Irvine Community Mikvah
Our Rav, Rabbi Dov Fischer of Young Israel of Orange County, served as the driving force behind the creation of the Irvine Community Mikvah of Orange County. (The terms “Mikvah” and “Mikveh” are used interchangeably.) When our Rav arrived in Irvine in August 2005, he set three initial priorities for his tenure, topped by his public announcement in front of 150 people — before an architectural plan existed or a shovel had been set into breaking ground — that he would mobilize efforts to actualize the construction of a cutting-edge, contemporary Mikveh in Irvine within three years. That Irvine Community Mikveh — formally incorporated as the “Irvine Community Mikveh” because the project has been undertaken jointly by several shuls in Irvine, from the University Park community to the Woodbridge community, and is administered and operated by a corporate body independent of any particular shul — is slated to open to the public by Winter 2008-2009.
Interestingly, there had been a prior effort to build a Mikvah in Irvine a decade earlier. Funds had been raised to begin the project, and ground had been broken. But the project never completed, and the land ultimately had to be re-filled, re-paved, ending a dream for nearly a decade. Until Rabbi Fischer arrived in Irvine in August 2005.
From his first days in Irvine, Rav Fischer started meeting privately with community leaders, with donors, and devoted several Shabbat sermons to the subject of Mikvah and Taharat Hamishpachah. After a “groundbreaking” Shabbat morning drashah on the need and importance for the community to prioritize building a Mikvah, one of the community’s most senior lay leaders pulled Rav Fischer alongside his car in the parking lot after services and undertook to clarify “the realities of Irvine” to Rav Fischer. “You’re dreaming,” he said. “You are out of your mind. This is not Brooklyn. It is not Los Angeles. This is Irvine. This is Orange County. People came here to get away from speeches about Mikveh. Look, you are new here. I like you. People like you. But if you keep this up, this crazy dream about building a Mikveh in Irvine, you quickly will lose your backing and support. There will never be a Mikveh in Irvine. I personally guarantee it.”
Rav Fischer smiled. And in the weeks that followed, he plowed ahead. He set a meeting with another Rabbi who would be a full partner in the dream of building an Irvine community Mikveh, Rav Alter Tenenbaum of Chabad of Irvine. Sitting in Rabbi Tenenbaum’s office, Rav Fischer assured Rav Tenenbaum that substantive movement on a Mikveh would be started within a year and that a beautiful, fully operational Mikveh would be completed and open to the public in three years.
Next came Rav Fischer’s historic phone call to HaRav Yirmiyah Katz of Mikvah U.S.A. in Brooklyn. When HaRav Katz received the call and heard Rav Fischer’s determination to start and to build an Irvine Mikvah, one that would be technologically modern and aesthetically elegant, and would comport with halakhot and interpretations held by all streams of Orthodoxy, HaRav Katz responded: “Barukh Hashem! Rabbi Fischer, I have been waiting for this night — for this phone call, for your phone call — for many, many years. You have no idea how long I have waited and hoped to receive such a phone call from a Rav in Irvine. Thank you for being the leader we have been waiting for, who has taken on this great, great mitzvah. Mazal Tov!“
Within time, the Irvine Community Mikvah was awarded a major grant from Mikvah U.S.A. A lay committee was formed to meet and proceed with planning and constructing the Mikveh. A world-class Mikvah architect, Daniel Langbaum, was retained to plan and draw the blueprints, and lead the architectural way. “Insurmountable zoning difficulties” that had been cited as reasons contributing to the decade’s delay were addressed and rapidly overcome. Women on the committee contacted Mikva’ot (Mikvehs) all over the world to learn and gather the latest thoughts on contemporary Mikvah decor, while Rebbetzins Fischer and Tenenbaum provided input on the importance of balancing new designer trends with an eye towards emphasizing classic grace that would establish the Irvine Community Mikvah as timeless for future generations. Soon, Rebbetzin Fischer was privately tutoring and teaching interested women in South Orange County the halakhot and traditions of Jewish Family Purity and Mikvah practice, while Rebbetzin Binie Tenenbaum was leading a series of public classes and workshops at Chabad of Irvine on these same subjects. Films were screened and a women’s visit to a Mikvah proceeded, under the Chabad of Irvine auspices.
As of late summer 2008, the Irvine Community Mikveh was moving into its later phases of construction and, with G-d’s help, finally opened to the Irvine and greater Orange County Jewish community.
Rabbi Fischer’s crazy dream come true.