Spiritual head of Lodz's Jewish community: In recent years many local Jews have "come out of the closet."
By MATTHEW WAGNER
A Jewish spiritual renewal is fueling a demand for mikvaot across Europe, according to Rabbi Gedalia Olshtein of the Council for European Rabbis (CER).
In Poland alone plans are underway to refurbish or build mikvaot in Krakow, Lublin, Warsaw, Wrociaw and Lodz. Demands for ritual baths have come in from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Britain, the Czech Republic, Russia, East Germany and Georgia.
"The mikve is seen as a very spiritual custom with almost kabbalistic aspects to it," said Olshtein, an Israeli who travels all over Europe providing professional and halachic advice on how to build ritual baths. "A lot of European Jews who are new to Judaism are searching for the spiritual experience of immersion in a mikve."
According to Jewish law, sexual relations between husband and wife are forbidden after menstruation until the wife immerses herself in a kosher mikve. Mikve water must not be pumped.
Rabbi Simcha Keller, 44, spiritual head of Lodz's Jewish community since 1993, said that in recent years dozens of local Jews have "come out of the closet."
"I first started with about 60 Jews whose average age was about 80," said Keller, speaking by telephone from Poland. "Today we have 300 people, 90 percent of whom are locals, with an average age of 50."
Keller said that as the Lodz community grew and offered more activities, many Jews who had previously kept their religion a secret "came out of the woodwork."
Olshtein said that over the past three years since he began working with the CER he has seen a rise in the demand for mikvaot in Europe.
"Jews are definitely looking for more spirituality," he said.
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