Monday, January 3, 2011

Troy’s Mikvah Mystique

Troy’s Mikvah Mystique
by Rabbi Yisroel Rubin

Now that the renown Harav Yirmye Katz has upgraded and given the Troy Mikvah
his ultimate hechsher, we look back to the original establishment of this unique Mikva 28 years ago.

In 1979, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s secretary Rabbi Binyamin Klein called that Merkos is sending me survey forms for upstate communities. I filled in information on Jewish populations, Shul, School & Mikvah about 20 cities and towns, and R. Chodakov soon called, directing me to build a Mikvah in Troy, N.Y. In later discussion, the Mikvah urgency was a matter of “pikuach nefesh.”

I met R. Chodakov in his private office (at the end of 770’s hallway by the Yichud room) and asked: “Why in Troy with only 2,000 Jews; maybe better Schenectady, or elsewhere?”
R. Chodakov insisted that we build the Mikvah in Troy. After establishing the Shabbos House and Kosher Pizza in Albany, I assumed the goal was a Chabad House, so I asked R. Chodakov about rental locations, but he smiled: “how can you build a Mikvah on rented premises?”

Beth Tephila’s President Mr. Segal invited me to address his board meeting about building in the Shul’s basement, and I explained that building a Mikvah supersedes a Shul. But one member had seen the Tzfas Arizal Mikvah’s gushing spring and exclaimed: “Never! Our water bills will soar with constant flowing water!” I offered to pay their water bills etc. but they vetoed the Mikvah.

Sensing a special mission in Troy, I invited Leible (we enjoyed great years at Shabbos House) and Elisheva Morrison to be Troy Shluchim. The Rebbe confirmed, and they moved up in 1980.

We applied to Zoning for a house near People’s Ave., but after a negative City hearing, attorney Richard Hanft said we’d never get a permit. Realtor Marilyn Pollack got 2306 15th St., an old frame house for $12,000 (proceeds of a Sacandaga Lake property the Aronsons donated). Rabbi Klein told me to report on which street the Mikvah will be located, and I occasionally got a note from the Rebbe’s office: “Ma im Hamikva? Where is the Mikvah up to?”

Our board hesitated to build a new Mikvah only 20 minutes from Albany’s Mikvah (built with the Rebbe’s help circa 1960, see Igros Kodesh volumes: 15 p. 265; 16 p. 78; 17 p. 105). We struggled financially, and no one was giving. A wealthy Trojan Jew (who had observed Mikvah in Brooklyn), declined to even co-sign a construction loan.

Dr. Edith H. Luchins, an RPI Math professor who headed Albany’s Bnos Israel Mikvah (and a follower of the Rebbe), rationalized Troy’s Mikvah as a backup in case Albany’s Mikvah needed repairs (as did happen years later). Some speculated that it was linked to Troy’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute expansion, but to this day, no one really knows what the Rebbe envisioned!

Afraid that applying for official permits could negate our Mikvah, we rolled up our sleeves and furiously began digging the 4-foot earth basement, shoveling heavy clay into a pail emptied into a van for dumping. As the floor lowered, Jacks were installed to keep the first floor up.
After being hit with a “Stop Work Order,” we applied for a permit for a “ritual pool,” which was finally approved.

After finishing the Mikvah in 1983, the $15,000 Merkos check covered a third of the cost.
Rabbi Moshe Chanowitz: “R. Hendel of Montreal came to watch them pour the cement 2 stories deep. We ran rainwater from the roof via a window thru temporary straight pipes with no elbows. We chose natural tone brown tiles inside (not realizing that light tiles show the water is clean), and modeled the handrail disguising the filter intake pipe after Albany’s Mikvah.

“Becker the Wrecker” from the Port of Albany gave building material, Irwin Lapidus did the plumbing, Yoel Aronson donated cabinets, Milt Bindell donated lights ,and Lewanga’s from Albany, Troy and Cohoes helped do the heavy work.

Reb Leibel and Elisheva gave their heart and soul to make this a state-of-the-art Mikvah, to fulfill the Rebbe’s directive. May they have the strength to continue for many years IYH.
We were personally blessed by this Mikvah.

Rivka Goldstein: “In the summer of ‘90 or ’91, I was inspired to enhance this special Mikvah. I personally borrowed money for new tiling, bath fixtures, lighting and mirrors. It was no quick fix; I asked Rabbi Rubin if I can close it briefly for some improvements -I was afraid RR would veto my project if I told him the extent of the venture. It took over a month, and I travelled across the river almost daily with my small children to check on the progress.
My project also had an Albany spinoff. My excitement to beautify Troy’s Mikvah inspired my Shabbos guests, a young couple, to replace Albany’s old downtown Mikvah with a modern one.”

In 2010 the Vaad Rabonei Lubavitch inquired about the status of the Troy Mikvah. The renowned Mikvah Authority and Mikveh Mayim author Rav Katz, and Rav Bogomilsky came up and affirmed that the Mikvah was Kosher, but recommended that it be upgraded.
After extensive work by Mikvah specialist Elozor Raichick, Rav Katz came on 18 Kislev 5771 to inspect the upgrades, and stated: “This is of the world’s top Mikvas with every possible hiddur, -I will personally recommend it. While most Mikvaos have a smaller bottom bor, Troy’s Mikvah duplicates the Rashab’s Mikva where the bor ran under the entire upper Mikvah, and holds several times the basic rainwater required, thru direct, no-elbow pipes, and uses an inner filter.”

At Saratoga’s YT Kislev Seuda 5771, we recalled building this holy Mikvah, and how we go out of our way to this “Makom Kodosh” a heavenly Balshemsker Inyan connecting us to the Rebbe.

Leible: “The Mikvah is presently locked and pipes sealed to assure the rain collection system is intact until the bottom bor is filled, and I need R. Katz’s permission before entering to check.
While terrified of heights, R. Katz climbed a hi-extension ladder in blustery winds as Eluzar and I held it. He found two tiny scratches in a gutter, not really a problem, but had us fill the scratches. R. Katz inspected each inch in the bottom bor’s claustrophobic 22 inches on his hands and knees, using tons of towels to dry it 100%.

Rav Katz urged us to beautify this Mikvah and improve access (upstairs instead of the alley).
Eluzar Raichik’s Yiras Shamayim is incredible. His discussions with R.Katz to do everything perfect drew smiles from plumber Al Cassale working with us. I am very privileged to work with such great men on this great peuola!”

Mendel Rubin observed: “Luzor is an exciting honest-to-goodness “hands-on” hardy Chasid with real warmth and sparkle. Rabbi Rubin commented that both their fathers (who came off the ship together from Shanghai) were good-for-nothing… some people are paid to be good, or are good to keep up their image or status, but these Chasidim were simply good – for nothing!

Elisheva: “Working 27 years on this holy peulo, I believe this Mikvah has the Rebbe's Bracha to fulfill the mitzvah of children. Many have benefitted from this blessing and segulah. Although money was low, this Mikvah is immersed in mesiras nefesh.

Troy’s Mikvah serves everyone, from the very religious to non-shomer shabbos who yearn for a child or look to connect with Hashem, from the woman stuck in a snowstorm 4 hours late, to one who came 2am in the summer. Besides the Capital Region, this Mikvah is a destination for Montreal travelers, Lake George vacationers and Adirondack skiers. The100 plus children born after using this Mikvah have certainly affected the world!”

On Wed., Teves 8, the bottom bor filled with rainwater, so R. Katz sent expert Kolel members to inspect the seals and work with Reb Leible and the plumber to complete it. On 20 Teves, the Mikvah was filled for actual immersion.