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Monday, February 05, 2007

Ritual bath opens at Chabad of Boynton Beach

By Joel Hood
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

February 5, 2007

Boynton Beach� Miles from the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the Super Bowl, a spiritual ritual of a different sort was renewed Sunday at the Chabad-Lubavitch of Greater Boynton.

Dozens of men and women, some in their teens, many more in their 70s and 80s, walked single file through a steel-rimed arch and into a private sanctuary steeped in thousands of years of tradition. The Chabad of Boynton Beach opened its long-awaited mikvah, or cleansing bath, with celebration and reflection Sunday, a watershed event illustrating the growth and prominence of the city's Jewish community, which tops 50,000. The day also underscored the resurgent popularity of the 3,000-year-old custom for younger Jewish women who might not strictly adhere to other Jewish holidays and rituals.

"It's not just about cleansing; it's a celebration of feminism," said Suzanne Goldberg, of Lake Worth. "It connects you to Jewish women throughout history."

While some men use mikvahs to prepare for the High Holy Days, the ritual bath is primarily used by women who cleanse themselves after menstruation. Women remove all their clothing, jewelry and makeup and immerse themselves completely in a pool that contains both tap water and rainwater. The ritual begins at nightfall on the seventh day after the completion of the menstrual cycle, thus allowing women to resume sexual relations with their husbands.

The purpose of the mikvah is both spiritual and physical renewal, said Rabbi Sholom Ciment of the Boynton Chabad. But many modern mikvahs, like the $500,000 one unveiled in Boynton, resemble day spas with ornate fixtures and polished tile. The Boynton mikvah has several hand-painted murals and sparkling granite floors. That's no accident, Ciment said, as synagogues try to connect with busy women juggling families and careers.

"It's meant for relaxation and reflection," said Boynton Beach resident Jaelle Kellman. "It's a blessing that hopefully will inspire a lot of younger women to be a part of it."

Since ancient times, the mikvah has served at the center of the Jewish faith and, often, literally at the center of the Jewish community. Before the recent revival, attendance in mikvahs had declined as lives got busier and the notion of a cleansing bath after menstruation was seen as outdated. The Boynton mikvah is the third in Palm Beach County, joining those Boca Raton and North Palm Beach, Ciment said.

"The immersion is the literal embrace of God," Ciment said. "It's the total embodiment of the thinking Jew's quest to find meaning."

Joel Hood can be reached at jhood@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6611.

Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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