Friday, August 24, 2012

Our Cool Mikva Saga

"Hey, Mr. Electric company guy?  Can we hang up some wires from your poles so that we can push our babies to synagogue on Saturday?"

That was the craziest phone call I had to make - until yesterday.

"Hi, Mr. Ice delivery guy?  Can we get 250 ten pound blocks of ice so that we can put them in a small pool so that we can - you know - do marital stuff?"

It all started about a month ago.  I got a frantic call from my congregant who works at the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home - the location of our community Mikvah.

"Rabbi!  They accidentally drained the mikvah!!!"  (If you don't know what a mikvah is, watch the 5 minute Jew ins the City clip right now.)

One of the maintenance guys messed up and thought that "cleaning the mikvah" meant to drain the entire mikvah.

This is a disaster. 

Without getting into a big discussion about mikvah, bottom line is that a mikvah like the one we have in Omaha requires a base of 40 seah of rain water to start (1 seah = 144 eggs.  There are disputes as to how we calculate that in modern measurements.  It is between 7.3 and 14.3 liters or between 9 and 15.9 quarts. 1 seah x 40 equals between 292 and 572 liters or between 360 and 636 quarts).

Once we have our 40 seah of rain water it is permissable to add as much tap water as needed.  But we can't do anything until we have our rain water.  Usually we collect our rain water through a collection system on the roof of the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home (I'll bet you Omahan's didn't know about that!).
Unfortunately, this had to happen during one of the worst droughts in history!!!  Had this happened in January with all the snow we would have been filled up in a week!

So I called Rabbi Senderovic.  You may remember him from other halachic projects like - the Omaha Eruv!

Rabbi Senderovic told me that it is critical that we clear out any debris or other objects from the roof.  If the rain water lands first on a chair or a hammer and then finds its way into our collection system then the water is invalid.  It must go straight into the mikvah.
Then he told me, "pray for rain!!"
We prayed, but to no avail.  In the meantime, our women have been shlepping over 2 hours late at night all the way to Des Moines to Beth El Jacob to use their beautiful Mikvah (thanks Rabbi Bolel!).

So after a month, it was time for a new plan.  Rabbi Yaakov Weiss, the chaplain at the Blumkin Home called up Rav Schacter of YU who recommended mikvah expert Yirmiyahu Katz, who has built and supervises more mivkahs in America than any one else.  He literally wrote the book on the modern mikvah.
Rabbi Katz said that in extreme circumstances we can rely on the ruling in the Mishnah that allows for the use of ice.
The challenge is that the ice must be completely frozen when it is placed in the mikvah.  If any ice melts before it reaches the mikvah then the water is invalid.  The only way to do it properly is to get large chunks of solid ice and place them directly in the mikvah.

So in fact Rabbi Weiss made the call to the ice delivery guy and ordered 250 ten pound blocks of ice to be delivered to the Blumkin home at 8:15 Friday morning.  Then we enlisted some volunteers to help move the ice.  The ice had to make it quickly from the truck to the mikvah so Rabbi Weiss drew up a plan.

One person to unwrap another to unload and pass it to someone off the truck who would pass it to one of the three runners who would bring it to the door of the blumkin home to the mikvah door to the anteroom to the mikvah room to the steps to the mikvah.  11 volunteers in all.

We were all set with special gloves ready to move the ice at 8:15am.  By 8:30 the ice had still not arrived and we started to worry.  We lost a few volunteers who could not wait any longer.
The ice truck finally arrived at 9:00am.  Rabbi Weiss got on the truck and lifted up the first bag - and it was dripping.
The ice that they delivered was not what we ordered.  We needed solid chunks of ice and they delivered to us bags of compacted slush.  Also, they truck was not refrigerated and they had started to melt on the way over.
So we told the delivery guy that this was not going to work.

So its back to the drawing board.  We need to find a place that will deliver us solid chunks of ice in a refrigerated truck.

We all went back to work disappointed.  As we went to our cars it started to drizzle.  I thought about how ironic it would have been if it had rained right after we had packed the mikvah with ice (like 10k spoons when all you need is a knife).

Hopefully we will get some rain over Shabbat.  Otherwise, we will have to get those ice chunks and assemble the mikvah brigade again.


  1. When Rav Yisrael Haber went to be an Air Force Chaplain in Alaska, they built a mikvah that they then filled with snow. I guess Omaha doesn't really have that option, eh? I think I recall hearing that San Diego had to truck snow from the Sierra Nevada mountains in northern California in refrigerator trucks when they opened a new mikvah years ago.

    Hashem should bless you all with success and relief soon!