REDONDO BEACH, CA — A sacred mission turned into a huge headache Wednesday for members of Chabad of the Beach Cities, who trekked to the hills in search of snow – and then got stuck in it.
The synagogue members left at 4:30 a.m. for the hills east of Bakersfield to find snow they needed for a new ceremonial bath house they’re building. With fierce weather on the way, the group wouldn’t have had to go farther than the Grapevine for fresh powder.
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But the weather slowed travel in the morning, and then the truck’s brakes went out in the early afternoon, stalling them further.
And then, at about 5 p.m., the Grapevine closed because of snowy conditions, making their arrival uncertain.
“It’s been a long day for them,” said Rabbi Yossi Mintz, head of the Chabad of the Beach Cities, which runs the Jewish Community Center in Redondo Beach. “Thank goodness nobody was hurt.”
The group set off to stuff 300 bags with snow, which under Jewish law can serve as the natural water source for a new mikvah set to open in the next month. Central to the Orthodox tradition, mikvahs are primarily used for women to cleanse themselves after menstruation each month.
Strict regulations dictate where the water can come from – it has to either flow from a natural spring, or come from a flowing source that purifies itself. Collecting stagnant rainwater wouldn’t be permissible, so they decided instead on snow, which melts in a way that satisfies the rules.
They needed 300 bags in order to fill the 150-gallon tank at the bottom of the mikvah, which has to be in contact with the rest of the water – from any source – in the tub.
The mikvah is one of the most sacred rites in the Jewish faith. Strict rules guide everything from its construction to who can use it and when.
The only other mikvah in the South Bay is at Chabad of the South Bay on Narbonne Avenue in Lomita, and there are only about two dozen in California.
The hassle of finding snow and attempting to lug it back amid mechanical problems is well worth it, leaders said – noting tradition amid problems is, in some ways, itself a tradition.