By Menachem Posner – Chabad.org
Dena Ivgi is one of a small cadre of Jewish women in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, eagerly looking forward to the day when her community will have a mikvah of its own.
Living in an isolated but beautiful city that serves as a gateway to Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park and the National Elk Reserve, Ivgi and her Israeli husband were attracted by the tourist industry that drives the local economy.
But life is different—and sometimes, even difficult—in terms of certain Jewish amenities that are available in larger communities. For example, the quest for a body of natural water for ritual purification every month means driving as many as five hours each way on treacherous mountain roads to Bozeman, Montana, in the north, or Salt Lake City, Utah, in the south.
When a long trip is not an option, it entails immersing in mountain lakes and springs. “There was one time when there were bison out, and I was afraid to dunk,” Ivgi recalls. “By the time I was finally able to dunk in the spring, it was dark outside, and I chickened out until the next day.”
Raizy Mendelsohn, who co-directs Chabad-Lubavitch of Wyoming with her husband, Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, says she has literally had to break ice to help women immerse themselves in the winter—an experience she describes inspirational, but far from optimal.
“During the winter ski season, I get a call every week or so for tourists asking about mikvah,” she says. “But during the high tourist season in the summer, I get a call literally every day. People ask how they can keep the Jewish family ritual of mikvah here, and as of yet, I don’t yet have a comfortable situation to offer them.”
The couple, based in the town of Jackson—in western Wyoming near the border of Idaho, almost completely surrounded by mountains and in the well-known valley of Jackson Hole—serves the roughly 500 permanent Jewish residents and 500 Jewish second-home owners there out of a general population of nearly 10,000. And they get as many as 40,000 tourists annually.
Need Becoming More Acute
For a number of years now, the Mendelsohns—who established their Chabad center in 2007—have been raising awareness and money needed for a local mikvah to serve their community.
“During the summer, we can have as many as 70 people sitting around our Shabbat table,” reports Mendelsohn, “and now that there are direct flights here from New York’s JFK airport, there are more and more people coming all the time, so the need for the mikvah is becoming more and more acute.”
This past September, the Mendelsons purchased a property to house the mikvah in a location described as central, yet private.
As of the writing of this article, with the help of generous matching donors, they’ve raised $105,000—more than half of the $200,000 needed to complete the project.
“Thank G‑d, our community has come a long way,” says Mendelsohn, “and having a beautiful mikvah here in Jackson Hole is going to allow so many more women to experience how mikvah can change their lives.”
To donate to the Mikvah donation matching fund, click here.