by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon
Being that this Sunday the 27th of Sivan is the yahrzeit of my mother Cheyena Avtzon a”h, I am posting a chapter of her fruitful life.
In November 1953, my parents arrived from Europe, under the auspices of HIAS, and settled in Detroit, Michigan. Coming there was somewhat of a culture shock. Among other things, Cholov Yisroel was non-existent, and my father polished up his shechitah of chickens (which he had learned in Russia, but didn’t really practice), so there would be fleishigs in the house. He was the only Jew in town with a full beard, and my mother was one of three women who wore a sheitel.
Taharas hamishpachah was kept by some additional families, but sadly there were not enough people who observed it to show the communal leaders that it was a priority. Subsequently, the one mikvah was not kept up to par, and quite often my mother would go there herself to clean it.
Her efforts bore fruit, as one woman told another that Mrs. Binah (as my mother was then called) made sure the mikvah was clean, and more families began using it. A few years later, they formed a committee to spruce it up.
A brochure was prepared and signed by the Jewish Orthodox Women’s Mikvah Committee. As with all of the numerous peulos (activities) she was involved in, she sent a copy of the brochure to the Rebbe.
The Rebbe replied that the word Orthodox should be removed. He explained that there are many women and families who don’t consider themselves Orthodox, yet they keep or would be willing to keep taharas hamishpachah. By stressing that this was an Orthodox committee or project, the committee might inadvertently cause them to refrain from participating. The brochure was redone, and the Rebbe’s words were indeed realized: many women who didn’t consider themselves Orthodox frequented the mikvah.
Years later, in the mid 1960’s, as the Jewish community began moving to the outskirts of the city (Oak Park), my mother saw the tremendous need to build a new mikvah there. She convinced the committee to build a mikvah there, although that area was then the outskirts of the city. Now, over fifty years later, it is the prime location of the Jewish community.
During one of her many yechidusin, the Rebbe inquired in detail about the progress in the planning and design of the mikvah. When they discussed the tiles, my mother mentioned that she had a friend who promised to buy them for the mikvah. The Rebbe instructed her to convince the friend to buy tiles imported from Italy, explaining that it would create a tremendous sense of prestige and could convince additional people to use the mikvah. He even asked about the color of the tiles, stressing that they be light-colored and feminine.
After answering the first few questions, my mother said, “I don’t want to waste the Rebbe’s time on such insignificant points.”
The Rebbe firmly replied: “If this will encourage even one more family to keep taharas hamishpachah, then it is worthwhile to spend as much time as necessary.” When my mother didn’t bring up any additional points, the Rebbe continued the conversation by asking her about the towels etc., emphasizing that they should be of superior quality and should match the color of the tiles.
As far as we know, this was the most modern mikvah to be built at that time, and indeed many women who were informed about its beautiful and calming design came to see it and began using it. Indeed, when others were considering to build mikvaos for their communities, the Rebbe suggested that they follow the guidelines he gave for the mikvah in Detroit.
Even after the new mikvah was built, although it had its own committee, she continued to take care of so many details relating to its maintenance and upkeep. However, she always encouraged others to become involved and gave them the credit. To her, the only points that were important were, “Does the Rebbe want this to be accomplished?” and, “Are more families benefiting from it?
Nonetheless, after her petirah in 5746 (1986), the community decided to give her the recognition she refused to accept during her lifetime and affixed a plaque thanking her for her decades of service and dedication.
This weeks’ story is being posted in honor of the birth of our new granddaughter, Devorah Leah bas Chaya Mushka, l’arichus yomim v’shonim tovos.
Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He is available to farbreng in your community and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org