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Breaking news: Eleventh-Hour Anonymous Gift Saves Union Street Mikveh

by Yitzchok Wagshul

An anonymous donor has come forward at the eleventh-hour and saved the neighborhood’s most heavily-used mikveh, the Chronicle learned this morning. The mikveh on the corner of Union Street and Kingston Avenue, used by nearly a thousand people daily, was slated to close Sunday due to lack of funds.
For many years the mikveh was maintained at the expense of the late senior chossid and philanthropist, Rabbi Schneur Zalman Gurary, o.b.m., who owned the building in which it is housed. After Rabbi Gurary’s passing in September, 2003, his heirs eventually put the building up for sale. Protracted negotiations with Congregation Lubavitch, Inc., which sought to purchase the property as part of a plan to expand 770, have so far been unavailing, reportedly because the asking price is too high.
In the meanwhile, the Gurary family had permitted the mikveh to remain open, but around a half year ago announced that it would be closed due to prohibitive expense. The mikveh actually did close for a brief period after the High Holiday season, but was reopened when the Vaad HaKahal struck a deal with the heirs to cover the mikveh’s costs. According to sources familiar with the arrangement, the Vaad agreed to pay the family $8,500. per month to rent the facility; in addition, ongoing expenses included $2,000. monthly for a team of four bochurim to operate and maintain the mikveh (which is open from 5:30 a.m. to 12 noon every day), plus another $1,000.-$1,200. a month for water, soap, and other supplies.
After paying almost $12,000. a month from then until now, the Vaad HaKahal found itself falling behind with the rent payments, owing to the fact that not enough was being raised to cover the full amount. “A shul that operates a mikveh has some room to juggle in paying for its upkeep,” said a Vaad HaKahal member. “They have kiddushim, sell aliyos, and otherwise get donations, and these things help pay for their mikveh. We don’t have that advantage, and it’s impossible to lay out this kind of money if it doesn’t come in from somewhere.”
Yesterday, at the end of its financial rope, the Vaad posted a sign on the mikveh announcing the facility would close this coming Sunday, Erev Rosh Chodesh Iyar. The Gurary heirs would then have a better chance of selling the building, as buyers have reportedly been reluctant to purchase a property containing an operative mikveh.
However, early this morning, a person approached Moshe Rubashkin, Chairman of the Vaad HaKahal, and handed him an envelope. The donation, he said, was for the mikveh and was in memory of his father, although he preferred to remain anonymous. According to Mr. Rubashkin, the money was enough to keep the mikveh from closing for now.
“We have such a beautiful community here in Crown Heights,” he told the Chronicle. “There are so many programs and benefits, like the Union Street mikveh, that we as a community try to provide, and there are many more that we’d like to provide. Everyone understands that the Vaad HaKahal can’t do all this alone; we’re just volunteers trying our best to act on behalf of all Crown Heights residents. More people, like this wonderful gentleman who helped with the mikveh, should step up to the plate and get involved, so we can continue whatever we’re doing and build up to doing much more.”
Mr. Rubashkin added that donations are still needed to ensure the mikveh’s continued availability. “Community benefits always cost money,” he noted. “When Rabbi Gurary a.h. was alive, he generously built and took care of this central mikveh himself. You don’t get government grants for something like that; it’s a private thing. Now that he’s no longer here, that money has to be replaced by other benefactors of Crown Heights.”
Contributions to help maintain the Union Street mikveh can be made by contacting Moshe Rubashkin in person or in care of the Jewish Community Council. The number is (718) 771-9000.

One Comment

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