Pinellas County Jewish women traveled to Sarasota or Tampa for years to take part in a ritual bath said to put marriages on a holy plane. But, in about a month, they will be able to visit Pinellas County's first ritual bath, called a mikvah, at Young Israel-Chabad of Pinellas County in Palm Harbor.
"I prefer minutes to half an hour," said Martine Lubotsky, 48, who lives in Palm Harbor, and typically travels a half hour each way to Tampa, where a mikvah opened three years ago.
Sunday, about 85 people attended a dedication ceremony for the mikvah at the Chabad, located at 3696 Fisher Road near Belcher and Curlew roads.
"I hope now that it's more convenient and accessible," said Chabad director Rabbi Shalom Adler. "This will encourage more and more people to observe (the ritual)."
A mikvah spiritually prepares Jewish women for sex with their husbands, Adler said. It's based on biblical commandments that forbid sex during a woman's menstrual period and for seven days after.
Couples are also urged to avoid any activities that may lead to sex.
"It's a very spiritual uplifting thing," said Adler's wife Chanie, who herself made treks to Sarasota and Tampa. "When you're separated, you get to know each other on a much deeper, different level."
Married 15 years, Lubotsky said the mikvah creates a freshness to her marriage.
"Every month, it's a new wedding for the couple," she said.
Mikvahs are more commonly used by Orthodox women. But there seems to be a resurgence of the tradition, with more and more Orthodox and non-Orthodox women taking part in the ritual, said Chabad program director Rabbi Levi Hodakov.
Rabbi Adler emphasized that the mikvah is about spiritual purity, not physical cleanliness. It's a misconception, he said, that women are considered unclean during their periods.
Jewish law requires that mikvah waters come from a living source, such as rain or an ocean. To meet that requirement, natural water must touch chlorinated tap water used in the mikvah.
Rain water collects on the roof of the structure and travels through a pipe to a pool that sits below the chlorinated pool so the two waters touch, Rabbi Adler said.
Plans for the mikvah began about six years ago, but construction didn't start until about a year ago, Chanie Adler said. The initial estimate for the mikvah was about $110,000, Rabbi Adler said. But the pricetag, funded from private donations, ended up at $200,000. Inflation and efforts to make the mikvah as aesthetically pleasing as possible doubled the costs.
The Chabad in Palm Harbor is part of a movement that provides education, services and programs to Jews around the world. Its mikvah creates a spa experience with lush bisque tiled bathing areas where women prepare. Above the pool, hangs a serene painting of the Sea of Galilee.
Before immersing in the waters, women bathe, trim their nails and remove all make up and jewelry. The custom varies, but generally women immerse completely in the bath, say a prayer and immerse once or twice more, Adler said.
Exact fees haven't been determined, but Chanie Adler said annual dues will likely be about $100 with an additional $18 a month each time a woman uses the facility.
Others would pay about $36 each time they visited the mikvah, but no one would be turned away if they could not afford it.
Mikvahs also are used for conversions, and by some men on the Sabbath or holidays. But this mikvah will be used only by married women, Adler said.
Several women say they're glad they won't have to travel so far. But Rabbi Hodakov said this mikvah's significance goes far beyond convenience.
"Jewish law maintains you can't really have the status of a community until you have your own mikvah," he said.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.