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November 14, 2014     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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November 14, 2014

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PAGE 10A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 14, 2014 By Deborah Fineblum Schabb Among the things that Jewish women value most about the mikveh (ritual bath) experience is the feel- ing of seclusion, sanctity, and safety. "But the need to feel re- spected and comfortable is the most important," says Chaya Sett, who since mak- ing aliyah from Brooklyn has been a self-described "regular" in the mikvehs of Jerusalem's Old City. "It has to be a very safe place in your life because it's also when you are at your most vulnerable." Sett speaks for many mikveh-going women in the wake of the Oct. 14 arrest of Rabbi Barry Freundel, a nationally recognized Jewish leader, on charges of voyeur- ism at his Washington, D.C.- based synagogue's mikveh. Freundel pleaded not guilty to the charges. It is precisely because of the vulnerability issue that many women are calling for increased security measures and, from some quarters, a major shift in oversight of mikveh practices. For Rivkah Lambert Adler, who made aliyah from Bal- timore in 2010 and lives in Ma'ale Adumim, the Freundel case has beamed a spotlight on gender-related leadership issues. "There is absolutely no reason why men should hold any power in a women's mikveh," she says. "The leadership of every woman's mikveh should be in the hands of women. If they need to consult with a male professional sometimes, that's fine, as long as women are holding the reins of lead- ership. In the meantime, I pray that this incident in D.C. will open some eyes to the bigger picture so that we, as a community, can make some mid-course corrections, even before the arrival of Moshiach (the messiah)." Carrie Bornstein, director ofMaayim Haayim, a Boston- area community mikveh and education center, says she has heard reactions from women that are "across the board" since the Freundel story broke. "Part of what we're hear- ing is that the privacy, almost the secrecy surrounding mikveh use, combined with the fact that it's men who tend to be in power positions, can be a bad combination, which can make women vulnerable," she says. When a woman tells her, "I'm not comfortable going [to the mikveh] anymore," Bornstein believes that is Hadas Parush/Flash 90 A "balanit" (mikveh dunker) inspects the Neve Neeman Mikveh in Hod HaSharon, Israel From a Coin The Life of a Senator On view through March 22, 2015 Sponsored by Congregation Beth Jacob, The Stone Family, Ministp/ of Fore~gn Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Miami Mikki & Morris Futernick, Isabel Bemfeld Ande,,son. Kenneth & Barbara Bloom and Pinnacle Housing Group. Toss Into Politics: The Chosen: Selected Works From Florida Jewish Art Collectors November 4, 2014 - March 8, 2015 Senator Richard B. Stone at Work in His Washington, D.C. Office, c. 1975. 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"It feels like a big step back," Bornstein says. Bornstein, who is slated to deliver a workshop on mikveh use at a Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance conference in New York on Nov. 23, offers a prescription for change that includes greater female "ownership" of the mikveh process as well as the training of volunteers "to have a heightened aware- ness and paying attention not just to the stray hair on a woman's back, but to keep their eyes wide open, to be a real support also in difficult times when necessary." The goal is "to make the mikveh a comfortable, wel- coming, and safe place," adds Bornstein. Rachel Klein of Baltimore, who has studied with Freun- del over the years, says, "I do think and have always thought that women should be in charge of everything to Information 866.74 .6655 www.c- w.h e. 0 rg Cornerstone is committed to caring for all hospice patients regardless of o payer source or ability to pay. 100 '/o Covered by Medicare & Medicaid orncrstonc HOSPICE & PALLIATIVE CARE Your local, not-far-profit Hospice, licensed since 1984. 5019096 do with running the mikveh. Imagine a woman being in charge of a men's mikva." "As a rabbi [Freundel] did very good work for the com- munity," says Klein. "As a man who did not know how to heal himself, he did ter- rible damage." Into this perceived vac- uum of leadership steps the "yoetzet halacha." A relatively new profession, a yoetzet is a Torah-knowl- edgeable woman certified to serve as an advisor for other women regarding family purity and other areas of Jewish law and practice affecting couples, fami- lies, sexual relations, and women's medical issues. As director of the Miriam Glau- bach Center's U.S. Yoatzot Halacha Fellows Program, Atara Eis manages and trains these women. "I grieve as a human be- ing, for the rabbinic world in which I live and breathe," Eis writes in a Times of Israel blog. "I grieve as a yoetzet halacha, whose job it is to educate women to love this mitzvah, to love halacha (Jewish law), and to carve out a woman's place in Jew- ish learning and leadership specifically through the ancient mikveh waters. I grieve for our community, which has taken yet another hit from a leader who has al- legedly undermined its most fundamental values." A yoetzet halacha, Eis adds in an interview with JNS. org, is a woman well-versed in Jewish law who is trained to answer the toughest of questions and keep an eye on mikveh practices--to make sure that an incident similar to the Freundel episode does not resurface for a mikveh- going woman ever again. "People are taking cheap shots at the whole idea of mikveh but I think we need not throw the baby out with the mikveh bathwater," says Eis. "Instead, we need to re-embrace and restore the trust and confidence women feel in mikveh." Privacy, which Eis defines as wholly different from secrecy, needs to "remain an important part of this intimate experience of immersing in sacred waters," she says. But at a time when some are calling for increasingly stringent safeguards, from locks and ID requirements to random sweeps by outside agencies on the lookout for embedded spying equip- ment, there are plenty of observant women who do not see the recent scandal as a trend--or even as a cau- tionary tale or an indication that the system needs fixing. "This is an isolated crime," remarks Judy Brodt of Jerusalem, who speaks for many in the observant world. A kallah (bride) teacher who has taught countless women over the years the ancient Jewish' laws of family purity and has sent them to the mik~eh~ on the eve of their wedding, she adds, "We can no more blame the mikvehs for his scheming than any other criminal. It says nothing about our mikvehs and everything about him." Toby Pomerantz, a "bala- nit" (mikveh dunker) for 21 years in Ma'ale Adumim, says, "We need ways to protect the women and the system." In Pomerantz's mikveh, there is a head balanit who is in charge of the others and another woman in charge of the entire mikveh. "And at no time is a man allowed on the premises after sundown, when the women start to arrive," she explains. "[The Freundel incident] needs to teach us to be more careful, to be able to use this sad mess to make us even more careful," she says. Bornstein, the Boston- area mikveh director, warns against demonizing men in positions of authority. "Yes, having women in leadership positions is neces- sary, but I don't think that driving a further wedge between men and women is the answer," she says. "[Men and women] need to work to- gether to ensure the safety of the women and the sanctity of the mikveh." Eis agrees. "We can see that the status quo wasn't working, so in one year I hope we will look back and see that we as the Jewish people were able to use this an opportunity to strengthen the institution of mikveh," she says. "We need to be able to look back and see that we were not going to let one man have the power to destroy this beautiful part of our tradition."