Brought to you by COLlive and Hasidic Archives
By Dovid Zaklikowski
Young and energetic, Rabbi Shmuel Bogomilsky was always ready for an adventure. Like many other Chabad rabbinical students, he spent the summer months traveling to locations across the globe to help Jewish communities in need of material and spiritual assistance.
In the summer of 1963, Rabbi Bogomilsky visited more than ten communities across Asia and Europe, eventually making his way to Kabul, Afghanistan. He carried with him a recommendation from Mayer and Yehuda Abraham, Afghani gem dealers in New York whom he met through his travel agent.
In the Kabul airport, Rabbi Bogomilsky noticed that an American man was watching him closely. The man approached and introduced himself as a member of the United States Peace Corps stationed in the country. It turned out that he was Jewish and had a working relationship with the local Jewish community. He arranged for the rabbi to meet one of the community leaders: Aron Aranoff.
Mr. Aranoff was wary at first, wondering what this young man from Brooklyn wanted from him and the community. But he soon recognized that the rabbi was there only to help. That night a meeting was called and Rabbi Bogomilsky introduced himself.
The community’s situation was dire. Only a remnant remained of the original five hundred families, the vast majority having moved to Israel after the War of Independence in 1948. By the time the rabbi arrived, there was no synagogue and no kosher Mikvah. The last few Jewish families were forced to share homes with Muslims. Prayer services were held quietly in private apartments.
The community was in a slumber, and Rabbi Bogomilsky wanted to revive it. During his short visit he began to lobby the community about the importance of having a synagogue building and a Mikvah. He organized the funds necessary to begin building and encouraged community leaders to seek permits.
Back in New York, he continued his efforts. He wrote letters prompting the community to move ahead with the building. The construction of the Mikvah, a complicated process usually overseen by a rabbi, would prove the most challenging part of the project.
Rabbi Bogomilsky wrote a detailed plan and had an artist create a rendering of the Mikvah. The Rebbe took great interest in this project and reviewed the plans to make sure that the minute details would be understood. Among many other suggestions, the Rebbe stressed that the measurements should be precise, reminding Rabbi Bogomilsky to take into account the thickness of the tiles when giving the dimensions for the pit.
The community in Kabul raised half of the needed funds, and they asked for Rabbi Bogomilsky’s help in raising the remaining $10,000. Rabbi Bogomilsky approached Mayer and Yehuda Abraham, who had introduced him to his Afghani friends. He also arranged for them, and the Afghani community, to visit the Rebbe.
The Rebbe spoke to the gem dealers about the importance of a Mikvah and offered to give $4000 towards the project himself. The men said that they would fund it, accepting only a nominal contribution from the Rebbe.
When the community began to dig the pit for the Mikvah, they found an underground well. They used this natural water source for the Mikvah, the preferred construction. The remaining Afghani Jews used the Mikvah and synagogue for many years. Today, there is only one Jew left in Kabul, who cares for the synagogue.
The Abrahams stayed in contact with the Rebbe. The headquarters of their gem dealership were in New York, but they had offices in several countries, including one in Bangkok, Thailand, and at one point Mr. Mayer Abraham was spending much of his time there.
Hearing of this, the Rebbe encouraged him to build a Mikvah in Bangkok. The Rebbe wrote:
There is surely no need to emphasize to you at length the great importance of a Mikvah, which is one of the essential, divinely given mitzvot, which has an impact not only on persons observing it, but also on their children and children’s children, to the end of posterity. It is also a mitzvah which hastens the Geula Shleima [the complete redemption], which is connected with purity, as it is written, “I shall sprinkle upon you pure water, and you shall be pure” (Ezek. 36:25).
The Bangkok community was small. Perhaps only two or three women would ever use the Mikvah, yet the Rebbe felt that it was important to build one, even for so few. Mr. Abraham, always open to new challenges and passionate about Jewish causes, shared the Rebbe’s enthusiasm for the project.
Building a Mikvah in Bangkok was not going to be easy, however. Sometimes called the Venice of the East, the city is built above canals, which makes digging deep into the ground difficult. The Mikvah would need to have a unique design, where the pool would be aboveground.
When Rabbi Shalom Ber Hecht took charge of the synagogue where Mr. Mayer Abraham was a member, his visits to the Rebbe became more frequent.
One year in the late 1970s, the Abrahams and members of the Afghani Jewish community brought the Rebbe a birthday gift of precious historical documents. When Mr. Abraham made a toast, the Rebbe told him that the best birthday gift would be the Mikvah in Bangkok.
The Abrahams promised that they would build it, but the project lagged. Despite the many challenges involved, the Rebbe never gave up. Every time Mr. Abraham visited, the Rebbe would ask him: “What is with the Mikvah in Bangkok?”
It took some ten years until the Mikvah was completed in the 1980s. Shortly thereafter Chabad representatives moved to the city. Today, the Mikvah is used by many more than the two or three that it was built for.