Local group works to attract Orthodox families to the area with a new mikvah.
When it’s finally built in the coming years, many who drive by the Lahser Road Mikvah in Southfield will, in all probability, have no idea what it is or why it’s there.
But for members of the nearby Modern Orthodox community — already enticing newcomers with kosher food options, vibrant synagogue life and Jewish day schools — the presence of a mikvah (ritual bath) will fill in “the critical missing piece” for those considering a move, according to Cherie Levi, president and building committee chair for the group planning the construction.
In keeping with the Jewish laws of family purity, observant women must immerse themselves in the mikvah to end a monthly time of separation between a husband and wife — from the onset of menstruation and for seven days after its end — during which time they refrain from physical intimacy. The immersion process is considered a mitzvah.
The Southfield Orthodox community is anchored by the Young Israel of Southfield (YIS) synagogue. For about 20 years, members of YIS operated a mikvah inside the former Congregation Beth Achim building on 12 Mile Road in Southfield, continuing after what is now Farber Hebrew Day School moved into the facility.
When the mikvah was demolished in 2017 for construction of Farber’s new building, the 50 women who had been using it were left without a nearby mikvah. Since the demolition, the women have made a nearly 4.5-mile trek by foot to Mikvah Israel in Oak Park, the next-closest mikvah. That has created new difficulties for the community.
“Because immersion takes place after sundown, on Shabbat or Yom Tov when she may not drive, it would require the woman to walk in the dark,” Levi said. “In the summer, nightfall is so late she would be walking home after midnight. In the winter, it is very cold to walk over an hour with wet hair.
“The only other options are to wait, which is contrary to Jewish law, or to stay with a family in Oak Park for mikvah night, which really detracts from important elements of confidentiality, modesty and, most importantly, the opportunity for a married couple to re-unify following the days of imposed separation prior to immersion.”
Levi added that the mikvah is especially important for women trying to conceive.
Influx of Young Families
In the past five years, 36 families have moved to the Orthodox neighborhood at Lahser and 11 Mile, recruited by YIS members who have attended the recurring Orthodox Union’s International Jewish Community Home and Job Relocation Fair in New York.
Through a campaign spearheaded by Dr. Howard and Michal Korman and Ari and Monica Fischman, all of Southfield, newcomers are helped with welcoming incentives, including loans, jobs and home location assistance. The cost of living, easy commute, active Modern Orthodox synagogue and nearby Jewish day schools are attractive to many families from out of state.
But the lack of a convenient mikvah is a struggle. “The mikvah is a fundamental prerequisite to a community and really should take place before building a synagogue,” Fischman said.
In fact, according to Chabad.org, “Jewish law states that both a synagogue and a Torah scroll may be sold to raise funds for construction of a mikvah.”
“The growth we have seen has been without having one, and I would only assume with one our growth will continue — and possibly at an even faster rate,” Fischman said.
“I know of people who have visited here, looking for a place to move,” said Southfield resident Hunny Khodorkovsky, whose husband, Daniel, is mikvah fundraising committee chair. “But when they hear we don’t have a mikvah, they don’t want to move here.”
At that time, Levi and her husband, Dr. Noah Levi, were approached by Yechiel Morris, their rabbi from YIS, about helping to plan for a new mikvah. They assembled a board of volunteers, met with members of the City of Southfield Planning Commission and engineering department, obtained a variance to rezone the area chosen for the mikvah for religious usage and prepared designs for approval.
The mikvah board is all women, a point of pride for Levi. “There have been instances and complications when men were involved with running a mikvah,” she said in a follow-up email. “When we put the board together, I envisioned that since this is a woman’s mitzvah, the organization should be run by women. Who can design a mikvah better than someone who uses it?”
After researching options for building the mikvah into the basement of an existing structure, they decided on new construction. Fundraising efforts began as soon as property was located.
The mikvah group is comprised largely of YIS members and has relied on guidance from Morris, but it is not a project of the synagogue.
Instead, they formed the nonprofit Lahser Road Mikvah LLC, a 501(c)3 organization in September 2017, with a goal of raising $900,000 in tax-deductible donations. Building the mikvah itself is projected to cost up to $600,000; the remaining funds would be directed to an endowment to support operating costs. More than $400,000 has been pledged to date.
The mikvah’s home at 22960 W. 11 Mile Road was purchased with $150,000 cash. The corner lot is approximately half an acre in size, allowing for possible future expansion.
A small fee will be charged for use of the mikvah.
The group hired Southfield-based architectural and engineering firm Diclemente Siegel Design. They are working with Rabbi Zeev Rothschild of Lakewood, N.J., who also oversaw the previous Southfield mikvah as well as Mikvah Israel, to ensure the halachic (Jewish law) properties of the mikvah.
The group also consulted with Rabbi Michael Baum from Mikvah Israel and Nancy Milstein of Detroit’s Jewish Federation security team.
The project awaits the completion of engineering, architectural and landscape drawings needed to begin demolition of the current building. Next, a builder will be hired, and construction will begin. In the meantime, the structure is being used for mikvah meetings.
Who and What?
Upon completion (construction and completion of the project are dependent on donations and pledges), Lahser Road Mikvah will be the fourth mikvah in the Detroit area. Bais Chabad Community Mikvah and the mikvah at Temple Israel are both located in West Bloomfield. Other mikvahs in Michigan include Mikvah Israel of Ann Arbor; Lubavitch Mikvah in Flint; and Mikvah Mei Menachem Lansing in East Lansing.
The main area of the Lahser Road Mikvah will be for women only, to be used for their observance of ritual family purity.
Plans for the mikvah are to offer a boutique experience that is both spiritually and physically rejuvenating. The exterior will boast parking, security, lighting and landscaping; the building design with offer privacy as well as disability-accessible, high-end preparation rooms with spa-like fixtures and amenities inside.
The new mikvah will be open seven days a week and will be available to those in neighboring communities.
It will also have a keilim mikvah, for the immersion of new dishes and utensils before their use in a kosher home. It will be open to all Jewish women in the community, but will not be used for conversions.
Some mikvahs are also used for circumstances not required by Jewish law, like following a divorce or medical treatment, or to celebrate a new job.
“Given the very limited size and staffing in our plans, we currently do not anticipate broader uses for the mikvah,” Levi said. “Fortunately, the Detroit Jewish community has the option of using Temple Israel’s mikvah for such occasions.”
Hunny Khodorkovsky and Southfield neighbor Leah Brateman recently organized a project for children in the neighborhood to make, package and sell baked goods that raised $800 in donations for the mikvah.
“Having a mikvah isn’t only for those who use it,” Khodorkovsky said. “It will attract more families and will help grow our Jewish community.”
Levi hopes for more unique fundraising events to help support the mikvah.
“We are reaching out to all members of our community, with the opportunity to ask questions to understand the scope of the project and feel connected,” she said.
For information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call Cherie Levi at (248) 752-3324. Donate through Quickpay by Zelle using email@example.com as the identifier, or send a check to Lahser Road Mikvah, 22334 Chatsford Circuit Road, Southfield, MI 48034.