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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

From manholes to mikvahs

by Erin Cohen
of The Chronicle staff

Bruce Glaser recently added a new product to his company, APS Concrete Products, Inc., product line. In addition to pre-case transportable buildings, bridge systems and other concrete products, including pipes and manholes, APS now manufactures mikvahs.
The idea arose when Glaser met with Rabbis Menachem, Dovid and Moshe Rapoport “to see what I could do to maybe help them” with the building of the Joseph and Rebecca Peltz Center for Jewish Life in Mequon.

And though Glaser did not end up building that mikvah, his meetings coincided with the visit of Rabbi Gershon Greenbaum, a “mikvah consultant” from the Chabad in St. Paul, Minn., who was in town to offer guidance to the Rapoports on their new mikvah.

Grossbaum, who has “traveled internationally helping people with mikvah projects,” he said, had been looking for a concrete company that would be willing to go in on an idea that he had for a pre-cast mikvah.

During his travels, Grossbaum noticed that in smaller, more isolated communities, it was “a bit of a challenge” to install new mikvahs.

The traditional method of construction involves pouring concrete with the use of ready mix trucks in the place of the mikvah to form the basic structure, followed by placing tiles over it. This was difficult and expensive to coordinate in small communities, Grossbaum said.

That was when the pre-cast mikvah idea “started developing in my mind,” he added.
After Grossbaum met with Glaser, he was able to secure funds to support the initial design and manufacturing of the 42-piece mikvah kit, from Abraham Bistritsky of New York, who donated the funds in memory of his brother Rabbi Levi Bistritsky, who had been the chief rabbi of Safed in Israel.

Grossbaum sells the pre-cast mikvah as the Levy Bistritsky mikvah. “We’re definitely honored to carry the name,” he said.

Challenges in design

“Rabbi Grossbaum created the original design,” Glaser said and “we worked with him to modify” it and “work out some practical issues.”

“There were all sorts of halachic [Jewish legal] issues in designing it,” Glaser said.
But through several meetings that included the participation of Glaser’s “Lutheran operations manager and Russian Jewish engineer” — as well as “many iterations in design,” the mikvah kit design was completed.

APS manufactures the kits specifically for Grossbaum, who travels to each site for installation. Grossbaum has installed four of the kits so far, including one in Brooklyn, N.Y. Another is about to be delivered to a location in Montreal, Grossbaum said.
“There is demand,” Glaser said, “but not a lot of demand.”

Though pre-cast kits are “not the preferred method,” they are “halachically acceptable” and lower in cost, Glaser said.

In addition, noted Grossbaum, the process of installation of the pre-cast mikvah takes “less then a day,” where the standard method could take two weeks.

Glaser said he is personally “excited about making a product for Jewish use.”

It “is a thrill to hear the whole company talking about mikvahs,” he said. And because his employees know the mikvah is used for religious purposes, they take the entire manufacturing process “very seriously."

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