New York's Jewish Elite to Dip in '5-star' Ritual Bath

In a few days, wealthy Jewish women in New York City's Upper East Side will be able to add one more pleasure to their lives. In addition to sitting in fancy cafes and going to fitness clubs, they will be able to visit a local luxury mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) with two immersion pools and eight private bathrooms. Two additional rooms have been outfitted at the Jacques and Hannah Schwalbe Mikveh for brides preparing for their first ritual immersion before their wedding.

The opening of the new mikveh was delayed for several days due to unanticipated technical difficulties.

"Women who live in this area will be able to come here in a few days," says Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski. "There were also delays in the planning and then during the construction stages."

Krasnianski remarked that the problems and disruptions are a sign that the promotion of family purity - particularly in an environment that is not specifically a Jewish population center - is a goal that requires hard work and dedication.

The construction of the mikveh was spearheaded by Krasnianski and his wife, Chani.

"Ever since the opening was postponed, the telephone in my office has not stopped ringing," says Rabbi Krasnianski. "Dozens of women who live in the neighborhood are phoning to find out when the mikveh will open."

In honor of the Rebbe

The opening date was set for last Wednesday, the third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, the 12th anniversary of the death of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

"I really wanted to dedicate the first mikveh for women in this area on the Rebbe's memorial day," relates Krasnianski.

When he and his wife arrived in the Upper East Side 12 years ago as emissaries of the Chabad Hassidic movement, they did not know a soul in the neighborhood. Now they are parents of nine children, and their lives revolve around the religious center that they run from a four-story house on East 77th Street, adjacent to fancy restaurants and designer boutiques.

The Jewish center building was purchased in a state of disrepair and renovated at a cost of $12 million, raised from wealthy Jews in the surrounding area. The center consists of a magnificent, intimate synagogue, classrooms and pre-school facilities.

This week, the ground floor will open as the first women's mikveh to operate in the heart of an urban center of yuppies and well-to-do businessmen, some of whom work on Wall Street or own giant companies. The mikveh is also unique in its splendor and the host of sophisticated extras it offers women. Krasnianski estimates the total cost of the mikveh project at $1.5 million.

The mikveh is named after Jacques and Hannah Schwalbe, who donated a sizable sum toward its construction. The woman who will be in charge of operating the mikveh, and receiving those who come to use it, will live in an apartment in the building. The cost per visit will be $25 for married women and $35 for brides. According to the Jewish population survey conducted by the Jewish Federation, the new mikveh has a potential clientele of tens of thousands of women. In the residential quarter between 59th and 96th streets, and between Fifth Avenue and the East River, live 220,000 people, 69,000 of whom are Jewish.