A mikvah is a central part of an Orthodox community and community members believe that having one nearby would help to recruit more new families to the area.
The new Southfield mikvah has taken a major step forward with the upcoming demolition of a house on its planned site at 11 Mile and Bell roads. Now, the land will be graded and prepared for construction of the new Lahser Road Mikvah.
Planning and fundraising for the mikvah, located in the Young Israel of Southfield (YIS) neighborhood, began in 2017. Approximately 50 Jewish women in the area have had to travel to Mikvah Israel in Oak Park since the mikvah in the Farber Hebrew Day School Building in Southfield was demolished for construction of a new school building. That mikvah, originally part of Beth Achim Synagogue, had been operated by Young Israel for more than 20 years.
The lack of a nearby mikvah was a significant inconvenience on Sabbath and holidays when car travel is prohibited for Orthodox Jews. The Southfield women who used the Oak Park mikvah had to stay with friends nearby, postpone their mikvah visit until after the Sabbath or holidays, or walk four to six miles from home.
In addition, a mikvah is a central part of an Orthodox community and community members believe that having one nearby would help to recruit more new families to the area. About 40 Jewish families from other states and Israel have moved to the Young Israel of Southfield neighborhood — the 11 Mile-Lahser area — during the past six years, according to Cherie Levi, president of the all-women mikvah board and chair of its building committee.
A group of community members supported the idea of building a new mikvah and undertook a needs assessment and survey of mikvah users in in 2017. Levi explains that a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation was established to build and operate the new Lahser Road Mikvah. She then began scouting the area for likely sites, even placing letters into the mailboxes of area residents, asking if they were interested in selling their homes. Fortunately, a homeowner at 11 Mile and Bell roads, across the street from Congregation Shaarey Zedek, was interested in selling.
Once the sale was complete, the next hurdle was rezoning for the property since it is on a residential street. Although the rezoning process took a year, “The city of Southfield is excited at the investment in the community,” Levi says.
DiClemente Siegel Design, an architectural firm in Southfield, began working on the project with halachic input from Rabbi Zeev Rothschild, a specialist in mikvah design. Sadly, Rabbi Rothschild died of COVID. Levi says that the mikvah committee was fortunate to connect with Rabbi Yitzchok Trieger of New Jersey, who has worked on mikvahs for 30 years, including the mikvah in Oak Park, to assist with the building design. Levi visited two mikvaot that Trieger worked on in New Jersey.
Levi explains that guidelines for mikvah construction and operation are contained within the Gemara — part of the Talmud. These specifications include the source and collection method of the water used in the mikvah, the location of cisterns, the size and placement of pipes, water heating method and the height of steps to the actual pool of water. DiClemente Siegel is working with Trieger to ensure that all design elements follow rabbinic rules for mikvahs.
The mikvah will be 1,400 square feet in size and the building will be accessible for those with disabilities. According to the Lahser Road Mikvah website, the mikvah will have a spa-like atmosphere and be “spiritually and physically rejuvenating for all sects of the Jewish community.”
Fundraising is well underway with $450,000 raised from the YIS community alone — more than $303,000 in collected donations and the remainder in pledges over five years. The original fundraising goal is $1 million for construction and ongoing operations, as individual mikvah usage fees will not cover all costs. Final construction specifications will be completed soon so that contractors’ bids can be obtained. Due to COVID-related increases in building material costs, project costs may be higher than the initial estimate.
Levi said that initial fundraising was focused on the Orthodox community with a plan to expand to the larger Jewish community once the property was purchased and demolition complete. For more information, visit www.lahsermikvah.org.