Your recent cover story on Jewish unity (summer 2012) brought to mind a fascinating experience I was privileged to be a part of some years ago.
In 1997, while learning in Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, I was invited to participate in a SEED program in Eugene, Oregon.
A few of us from Lakewood traveled to a different planet called Eugene. If you have ever visited Eugene, you know exactly what I mean. In Eugene, the hippie movement is still alive and strong. In fact, some say if you inhale deeply there, you can’t drive afterward.
While we were teaching Torah to the members of this Jewish community, we had the opportunity to be involved in inaugurating a mikvah. The community wanted to build a mikvah after a woman almost got swept away by the fast currents of the Willamette River while attempting to immerse in the rain-swollen waters. Unfortunately, the community was unable to come up with sufficient funds for the mikvah. This is where the extraordinary achdus of Am Yisrael comes in.
A Satmar Chassid from Monroe, New York, heard about the need and committed to raise money for the mikvah. He, in turn, reached out to Rabbi Yirmiya Katz, author of Mikveh Mayim and a Chassid from Boro Park, and arranged for him to direct the building of the mikvah. An intermarried couple in Eugene donated their backyard as the grounds for the mikvah building. Our group, talmidim from Lakewood, helped Rabbi Katz oversee the pouring of the cement for the mikvah pool. To make the event even more memorable, the non-Jewish man donating his backyard was Scottish; he put on a kilt and played the bagpipes to serenade the continuity of kedushas Yisrael!
The way a Satmar Chassid, a Chassidic posek, students of Lakewood yeshivah, ba’alei teshuvah and those not-yet-frum all came together to build this mikvah sums up, I believe, the goal of your issue on achdus.
Rabbi Nasanya Zakon
Ed. For more information about Eugene’s remarkable Jewish community, see Gary Katz, “The Making of an Orthodox Community,” Jewish Action (summer 2005), http://www.ou.org/jewish_action/07/2005/the-making-of-an-orthodox-community/.