Mikvah in Chernowitz

From: <raanan1_at_juno.com>
Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2003 04:53:24 -0400
To: czernowitz-l_at_cornell.edu
Reply-To: raanan1_at_juno.com

I found this while I was trying to find Jeromes Website on Google.
(Okay, I am too lazy to go to my emails....)
So, I put "Chernowitz" into my faithful google and this came up....
I thought perhaps you would find it useful somehow.
Plus, it brought up another question: Does your map pinpoint the shuls
and mikvahs in Chernowitz? Shuls usually have dedication plaques and
records, etc. Info.

I was fortunate to find a beautiful example of the importance of the
observance of this mitzvah, within a wonderful book called "The secret of
Jewish Femininity". The story is as follows:

A Russian woman, sitting in a mikvah in Israel was crying...
"You ask me why I am crying?" exclaimed the newly arrived immigrant. She
wipes a tear from her eye as she relates her experiences to the mikvah
"It is less than a month since I left Russia. This is the first time that
I am going to the mikvah without worrying who is looking over my
There are hundreds of women in Russia who keep Taharat HaMishpachah
(family purity). It is extremely difficult, especially if you have young
children and you work outside of your home. My sixteen years of married
life were a story of hiding, secrecy, and fear. Going to a mikvah was
always a logistical nightmare. Where to go? How to get there? How to
avoid suspicion? How to meet the travel expenses?

You can't imagine the commitment marriage demands from an observant Jew
in Russia. While most brides were concerned with wedding preparations, I
was preoccupied with constructing a plan of action to make observing
Taharat HaMishpacha feasible. My home town did not have a mikvah, the
nearest one was in Chernowitz, eighty kilometers away."

Shortly after the birth of her first daughter, the mikvah and the
adjoining shul in Chernowitz were closed down. Desperate inquiries led to
the discovery of an "officially permitted" mikvah in Lemberg, 115
kilometers away. She would go to work in the morning as usual, then
travel to Lemberg by bus or train in the afternoon. "I had to make th
return trip late the same night in order to report to work the next
morning on time. Otherwise, people would begin asking questions.

These were considered 'ideal conditions.' The real difficulties started
when the Lemberg mikvah was also shut down. We turned back to Chernowitz
where a group of dedicated Jews tried to re-open an old mikvah dating
back to pre-war times. This mikvah was located in the basement of a
private home. It's owner, a Jewish woman, was reluctant to endanger
herself and others by allowing access to the much sought after pool in
her basement. Many hours of imploring and pleading and, of course, the
promise of a handsome fee finally persuaded her to agree.

The next step was to repair the old mikvah and prepare it for use. All
the construction had to be carried out in maximum secrecy and silence. We
could not risk talkative neighbors. The woman would not allow us to build
an entrance from her home. The only way to get in was by crawling through
a hole in the basement wall.

Despite the generous sum of money the house owner received, she would not
allow the use of the mikvah on Sundays and public holidays. On these
days, she ran an active 'black market' in her home, and she did not want
visitors to inquire about the strange figures emerging from the cellar.

Still, we insisted on using the mikvah on those days, promising to stay
out of sight of her customers. I remember many an anxious hour, waiting
patiently by the exit, praying that the last buyer would leave in time
for me to make the last train home.

Years passed, and another old basement mikvah became available in the
center of town. At first, the water was heated by a boiler, but tenants
complained about the unexplainable rise in the electric bill. For fear of
discovery, the electric wiring to the mikvah was disconnected. "I don't
have to tell you how cold water can get in the freezing Russian winter.
We were forced to heat up water on gas stoves upstairs and carry it down
to the basement, tens of buckets each time."

When this was no longer feasible, she tried a different alternative, a
450 kilometer trip across the Carpathian mountains to the city of Ungrod.
Sometimes she was lucky enough to make the trip by plane. Usually, she
would fly one way and take a bus home. "I still shudder at the thought of
those terrifying late night bus rides among the primitive Russian

"When we could afford a vacation to the big cities, Moscow, Leningrad, or
Kiev, I had the opportunity to use the local mikvah. It was sad to behold
the small number of women who took advantage of the mikvah. Many were
afraid to come lest they be questioned, even the attendants could have
been informers.

"Thank God, that's all past history. Here in Eretz Yisrael, I can fulfill
the vital mitzvah of Taharat HaMishpacha in comfort and ease.

Do you still wonder why I am crying?"

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Received on 2003-07-21 13:57:44

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