Last Sunday, a small group came together for a ritual service to close our community mikvah (until the new one is built). The Jewish Ritualarium of Portland was established in 1952. Its by-laws (understanding the time period) stated: The purpose of the Jewish Ritualarium of Portland is a community institution used by the Orthodox and Conservative Jews for various religious ceremonies. It should be of interest that all converts to Judaism should go through the mikvah process. The ritualarium is for the use of the entire Jewish community. It is a vital institution in our Jewish community and seeks support from the entire Jewish community of Oregon.
Sixty-four years later, Rabbi Ariel Stone created a beautiful service to close the mikvah. I was truly moved and wanted to share excerpts from the ceremony:
The word “mikvah” means “gathering of waters.” On the third day of creation, we read in the Torah that G-d said: yikavu hamayim, “Let the waters be gathered together.” That gathering was called the sea. According to Rashi, this first gathering on the waters was the Great Sea our ancestors knew – the Mediterranean.
We stand here on this day as witnesses to their sacred place that after these few moments together will be sacred no longer. We gathered here now undertake three tevilot, immersions, into the meaning of this mikvah.
1st immersion: history
This is the Jewish Ritualarium of Portland, established in 1952, and for many years the only mikvah that existed between San Francisco and Seattle. This place was created for the gathering of living waters that has made possible so many holy moments of transition, for those passing from one life stage to another, from belonging to the nations of the world to belonging to the People Israel, and for the purposes of taharat hamispakha.
This Portland Community Mikvah has truly been a mikvah for our entire community. This is something rare and precious: a mikvah open to all Jews who seek to find inspiration in tevilah, the mitzvah of immersion.
2nd immersion: community
This Portland Community Mikvah has not only existed as a service to generations of Jews in our observance of halakha. This structure was also home for many years to its faithful caretakers. In these moments we remember all those who have cared for this sacred space, so that it was always available for us who needed it. We especially remember Lillian and Joseph Corcos, caretakers for so many years.
3rd immersion: spirituality
It is written that water existed before anything else. Water has always been a symbol of life, of sustenance and of joy for our people. Jacob and Rachel met at a well; Miriam’s well followed us through the wilderness; Torah itself, we are taught, is water to us.
In the Torah, we learn that immersion in water offers us a powerful way to move from one place in life to another. Our ancestors immersed to prepare for a holy moment, or to recover from one.
The mikvah is a symbol of hope for the Jewish people; this gathering of waters that reminds us that we can always grow, we can always learn, and we can always change. The mikvah will be there for us when we are ready to transition from one state to another.
As we now close this Portland Community Mikvah, we affirm the mitzvah of mikvah in the construction of the new Portland Mikvah. We will not forsake mikvah, the Source of our Living Waters. We will hold onto the hope of unity for which it stands.
Our new Community Mikvah will continue to be accessible to all, a basic value for us in Portland. At the same time, we learn this week that United Torah Judaism's (a political party in Israel) mikvah bill to ban the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements from using public mikvaot in Israel for conversion ceremonies was formally passed into law on Monday night. Both the Conservative and Reform movements are fighting to overturn this new law.
Once again, if you have a need for a mikvah, please contact your rabbi, Mikvah Shoshana (which I mistakenly omitted last week), or the Jewish Federation for more information.
Speaking of Israel, our Jewish Federation welcomed Eliana Fenn from Krembo Wings, “an Israeli youth movement for children with and without disabilities.” The Jewish Federation has provided funding for the past four years focused on starting new chapters in the communities of Karmiel, Safed (religious and secular children), Lod (50/50 Arab and Jewish), and soon Kiryat Malachi.
Krembo Wings is a vital youth movement in Israel. Too many children with disabilities face social isolation, lack social services, and other existing youth movements in Israel lack the necessary resources to accept children with disabilities. Krembo Wings is the only fully inclusive youth movement in Israel with (soon) 56 chapters throughout the country. In total, these chapters have some 1500 members (ages 7-21) with a full range of disabilities and 3800 able-bodied youth counselors (ages 12-18) there to work with them. Think about the commitment and dedication of these counselors who choose Krembo Wings over other mainstream youth movements in Israel.
The chapters meet on a weekly basis and have a variety of programs and activities. Per the numbers, there are two counselors per member with a disability. This provides for full involvement and interaction. Moreover, these weekly chapter meetings provide a respite for the families. If you plan to visit Israel and wish to visit a chapter meeting, please let me know. It is such a moving experience.
Finally, it was exciting to join 100 Jewish community members at the Hillsboro Hops baseball game at Ron Tonkin Field. The Hops won 4-0 and everyone had a fun time. We hope to do similar types of community events in the future.