not an experience they ever wish to repeat.
No woman should have to risk physical injury to go to Mikvah. While Mikvah is central to creating Jewish families, no woman should have to bring her whole family along. Women should not worry about dangerous roads and safety when participating in this vital mitzvah.
There is now an exciting opportunity to change everything for SEVEN remote Jewish communities across North America and create an oasis to build lasting Jewish families through the impact of Mikvah. In a joint fundraising campaign, seven shluchim are seeking to build local Mikvahs for their communities.
The seven planned Mikvaos in:
Fargo, North Dakota
Kelowna, British Columbia
will serve some of the largest geographic areas for women to take part in this mitzvah.
Be a part of the change today and give generously at BringMikvahHome.com
The funds raised in this campaign and the Kashrus of the Mikvaos will be overseen by:
Rabbi Mordechai Farkash, Bellevue, WA
Rabbi Boruch Hertz, Chicago, IL
Rabbi Moshe Kesselman, Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, Sydney, Australia