Designer: Center City Mikvah Will Have the ‘Feeling of an Ocean Breeze’

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Welcoming, embracing and refined are just some of the characteristics designer Herb Tapper is trying to evoke as he creates the interior of Mai Shalva, the community mikvah that is slated to open late 2019 or early 2020.

Herb Tapper, interior designer of the Mai Shalva Center City Community Mikvah, holds a rolled up design
Herb Tapper, interior designer of the Mai Shalva Center City Community Mikvah (Photos by Erica Silverman)

Tapper pores over blueprints of the new mikvah in his studio, as he carefully selects the natural color scheme of tiles in the reception area that will lead to a mikvah surrounded by stained-glass windows.

Tapper, who is Jewish, has run his design business, H. H. Tapper Associates, Inc., in Philadelphia for 50 years, mostly for commercial and residential interiors. About three years ago, Chabad of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, approached Tapper about designing their new mikvah, and he eagerly accepted. He just finished designing a new mikvah at the Chabad of St. Maarten/Martin in the Caribbean before turning his attention to Mai Shalva.

Mai Shalva will be housed at Historic Vilna Congregation in Old City and be open to all members of the Jewish community. The Jewish community in Center City is one of the fastest growing in the area.

The role of the mikvah is expanding, as the ancient Jewish practice of entering a body of water for spiritual purification evolves to meet the needs of contemporary society.

“As you enter the reception area you will experience a gentle, welcoming feeling,” Tapper said. “The color scheme of the tiles includes natural tones, like soft blues and pale greens.”

The flooring tile looks like travertine marble, in a neutral cream color.

Tiles that are being using for the design of the Mai Shalva mikvah
Tiles that are being using for the design of the Mai Shalva mikvah

“The walls of the reception area will have a blend of cream, white, teal and soft blue to create the feeling of an ocean breeze,” Tapper said.

Shevy Sputz, co-director of Chabad House of Fairmount, has formed a women’s committee of about 10 community members who will be responsible for the daily operations of the mikvah.

“Going to the mikvah is an important mitzvah,” Sputz said. “A restful color scheme in the reception area and the preparation room creates a stress-reducing environment so the woman can clear her mind in preparation for prayer.”

An attendant at the mikvah is required to ensure the woman is completely submerged in the water. Men have traditionally used the mikvah before prayer, but are not required to do so like women are. The women’s mikvah will be on the first floor of Congregation Vilna, the synagogue on the second floor and the men’s mikvah will be in the basement.

The preparation area was designed with lighting that will allow the visitor to fully see herself in order to fulfill the requirements of Jewish law before entering the mikvah, Tapper said.

As you open the doors to the area housing the mikvah pool, you will see four arched stained-glass windows, two on each side of the pool, reflecting jewel tones, like red, blue and yellow, according to the design.

Tapper said he aimed to preserve the history and feeling of the more than 100-year-old synagogue in the design.

Mikvah USA, a national organization that provides assistance in building mikvahs, reviewed all of the plans for the design and construction of Mai Shalva.

“I reviewed the details of the plans and measurements with the building contractor and a representative from Vilna, and made sure they reflected the measurements in the field,” said Moshe Breuer, a Monsey, New York-based construction coordinator for Mikvah USA, who has dedicated the last 15 years of his business solely to mikvah construction.

“I measured the mikvah bath itself to be sure it can hold the amount of water required by Jewish law, approximately 1,000 liters, and the depth of the basement to be sure the holding tank can fit beneath it,” Breuer said. Almost any shape for the mikvah is suitable, as long as it holds enough water.

Rainwater is collected via PVC plastic pipes on the roof that will snake down the inside of the building from the collection system on the roof to the two concrete holding tanks in the basement. “We cannot use piping with elbows or fittings between pipes,” Breuer said.

“We also discussed the tiles and setting materials to be used inside the mikvah pool, as well as the heating system and kosher filter,” he said. “I advised the tiles must be smooth on both sides without any grooves, according to Jewish law, and of light bluish color for effect.”

A mikvah usually takes three or four visits over the course of construction, including a visit upon completion. When the mikvah construction is complete, Rabbi Issac Trieger from Mikvah USA will come to check the rainwater collection system. Once he approves, the rainwater can be collected. When the rainwater is actually collected, the mikvah is certified kosher and ready for use.

Chana Colin, project manager for Mai Shalva and a member of Vilna Congregation, said they have raised $600,000 so far, and are still looking to raise about $280,000 to complete the project.

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