By Melissa Evans, Contra Costa Times
To an outsider, the newly completed construction project at Chabad of the Beach Cities, an Orthodox synagogue and community center, may look like a lavish spa.
Visitors must creep around to the side of the building on Vail Avenue in Redondo Beach, where a wide staircase lined with flowers and plants provides a private entrance to an 1,100-square-foot former basement.
Inside, women will be greeted with the sound of trickling water and smell of lavender
potpourri. The walls are painted deep beige and aqua, adorned only with carved mirrors and flowery accents meant to calm and relax.
“We wanted to it be very feminine,” said Sara Mintz, Rabbi Yossi Mintz‘s wife, who helped decorate and design the new “mikvah.”
It was expensive and time-consuming to finish, but the new ceremonial bathhouse is part of one of the most sacred and central elements in the Jewish faith.
Despite its spa-like feel, it is a place of intense privacy – you don’t want to run into someone or socialize in the waiting room, women say.
“You can’t describe the feeling after you’ve submerged and said prayers,” said Alta Gordon, Rabbi Zalman Gordon‘s wife, who also helped with the finishing touches. “When you come out, you feel so pure and renewed.”
Because women are considered the cornerstone of family, and therefore symbolize the continuation of the Jewish faith, it is often said that after a home, the mikvah should be a priority – something to be constructed even before a synagogue.
Still, they are fairly rare. There are only about two dozen mikvahs in Southern California. The only other one in the South Bay is at Chabad of the South Bay on Narbonne Avenue in Lomita.
For that reason, leaders at the Redondo Beach Chabad wanted to make this one special. They brought in world-class designers and spent nearly two years to plan and construct it.
“This started as a $180,000 project, but once we got started we just couldn’t stop,” said Rabbi Yossi Mintz, head of the synagogue. “We didn’t want to cut any corners.”
It wound up costing more than $350,000, including $50,000 just for the hundreds of glass tile pieces that line the inside of the mikvah tub and accent the walls.
A specially designed glass fixture with pressed flowers on the inside cost another $5,000, and leaders opted for an expensive ozone-purification system to keep the water clean.
Jewish law is very strict and specific when it comes to the water used in a mikvah – it has to be connected with a free-flowing source, such as an ocean, stream or rainwater. A reservoir at the bottom of the mikvah connects to piping up to the roof, where rainwater flows into the tub.
Because this is drought-prone Southern California, members of the synagogue drove to the mountains last winter and collected 300 bags of snow to fill the reservoir.
The bathhouse also includes three showering and preparation rooms with mirrors, cushy chairs, scented soaps and fluffy towels. Each woman who visits will be lent a robe.
Before women submerge, they remove all jewelry, makeup and clothing.
“The idea is that nothing should come between you and God,” Sara Mintz said. “God wants only the pure you, nothing else.”
Leaders hope this will be a place women look forward to visiting. One of the goals of the Chabad movement is to reconnect Jews with their faith and restore tradition.
“This is the one place where there are no cell phones, no distractions,” Sara Mintz said. “It’s just you and God, a time to reconnect.”