Frida Kiguelman, a married mother of two who lives in Pasadena, used to have to trek to Los Angeles to use a mikvah, a ritual pool in which married Jewish women immerse themselves seven days after their menstrual cycles.
It was, as she describes it, “a three-hour process. I’d have to drive 40 minutes to the mikvah, 40 minutes back. It was pretty late by the time I got home.”
But now, with the grand opening of Chabad of Pasadena’s Mikvah Bina & Leah, the first mikvah in the San Gabriel Valley, Kiguelman can fulfill the mitzvah of taharat hamishpacha, or family purity, by simply driving—or even walking—down the street.
“It’s convenient now,” says Kiguelman. “I’m excited to be going to the mikvah. It’s peaceful and at the same time exciting. The ambiance at the Pasadena mikvah makes the whole process so royal. It’s like a private spa experience every month.”
Named after Leah Raichik and Bina Hanoka, beloved mothers (z”l) of Chabad of Pasadena’s Rabbi Chaim Hanoka and Rebbitzin Chani Hanoka, the mikvah has been a “dream in the making for the past 15 years.”
“Things got underway in earnest about three years ago,” says Rabbi Hanoka, who estimates the cost of building the mikvah at around $1.3 million. “But we started raising money about 10 years ago. It took a while. We had members of our community that participated and then various people from outside the community as well. It took a lot of hard work and dedication, and eventually we made it a reality.”
Chani Hanoka, who oversees the appointments for mikvah visits, notes that “our mikvah enables each woman to discover the spiritual mystery in this life-fulfilling mitzvah in a tranquil and supportive setting. While immersing in the mikvah, a woman is enveloped by its living waters and becomes another link in the chain of generations of women who have kept this beautiful mitzvah.”
Danielle, who recently used the mikvah as a bride before her wedding, “What a beautiful and peaceful mikvah experience. I felt so comfortable. My mom came with me and it was a special moment for her as well.”
“It’s gorgeous,” adds Danielle. “The bathrooms have Jacuzzis in them. All the fixtures and tile are so modern and beautiful.”
But more than its state-of-the-art spa-like atmosphere, Chani stresses the theological and cultural importance of the mikvah as a link that has bound the Jewish community together for more than 2,000 years.
“The mikvah is the cornerstone of the Jewish community,” she says. “It is what helps sustain Jewish life, Jewish purity, and it has been that way throughout the ages for thousands of years. In fact, building a mikvah trumps the importance of building a shul in a community. Technically speaking, it has to come first.”
There are several mikvaot in Los Angeles—including Orthodox ones on La Brea Avenue and Pico Boulevard—but given their distance from Pasadena, as Rabbi Hanoka notes, “it was a challenge even for those fully committed to this special mitzvah.”
“It was definitely a new concept for our community,” he says. “It was not something with which a lot of people were intimately familiar. They may have known about it to some degree, most likely in regards to immersing in a mikvah when undergoing conversion to Judaism, but it’s far more than that.”
“There’s been an extensive need for a mikvah in the area, and it’s a growing one,” he says.
Since its August opening, between 20-30 women from the San Gabriel Valley Jewish community have immersed in the mikvah monthly, and it’s not just women one might consider as frum, or religious.
“There are women that have never gone and this is their first time because the mikvah, given it is now so close, has piqued their interest,” Chani says. “They are interested in knowing more about this unique mitzvah. I’ve been told by a number of people that it’s the nicest mikvah they’ve ever gone to. It looks like a spa and creates that spa-like experience for the community.”
Mikvah Bina & Leah is the only mikvah between Pasadena and Palm Springs along the 210 freeway, and it has already attracted interest and visitors from communities outside the San Gabriel Valley.
Building a mikvah during a global pandemic was not an easy feat.
Rabbi Hanoka gives credit to the members of the Pasadena and Los Angeles communities who generously stepped in and helped, including Nicholas G. Rodriguez, Assistant City Manager, and Yoav Debasc, owner of YD Construction, who donated the company’s construction services free of charge.
“I literally lived that project for two years,” says Rabbi Hanoka. “I spent more time in that mikvah than I did in my own house. I was living it, breathing it.”
“During COVID, it was far more challenging to get workers, to get material, there were so many people laid off. We worked furiously to make it happen. And we completed it against the odds. Seeing it come to life, watching it happen was a very moving experience.”
For more information, contact Chani Hanoka at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chani Hanoka is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.