A spate of renovations not seen in two decades has brought back some of the original shine, and then some, to a ritual bath used by hundreds of Jewish women in the holy Israeli city of Safed.

Spearheaded by Rivky Kaplan, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary and director of the Mikvah Chana ritual bath, the refurbishing and redecorating updates a facility founded in 1987 by her father-in-law, the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. Since its founding, there’ve been two constants in the bath’s 22 year history, said Kaplan: It has never closed, even during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and it’s never been renovated.

“This was built in a very simple, yet functional way,” said Kaplan, “and over the years it had started to show some wear.”

Essentially a pool of water connected to a reservoir of rainwater or snow melt, a mikvah is a fixture of most established Jewish communities. A necessary component of the laws governing Jewish family life, the ritual bath is traditionally visited by married women on a monthly basis to acquire ritual purity.

In recent years, ritual bath construction has focused on amenities such as top-of-the-line fixtures and tiles, as well as the dimensions and designs mandated by Jewish law. In setting out to renovate the Safed mikvah, Kaplan decided from the beginning she didn’t want what she called the “spa-style” look, but instead wanted to reflect the style of her city, a thousands of years old bastion of Jewish mysticism.

After Nathalie Reiss, a color consultant and artist who is active in Safed’s Chabad community, came on board, the two women settled on a palette that mixes varying shades of blue – the color of many of the city’s domed synagogues – and an interior design employing Jerusalem stone archways and inspirational art. Rabbi Yosef and Shterna Sara Gutnick, who funded the original construction of the bath, underwrote the renovation project.

“I felt that the design should be something spiritual, something that would reflect Safed itself, which is a very mystical, inspiring place,” explained Kaplan.

Renovations included aesthetic touches designed to evoke a sense of spirituality.
Renovations included aesthetic touches designed to evoke a sense of spirituality.

A focal point of the immersion pool is a specially-commissioned painting by Brooklyn, N.Y., artist Michoel Muchnick. Treated by Muchnick so that it wouldn’t need to be framed, the painting was mounted on wood and incorporated into a lighted arch to give the effect of its being part of the wall above the pool.

Paying attention also to more practical concerns, the design team incorporated small changes, such as adjusting the height and length of banisters to better accommodate those with physical challenges.

Future plans include renovating the facility’s entrance and reception area.

“It makes people feel cared about and pampered,” said Kaplan, noting that Safed has some of Israel’s highest rates of poverty. “Safed is still one of the poorer communities in Israel, and we felt that, especially here, women deserved to have something really beautiful built just for them.”