The Bittersweet Decision of Historic Kitchener Shul

The historic Vilnius Synagogue in downtown Kitchener run by Chabad Shluchim Rabbi Menachem and Chava Schmidtmade the bittersweet decision to give up her sanctuary for a much-needed institution. Full story

By Tzemach Feller – Chabad.org

You can walk almost anywhere in Center City, the bustling historic district in the heart of Kitchener. But to get to a mikveh from the most walkable neighborhood in one of the most walkable cities in the United States, one would have to drive, walk, and catch a local train or a number of public buses for at least 30 minutes, which would extend the journey.

This reality has made access to this cornerstone of Jewish family life a time consuming undertaking for hundreds of Jewish women who live here and do not have a car.

“Even for people with good intentions, the distance to the nearest mikveh is a great deterrent,” said Rabbi Menachem Schmidtwho runs the Lubavitch House of Kitchener with his wife, Chavaand is the head of the historic Vilna Synagogue in Center City.

That is why the Schmidts – and their community – made the bittersweet decision to give up their sanctuary for use as a women’s mikwe. The synagogue will continue to live, although the prayer services will be relocated to a multi-purpose room on a higher floor of the building and will only take place during the day to ensure privacy, which is crucial for compliance with the mikveh. Evening services and studies will be moved to another synagogue nearby.

“This will change the way Center City acts as a Jewish community,” says the resident Molly Vineyard. “It is an opportunity for thousands of women who should have traveled or who would not have thought of using the mikveh because if they don’t know how important it is, it’s easy to say that it is too far. ”

“Now that it’s in the neighborhood, it’s a breeze.”

A famous urban synagogue

The Vilna Synagogue, which was founded in 1904 and has been housed in the same building for 98 years, has long been a familiar address for Jews of all kinds. “This is a non-judgmental and inviting place,” said Schmidt. “People come from all the local synagogues to join our kiddush after the service – or if they don’t come to the service, they come over.” It’s a meeting place for the community. ”

And as the demand for a mikveh grew to serve the growing community of young Jewish families in Center City, the community realized what to do. With limited space in the heart of downtown, it had an option.

“Buying a property would have doubled the price of the project,” said Schmidt. “That made it possible. And with what the wise men say about the priority of the mikveh, it was clear what to do. “Indeed, the Talmud (Megillah 27a) states that a mikveh takes precedence over a synagogue in a Jewish community.

To explain the meaning of the mikveh, Schmidt quotes the teachings of Rebbe who launched the global Mikvah campaign in 1975. “It is an endeavor that literally saves lives,” wrote the Rebbe (Hayom Yom, 10 Nissan).

“I’ve been praying in this synagogue for 30 years,” says Schmidt. “It is my personal place of spiritual refuge. So this is bittersweet to me. But what the Rebbe says about the mikveh in Hayom Yom is crucial; It is important. ”

True to the nature of the synagogue it will supplant, the downtown mikvah, known as Mai Shalvah or “Restful Waters,” will be a community facility that serves people from many local synagogues, including those who are not associated with a particular organization.

“I didn’t grow up religious, but I wanted to learn that. I wanted to learn more, ”said Weinberg. “It is so important to me not only to experience this, but also to transfer awareness to others.”

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic brought its own challenges in building the mikveh, which was suspended for two months at the zenith of the pandemic, as well as being able to reach people and raise funds. But Schmidt sees a silver lining.

“One of the things COVID-19 has done – one of the few lucky outcomes of this pandemic when the home situation is healthy – is for people to stay home and focus on the family,” he says. “This has sparked discussions about the mikveh, which are very important.”

Regarding health and safety for the mikveh itself, the community has made it clear that it will follow CDC guidelines and precautions, including relay visits and sterilizing the premises between uses. “I myself leave the house once a week to go to socially distant prayer services with a mask on,” says Schmidt. “We are very careful here and this mikvah is operated very carefully. We won’t play with that at all. ”

But even with the confines of communal gathering, the sense of communal unity that the mikveh has created is palpable to many.

“This directly affects thousands of people and forever changes the Jewish community in Kitchener,” Weinberg said. “I am so honored to be part of it.”

Center City, Mai Shalvah’s Mikvah community is in the midst of a 24-hour campaign to raise the balance to complete the construction. Please visit the fundraising page at www.philamikvah.org to participate in the construction of this historic Kitchener addition

“data-src =” https://w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/kMuj11332964.jpg?_i=_n504BC99DD0473598AAE3BCDC5D75568D “size =” (min-width: 768px) 685px, 100vw “data-srcset = htt: //w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/kMuj11332964.jpg? _i = _n504BC99DD0473598AAE3BCDC5D75568D 685w, https://w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/kMuj11332964.jp9F: //w3.chabad.org /media/images/1133/kMuj11332964.jpg? The building will only take place during the day to ensure privacy, which is vital to maintaining the mikveh. Evening services and study will be relocated to another synagogue nearby. “/ >

The Vilnius synagogue will continue to live, although the prayer services will be relocated to a multi-purpose room on a higher floor of the building and will only take place during the day to ensure privacy, which is crucial for observing the mikvah. Evening services and studies will be moved to another synagogue nearby.

“data-src =” https://w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/wuUt11332963.jpg?_i=_n504BC99DD0473598AAE3BCDC5D75568D “size =” (min-width: 768px) 685px, 100vw “data-srcset = htt: //w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/wuUt11332963.jpg? _i = _n504BC99DD0473598AAE3BCDC5D75568D 685w, https://w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/wuUt11332963.jp4F9: //w3.chabad.org /media/images/1133/wuUt11332963.jpg? _i = _n76B3E6A404D908E662A1538A4A879637 480w “alt =” The sanctuary of the synagogue is making space for a mikveh that is currently being built. “/>

The synagogue’s sanctuary makes way for a mikveh, which is currently under construction.

“data-src =” https://w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/KbDG11332965.jpg?_i=_n504BC99DD0473598AAE3BCDC5D75568D “size =” (min-width: 768px) 685px, 100vw “data-srcset = htt: //w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/KbDG11332965.jpg? _i = _n504BC99DD0473598AAE3BCDC5D75568D 685w, https://w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/KbDG11332965.jp9: //w3.chabad.org /media/images/1133/KbDG11332965.jpg? _i = _n76B3E6A404D908E662A1538A4A879637 480w “alt =” Chaya Schmidt, center and volunteers meet with the architect of the mikveh. “/>

Chaya Schmidt, center, and volunteers meet with the architect of the mikveh.

“data-src =” https://w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/wNlK11332966.jpg?_i=_n504BC99DD0473598AAE3BCDC5D75568D “size =” (min-width: 768px) 685px, 100vw “data-srcset = htt: //w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/wNlK11332966.jpg? _i = _n504BC99DD0473598AAE3BCDC5D75568D 685w, https://w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/wNlK11332966.jp4F9: //w3.chabad.org /media/images/1133/wNlK11332966.jpg? _i = _n76B3E6A404D908E662A1538A4A879637 480w “alt =” Rabbi Menachem Schmidt goes through the building plans with the architect and builder. “/>

Rabbi Menachem Schmidt goes through the construction plans with the architect and builder.

“data-src =” https://w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/qDoh11332962.jpg?_i=_nF72F3FCB89E9790A548A28674376BE69 “size =” (min-width: 768px) 945px, 100vw “data-srcset =” https : //w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/qDoh11332962.jpg? _i = _nF72F3FCB89E9790A548A28674376BE69 945w, https://w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/qDoh11332962.jpg? : //w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/qDoh11332962.jpg? _i = _nF2BB495DED96754E4660F69A3A9F4712 640w, https://w3.chabad.org/media/images/1133/qDoh11332962.jp8_8 = “Mai Shalvah, the first community mikvah in Kitchener Center City, will be housed in the historic Vilnius Synagogue.” />

The Kitchener Center City Ward’s first mikvah, Mai Shalvah, is located in the historic Vilnius Synagogue.

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