Community Funds New Mikvah in Northeast Philadelphia

Rendering of the new Abraham Offen Mikvah of Northeast Philadelphia | Courtesy of Estee Lich Interior Design

In recent decades, the Jewish community in Northeast Philadelphia has changed. Not only are there more Jews in the area, according to B’nai Israel Ohev Zedek Rabbi Yehoshua Yeamans, but the community is younger and vibrant. The next generation of families is moving farther north.

Among the positive changes to the community is one more complicated issue: The Northeast Philadelphia Mikvah at 7525 Loretto Ave. is no longer best serving Jews in the area. It’s small, outside of walking distance of people’s homes and does not have updated amenities.

The Northeast Philadelphia Jewish community decided to make a change. Last June, the board of the Abraham Offen Mikvah of Northeast Philadelphia bought a new space on Algon Avenue.

For the past year, community members have fundraised more than $1.5 million of the campaign’s $2 million goal to build the new mikvah. The property will have a parking lot and updated facilities in its 4,000-square-foot space. 

Yeamans, one of the mikvah’s rabbinical advisers, said the board hopes to break ground at the new location in a few months. They recently submitted architectural plans for the city’s approval.

“Already the dedication to the project by both people within the community and outside the community in and of itself speaks volumes of how important this project is, how critical this project is to the future of our community,” Yeamans said.

In Jewish tradition, building a mikvah in a Jewish community is considered a greater priority than building a synagogue. In addition to being used for ritual purposes for marriage, childbirth and conversions, a mikvah is frequently used by traditionally observant women following their menstrual periods and before resuming sexual activity.

The mikvah’s current location is now outside of walking distance for many observant women in the neighborhood, making it harder to access on Shabbat and yom tovs. If a woman is at the mikvah late at night, she may not feel safe walking back home, said Susan Yitzhak, a mikvah attendant at the Northeast Philadelphia Mikvah for 16 years.

The mikvah hired an off-duty police officer to meet women outside the mikvah at night and drive behind them as they walk home.

“I live right smack in the middle of that community, so for me, being a mikvah attendant, if it’s a Friday night or a yom tov, I’m walking 20 minutes each way,” Yitzhak said.

The Northeast Philadelphia Mikvah was first built in 1982 at the Congregation Ahavas Torah building on Rhawn Street but later moved. The mikvah is functional, but the space is outdated and has continuous technical issues.

Yitzhak is also part of the mikvah’s women’s committee, which is, in part, responsible for the space’s design. The new mikvah will have lobbies, dressing rooms and pool rooms for men and women. She hopes the space will resemble a spa.

“If it looks like a JCC locker room, then is a woman going to enjoy coming there?” Yeamans said.

“It’s extremely important when a woman goes to a mikvah, that it’s a very, very comfortable, enjoyable experience,” she added.

Because the mikvah will primarily be used by women, it was important to Yeamans to ensure women in the community were involved in the space’s development, even at the expense of opening the mikvah quickly.

“The last thing we want is for people to say the men built a mikvah and knew what was best for what women want,” Yeamans said. “This is their experiences; this is their mitzvah; this is their institution. And even if it means a little bit slower, it’s well worth it.”

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