This article is base on a phone conversation between Rabbanit Liza Damari of the Aguda Lekidum Mishpacha (Organization for advancement of Family) in Israel and Rabbanit Greenberg in Anchorage.
Q. Can you tell us about the mikva, the old one and the new one?
A.There was already a mikva there. The mikva was in a nondenominational military chapel. It was strange because you could be going to the mikva and in the main room they could be conducting a “mass” service.
Rabbi Hendel, the previous Rav and shaliach hand dug the mikva in 1975. It was rusty and cold and you needed to go outside and break ice to get to the heater. A “shlucha” or someone very motivated would use this mikva but if mikva didn't mean anything to you this wouldn't be your choice to go to. Ultimately the base decided to shut down the mikva as only 3 women were using it and it was old and run down. After 10 years the mikva finally closed and in order to use a mikva these women who were hardly religious would take a three and a half hour flight to Seattle, hop in a cab to the mikva and get straight back to the airport and fly home.
A new mikva was $300,000 which was initially out of reach. One woman was afraid to fly and two of the women were nursing mothers that at the time didn't need a mikva. The woman who was afraid of flying was already 36 years old and still hadn't had any children. She preferred to dip in a lake which you can only do in the summer when there was no ice and only at night which only becomes twilight and not total darkness at 2 in the morning. The water is about 50 degrees (Fahrenheit) which is very cold. I accompanied the woman to take her dip in the lake one chilly and rainy Motzai Shabbat. It was twilight and you feel people are looking at you. We waited for a couple sitting there to leave and had to wait for another couple that passed by to leave. We also had to worry about a moose coming out of the water as she was going in. This was a big deal. This woman really wanted to have a child and going to mikva was something she would not give up on.
In Alaska people didn't yet appreciate the concept of Mikva so fundraising efforts were focused on people outside the community that did appreciate what a mikva is. This meant fundraising from tourists. In the summer we asked visitors to help and donate to the mikva. Tourists had a lot of questions about Shabbat and other Jewish topics and we'd get to telling over the story of our mikva. One time a tourist asked “How much do you need to build this mikva?”Our initial reaction was, “Why are you asking you can't give the whole amount? It's $300,000!” On Erev Rosh Hashana this man calls my husband and says: “I was one of your tourists and I'm from a Young Israel in Long Island and our shul wants to help your shul build this Mikva! Can you come visit our shul?” My husband said yes and came for a Shabbat. That visit bore fruit and the shul organized a $25,000 donation. Since then this shul always sends tourists to us in the summer and they consider us their project and help continuously.
Q. What would you tell women who are hesitant about mikva especially when the the weather is bad?
A. “Stories like ours of the sacrifice we make to go to a mikva. For example, once, when I forgot to go out in the ice to turn off the water, the mikva on the base flooded. The woman there had to run out with her towel. I was afraid this would be her last visit to a mikva. She drove a few hours all the way from Fairbanks and was hardly observant and the ugly mikva floods on her!! But this woman was persistent and was not deterred from going to a mikva afterwards. Stories like these inspire other women to sacrifice if necessary to keep this mitzvah.
Q. How many women in Alaska use a mikva today?
A.Today, 10-12 women go steadily to the mikva year round and during the summer another 20 tourists come.
Q. Rabbanit Greenberg, May G-d bless you for your amazing efforts in Alaska!
A. Hashem will also bless you for all your efforts in Israel!!