(Above): Rabbis Loren Filson Lapidus, Joshua Heller, Analia Bortz and Michael Bernstein bless the opening of the mikvah by singing the Shehecheyanu.
The Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah aims to provide a ritual place for all in the Jewish community, but its first challenge at its opening ceremony Sunday, Nov. 15, was finding a place for everyone who wanted to join the celebration.
By the time event hosts Sherry Frank and Ronnie van Gelder welcomed the crowd, it was standing room only in the beit midrash of Congregation B’nai Torah, which is providing space and support for the independent mikvah.
The participants in the ceremony and those who came to watch represented a broad cross section of the community, matching the diversity in the more than 20 Jewish organizations that are
partners in the facility, known as MACoM, an acronym that forms the Hebrew word for place.
Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Sephardic congregations have joined to build and maintain MACoM, which began as the shared vision of Rabbi Alvin Sugarman of The Temple and Rabbi Joshua Heller of B’nai Torah.
Native Atlantan Frank called the opening “another historic milestone in our community.”
While Rabbi Sugarman couldn’t make the ceremony, the rabbis who joined Rabbi Heller on Nov. 15 included Michael Bernstein of Congregation Gesher L’Torah, Analia Bortz of Congregation Or Hadash, Elana Perry and Brad Levenberg of Temple Sinai, Peter Berg and Loren Filson Lapidus of The Temple, Harvey Winokur of Temple Kehillat Chaim, Neil Sandler of Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Shalom Lewis of Congregation Etz Chaim, Malka Packer of InterfaithFamily Atlanta, and Ruth Abusch-Magder of Be’chol Lashon.
But the stories told at the ceremony emphasized that MACoM exists to serve all Jewish people:
- Cookie Aftergut said she didn’t know about the mikvah while growing up at AA, but after surviving Stage 2 breast cancer in 2002, she felt broken and in need of a cleansing of body and soul. When she immersed for the first time, she said, she felt G-d’s presence.
- Teenager Aliza Abusch-Magder, the daughter of Rabbi Abusch-Magder and Epstein Head of School David Abusch-Magder, said she learned about the mikvah before a wedding when she was in fifth grade, and although her friends have considered it strange, she has embraced the spirituality of immersion before her bat mitzvah celebration and after her move to Atlanta this year.
- Arlene Lester, a member of The Temple, said the mikvah helped her answer a personalized letter from G-d to join the Jewish people. One of the prescribed uses of a mikvah is for conversion.
- Alice Wertheim, the president of the MACoM board, said she knew nothing about the mikvah while growing up in a Reform congregation in Montgomery, Ala., and despite her excitement about and active role in the community mikvah, she has yet to immerse. She plans to take her first dip into MACoM’s waters when her yearlong mourning period for her mother ends.
MACoM got its start last year with two lead gifts totaling $300,000 and has since raised an additional $425,000 from more than 100 donors. Wertheim said the organization needs $200,000 in additional donations to be on secure financial footing.
In explaining how B’nai Torah chose to give up its own aging mikvah during its renovations the past two years and instead to become the facilitator of a group effort, Rabbi Heller said the congregation wondered, “Would the community step up? And it did.”
Photos by Michael Jacobs