What was recently found hidden for centuries beneath the floor of a Jerusalem living room closed the circle for a child born decades earlier in a nearby hospital. This is the story of discovery, rebirth and an unbroken chain of tradition that reaches through Jewish generations and around the world.

The Ancient Ritual Bath

Walking into the stylish living room in Jerusalem’s Ein Karem neighborhood, the casual visitor could hardly imagine the ancient secret beneath the living-room rug. Even the archaeologists who were called in to investigate expressed their disbelief at first.

Yet when the residents removed their carpet and began to drill beneath the floor for renovations, they discovered an ancient staircase leading downward.

“Could it be an ancient mikvah?” they wondered. A Jewish ritual bath below?

At the bottom of the stone stairs, archaeologists found signs that a mikvah had indeed been dug around 2,000 years ago, during the Second Temple era. After months of careful study, the scholars from the Israel Antiquities Authority confirmed that the ritual pool conformed to all halachic requirements preserved in Jewish law for thousands of years and was consistent with other Temple-era mikvahs found elsewhere in Israel. It had remained hidden underground all these years.

For Rabbi Mendel Greisman, director of Chabad of Northwest Arkansas, reading about the find felt like the closing of a circle. He had been born in the same village as the ancient mikvah, in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital. He grew up in Jerusalem; met his wife in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and found his place as an emissary in, of all places, the state of Arkansas.

Rabbi Mendel Greisman (Photo: NWA Media)
Rabbi Mendel Greisman (Photo: NWA Media)

From Ein Karem to Arkansas ...

How did Rabbi Greisman wind up in the U.S. Deep South, all the way from Israel?

“By plane,” he responds with a laugh. “Seriously, after I got married, my wife, Dobi, and I were looking for a place that needed a Chabad-Lubavitch couple. We heard about this area. It has a small local Jewish community, and besides that, it’s near Walmart’s corporate headquarters, so many, many people stream through on business. Of course, we try to help them in any way we can.”

The rabbi and his wife arrived in Rogers, Ark., a decade ago. A short time later, they opened an active Chabad House, where Dobi Greisman is program director. They began to host prayer services, and to run special holiday events and children’s programs. Their efforts bore fruit. The Jewish community was flourishing, but one thing was missing: a ritual bath.

“The mikvah is the basis of every Jewish community. It symbolizes—more than anything else—regeneration and purity,” explains Dobi Greisman. “But building a mikvah is a complicated and expensive process, so much so that in spite of our desire to build one immediately when we settled in Rogers, it was stuck in the planning phase for longer than expected.”

After much effort they built the first halachically valid mikvah to be built in that area of Arkansas, and recently completed the final decorative touches on the building.

When the rabbi read about the unearthing of the ancient mikvah in Ein Karem, he says he felt like a circle had been closed.

“For me, the words ‘Ein Karem’ remind me of my birth. I was born there and so was half my family. Is it only symbolic that an ancient mikvah, the symbol of rebirth, was discovered in the neighborhood of Ein Karem exactly when we were celebrating the opening of our new mikvah, representing the rebirth and rejuvenation of Arkansas Jewry?

There’s more than symbolism here. There’s the closing of a circle, or, if you like, the continuation of the long, long golden chain of Jewish history.”

The archaeologists found scorch marks on the mikvah. According to the Archaeological Authority, it’s possible that these burns are a testimony to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

What the Romans didn’t know was that while they might have succeeded in burning the mikvah in Ein Karem, its spirit could not be destroyed; it rings out from thousands of mikvahs all over the world.

The preparation room at the Rogers, Ark., mikvah
The preparation room at the Rogers, Ark., mikvah

‘Influence Generations of Descendants’

For countless generations, going to the mikvah was part of every married Jewish woman’s life. In fact, the ritual is so fundamental to Jewish life that Jews are required to build a mikvah even before establishing a synagogue.

In recent decades, however, many women never had the chance to observe this vital mitzvah. Many mikvahs were neglected, and women didn’t feel comfortable using them; other women simply never knew they existed.

On 16 Tammuz 5735, the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—announced that the mitzvah of family purity was to be given top priority. “Not only is this a basic mitzvah for any Jewish family, which influences the spiritual and physical health of the children,” the Rebbe said, “going to the mikvah will influence generations of descendants.”

As part of the Family Purity Campaign, the Rebbe also stated the need not only to make mikvahs kosher, but aesthetically pleasing. Since his announcement, hundreds of exquisite new mikvahs have been built all over the world. Awareness of the mitzvah has spread, and tens of thousands of women have embraced the laws of family purity.

“We are very particular about the cleanliness and the beauty of the mikvah,” says Dobi Greisman. “Our goal is that every woman who uses it will have a relaxed, personally fulfilling experience.”

Does she have a message to those who may have never experienced this profound and moving Jewish tradition?

“My message is basically aimed at women readers,” she replies. “Since we built the mikvah, a number of women have begun to keep the precious mitzvah of family purity, and they visit the mikvah every month. These women are a source of inspiration to us all, especially to those readers who don’t yet keep this mitzvah. We’re talking about women who had never heard of a mikvah until ours was opened, and in spite of that, they accepted this mitzvah.

“I’m certain that everyone can. Women who try it can testify that it improves their lives, personally and spiritually, in so many different ways.”

The immersion pool at the Rogers, Ark., mikvah
The immersion pool at the Rogers, Ark., mikvah