Tasmania’s Mikvah on Ice by Mina Esther Gordon

Tasmania’s Mikvah on Ice by Mina Esther Gordon

Although we have been living in Melbourne, Australia for the past 41 years, my husband, Yossi Gordon, took responsibility for the religious needs of the Jews of Tasmania since 1983. Tasmania is an Australian state, an island the size of Israel, about one hour by plane from Melbourne. In the 2017 census only 248 people registered as Jewish, however, it is estimated that there are actually around a thousand halachic Jews spread around the island.
My husband was the “flying Rabbi,” going to Tasmania for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Purim, and various weekends. In 2011, our son, Yochanan and daughter-in-law, Rochel, took the leap, and moved to Tasmania as the resident Chabad Shluchim. There was no kosher butcher, no kosher bakery, no kosher shops, and no minyan unless the Rabbi would personally round one up with much effort.

The family of Chabad shluchim to Tasmania, Rabbi Yochanan and Rochel Gordon

There was a rudimentary mikveh built and maintained by a very special couple in Hobart, but over the years it developed some problems and needed fixing. My daughter-in-law ended up flying to the mainland each time she needed the mikvah. That was inconvenient and somewhat embarrassing, but they didn’t have the money or know-how to fix up the local one. (Local? It is a 2.5 hour drive instead of an hour’s plane ride).
Until CoVid 19….
The Tasmanian State government implemented very strict rules concerning travel in and out of Tasmania during the Corona Virus epidemic. My daughter-in-law was stuck in Tasmania, and mikvah night was coming! They got in touch with rabbis who were well-versed in these laws and worked out a plan for reviving the Tasmanian Mikvah.
My son drove the 5-hour round trip to Hobart countless times that week. He had to take pictures of the mikvah from every angle, to send to the Rav. There were things to replace, new pieces to buy, cracks to fill, cistern walls to scrub. With the help of David and Penina Clark who had commissioned the mikvah 35 years earlier, and after
many hours of work, almost everything was finished. The only thing that was still needed was to fill the ‘bor’ with natural water. For technical reasons, they could not use the gutters that directed rainwater into the mikvah. The only practical solution would be to get close to 300 large blocks of ice and fill the bor with them. My son called an ice company which had actually stopped production because of the lockdown. The man he spoke to estimated that it would take two weeks to get that much ice, and insisted on being paid in advance.
They were able to convince the ice factory to speed up the job, but from where would they get all that money in cash on such short notice?
Rebbitzen Rochel was chatting with her sister-in-law, Rivky, and told her of their dilemma. Without telling Rochel or Yochanan, Rivky put an appeal out on What’s App chats and Facebook, and within 24 hours raised three times the amount that they had originally thought they needed. It turned out that the extra money was very helpful, as there were unexpected expenses, for example, when they discovered that the heater had to be replaced.
Finally, everything was ready. The bor was whole, without cracks, perfectly clean, and completely dry. The ice truck came, but couldn’t fit into the narrow street. Rabbi Yochanan and two hired helpers started carrying the ice from the truck which was parked at the nearest intersection. It took many hours of careful transfer as there were many details of halacha to watch out for. Once the bor was filled, they had to wait for the ice to melt!
I asked my daughter-in-law if she could now use that mikvah every time, but unfortunately, the Rav said that it could only be used in very difficult circumstances because it relies on leniencies.
[CJW: This is what I think is the most awe-inspiring aspect of this story, all of this effort and expense to provide a mikveh for Tasmania’s tiny Jewish community! And just for several months! The Gordons’ mesirut nefesh drives home, for me, what a precious and important mitzvah mikvah is!]
Click here to learn more about the Rabbi and Rebbitzen living in Tasmania or about the mikvah for Tasmania.

6 comments

  1. Wow!! Amazing and interesting story!!

  2. Wow, what a lesson!!

  3. Obviously this mesirut nefesh is incredible: I am wondering why it was not permissible to toivel in the sea or river in these circumstances….?

    • Mina Gordon

      We are going into winter here in the Southern Hemisphere. Although it snows mainly on the mountains in Tasmania, it could get down to freezing in the cities. The ocean gets mighty cold!!

  4. There are many halachik complications that occur when using a beach. Although a beach is halachikly a kosher mikvah there are many issues involved, from a safety standpoint as well as a modesty standpoint.

    A river is a totally different kettle of fish. Not all rivers by default are a kosher mikvah. A rav who is well versed in these issues should be consulted .

    Also as mentioned above, it is winter now, the water in the rivers are ice cold at this time of year. The beaches are a bit more mild but the water can still be very cold in the winter.

    Bottom line is using a proper purpose built mikvah is ALWAYS preferable to using a beach, river or the like.

  5. Hadassah Aber

    Wow! Commitment, cooperation, community! Achdys and ahavas Yisroel!.

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