Hidden in a Northeast strip mall of storefronts housing a pizzeria and a used appliance shop is Congregation Beth Solomon Community Center’s new mikvah.
The Jerusalem stone that decorates the outside of the building — called Mayim Chaim — hints at the ritual bath’s significance, but it’s really the inside that confirms it. The building contains a series of several bathrooms, including one that is handicap-accessible, and rainwater-fed mikvahs for men and women. Artwork by Michael Muchnick, a Brooklyn-based artist known for Jewish and Chasidic themes, overlooks the actual mikvahs.
On Feb. 25, CBS Community Center held a ceremony to mark the opening of the mikvah, located just around the corner from the synagogue on Rennard Street. The ceremony included several speakers, a ribbon-cutting and viewings of Mayim Chaim. It concluded with dancing and food in the synagogue.
Batel Shlain, a designer for Eden Hall Kitchens who fashioned the mikvah, said she wants every woman who uses it to feel like a princess or a queen.
“This is a special thing for [a] woman, when she’s in the mikvah,” Shlain said. “She can ask God for whatever she wants when she’s doing this. It’s one of the … holiest mitzvahs.”
The impetus for the mikvah occurred several years ago, with a conversation between Rabbi Aaron Rosenfeld, who was visiting from New York, and Sasha Tamarkin, a member of the CBS community. Rosenfeld asked Tamarkin about their community’s mikvah, to which Tamarkin explained that they didn’t have one.
Rosenfeld then wrote a check for $1,000 to go toward a future mikvah — Mayim Chaim’s first donation. He told Tamarkin that they were going to start working on creating a mikvah for the community right away, and Tamarkin agreed.
“At the time, building a mikvah seemed like a completely unattainable dream,” said Sofya Tamarkin, Sasha’s wife. “Yet, as we learned from one of the most respected and determined Jewish sages, Rabbi Akiva, big results are obtained by small, measurable steps.”
Sasha Tamarkin called the mikvah unique because of the community’s religious diversity.
“In our shul, if you look around you — if you look left, right — and see who sits next to you, you will see that we have people with hats, people with no hats, people with shtreimels, people with the knitted kippahs, people with jackets, people with black jackets,” he said. “Our community unites everybody.”
Early on in the process, Sasha Tamarkin invited Rabbi Boruch Shlain to get involved in the project. Shlain was able to combine his background in engineering with his knowledge in Jewish law to help build the mikvah. Through Shlain, his wife, Batel, also got involved. The community also worked with Mikvah USA, a Brooklyn-based organization that helps communities with mikvah projects.
The Shlains, Tamarkins and many other members of the congregation hail from the former Soviet Union. Shlain recalled how Batel used to have to travel sometimes hundreds of miles in order to get to the mikvah in either Minsk, Belarus or Kiev, Ukraine.
“When it was a possibility to be a part of the project, to build the mikvah, I feel that we have to build … something beautiful, nice and pleasurable, that all the ladies will go there and don’t think twice that they have to travel, that there will be not good weather and not so clean or whatever,” Shlain said. “Everything’s supposed to be perfect, and thank God, we have it.”
The narrow shape of the building posed a challenge, Batel Shlain said. She said she fought over every two inches of space to make sure the mikvah was perfect.
For example, she waited seven months for one of the tables in the building to become available, not wanting to compromise on any aspect.
The building’s narrow shape was not the only obstacle the community encountered during the building’s construction.
In January 2017, someone spray-painted graffiti on the Jerusalem stone that makes up the mikvah’s entrance. Just two days before that, someone had broken the 16 cameras in the parking lot.
Batel Shlain said she wants the mikvah to be a place where every woman can feel spiritually purified.
“You can just feel the effort the whole team put into it,” she said. “It’s not just like a builder’s team came and built something regular. You can really feel that every single corner of the mikvah is made with love. You can’t describe it. You just need to come and see that’s what makes it special.”