By COLlive reporter
By the 1990s, East Flatbush seemed to be a forsaken neighborhood. Only a few dozen Jewish families remained; most of the community facilities, including the men’s mikvah, were rundown and dirty.
Yet, each year, before Yom Kippur, when the men in the congregation were allowed to use the women’s mikvah, they were astonished to find that it was spotless and perfectly maintained.
The mikvah at 340 E 52nd Street was maintained by Rabbi Chaim Meir Bukiet, the illustrious Talmudic scholar, famed Chabad rabbinic figure, and Rosh Yeshivah of the Central United Lubavitch Yeshiva.
There was nothing Rabbi Bukiet wouldn’t do for the Ritualarium of East Flatbush, as it is officially known. Donating a third of his monthly salary, organizing a yearly fundraising dinner, and ordering a taxi for the mikvah lady to travel from Crown Heights all fell within the respected rabbi’s purview.
“Women would come from Williamsburg, Remsen Village, Mill Basin, Crown Heights, and one woman from East Flatbush,” says Shoshana Hammer, a long-time mikvah attendant. “Then there were the many conversions that were performed [there] by Rabbi JJ Hecht.”
In 1957, the then-thriving community came together to fund the building of the mikvah. It would include four pools, three for the women and one for the men. The premises would have a large parking lot, separate entrances for men and women, and an apartment for the attendant.
Not long afterward, however, the community began to shrink, and the mikvah became a financial burden to the remaining Jews. By 1966, there was a move to close it down completely.
It was then that the Lubavitch rabbis in the area wrote to the Rebbe to ask what to do. The Rebbe’s unequivocal response can be found in the personal diary of his chief aide, Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Isaac Hodakov: “The mother of Moshe was only one woman.”
Since the passing of Rabbi Hecht in 1991, Rabbi Bukiet in 1998, and Rabbi Michoel Teitelbaum in 2005, the Oholei Torah institution assured community members and family members of Rabbis Teitelbaum, Hecht and Bukiet that they were taking care of the premises.
However, the Rabbinic Board of East Flatbush recently discovered a real estate sale listing on COLlive Classifieds titled “East Flatbush Price Reduction.”
“Selling a 40× 100 lot zoned R5 in East Flatbush Brooklyn,” it reads. “Existing structure to be gutted. Only a 2-minute walk from the very busy retail hub of Utica and Church Avenues. Was 750, now price reduction for quick sale. Priced at 650k all cash. Build a 5000 sq ft mansion, or apartments up to 5000 sq ft. All serious non-contingent offers will be considered.”
The notice shocked the Rabbinic Board of East Flatbush, which is still active, as well as current and former community members.
“Today, the East Flatbush community had once again grown to hundreds of families and the mikvah was in constant use, until recently when the organization allowed the property to deteriorate and blocked all efforts to keep it in shape,” the rabbis said in an email to COLlive.com.
“The Ritualarium (Mikvah) does not belong to the above organization,” they said about Oholei Torah which is based in Crown Heights. “We seek, in whichever way possible, to halt the sale and return the property to its legal and rightful owners.”
The Rabbinical Board wants the Mikvah to once again be returned to its previous glory and used again for the Jewish community of East Flatbush,” they said.
“(We) resolved to do whatever was necessary to keep the mikvah’s doors open.”
Oholei Torah did not respond to a request for comment.