Perach Yisroel, the Flower of Israel Mikveh at Congregation Chofetz Chayim, will dedicate new stained glass windows and unveil a metal logo sculpture on Sunday, March 17.
“Since its opening in 2004, the Perach Yisroel Mikveh has proudly served all members of the Tucson Jewish community … regardless of their Jewish affiliation or non- affiliation,” says Rabbi Israel Becker of Chofetz Chayim.
The interior of the mikveh was designed by an award-winning local firm, Lori Carroll & Associates. “We had the good fortune to be personally guided by Lori Carroll,” says Esther Becker. Carroll suggested that since the floor and walls of the immersion room would be tiled, it might be possible to create 14 internal stained glass windows in place of some of the wall tiles.
“We thought it would be stunning and spiritually moving if we could implement the idea,” says Esther, “since the number 14 is significant in mikveh observance, symbolizing fertility and family purity.
“We decided that the 14 windows should represent Women of Valor who have made a major impact on shaping the Jewish people,” she says, adding that finding the right designer was key to meeting both engineering challenges and aesthetic requirements.
In the mid-1980s, Chofetz Chayim had commissioned nine stained glass windows entitled “Light in the Desert,” which adorn the northern wall of the sanctuary. Before arriving in Tucson, the “Light in the Desert” windows by Tsirl Waletzky and Dovid Nulman were exhibited at Yeshiva University Museum in Manhattan.
“We called the museum curator for a referral. We were given a few recommendations, including that of Ami Shamir, creator of the nationally acclaimed Holocaust Memorial at the entrance to Tucson’s Jewish Community Center,” says Esther. Shamir also created the 700-foot stained glass window at the original International Synagogue at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
“The curator described Shamir as a giant and doubted his availability,” she says. “We decided to try anyway and contacted Mr. Shamir, who thought that creating windows the size of our tiles would be like creating a stained glass window on a postage stamp. We were conversing with him in Hebrew and his expressions were very dramatic. He wanted more information, and we spent hours describing each of the 14 women. We were elated when Mr. Shamir accepted the commission.”
The Women of Valor symbolized in the mikveh windows are Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Ruth, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Esther, Kimchit, Hulda the Prophetess and Rachel, the wife of Rabbi Akiva. One window represents all of the righteous women in whose merit the Jewish people were redeemed from slavery in Egypt, says Esther.
Each of the windows tells a rich story. For example, the window depicting Rabbi Akiva’s wife, Rachel, features a crown floating over the city of Jerusalem. As Rabbi Becker relates the story, Akiva was an illiterate shepherd, but Rachel saw his potential for greatness. Her father, one of the wealthiest men in Jerusalem, wanted her to marry a scholar and warned that if she married Akiva she would be disowned.
“The couple married and were totally impoverished,” says Becker. “Rachel worked and her husband studied. Initially they lived in a barn and each morning Akiva removed hay and straw from her hair. Akiva told Rachel that one day he would place a crown of gold inscribed with the word ‘Jerusalem’ on her head. The couple began building a family and Akiva excelled at his studies, to the point that he had to depart for a distant yeshiva to continue. Rachel urged him to go.”
Twelve years later Akiva decided to return home. Approaching his house, he overheard a neighbor taunting his wife, accusing Akiva of deserting her. “Rachel’s response was, ‘If only he would hear me and stay in the yeshiva for another 12 years.’ Without hesitation, Akiva went back to the yeshiva for another 12 years and became the greatest rabbi of his era, and one of the greatest rabbis of all time,” Becker continues.
After another 12 years, Akiva returned home accompanied by 24,000 students. As a crowd gathered to celebrate the great sage, Rachel, wearing tattered clothes, tried to make her way to her husband, who was standing on a platform to address the crowd.
“As Rabbi Akiva saw her struggle through the crowd, he urged everyone to clear a path for her. As she came forward, he pulled a crown inscribed with ‘Jerusalem’ from his pocket and placed it on her head, as he declared to the assembled, ‘The Torah that I have studied, and the Torah that I teach you is all to the credit of this woman,’” says Becker.
The March 17 event also will include the unveiling of a metal and glass sculpture depicting the mikveh’s logo, created by nationally renowned Tucson artist Lynn Rae Lowe, who drew the original logo when the mikveh opened. The sculpture will be incorporated into the building’s outside landscaping.
“Symbolizing productivity, the logo is egg-shaped,” says Esther, “with stars at the top representing the Jewish nation, because G-d showed Abraham the stars and told him that his children would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. The moon in the logo represents a woman’s monthly cycle, and the rose corresponds to the mikveh’s name, Perach Yisroel (Flower of Israel). Water at the base of the logo symbolizes the mikveh concept.”
It was important to Esther, says Lowe, that the sculpture be “a piece of art and not a plaque,” although names of donors and supporters will be featured in the design. Esther and Rabbi Becker, she notes, worked with a scribe in Israel to create Hebrew lettering to Lowe’s specifications.
“I wanted the lettering to mirror the beauty of the piece,” says Esther. “The artwork will mirror the respect and deep-felt appreciation for all the people who made this mikveh a reality.”
The March 17 event is open to men and women and will include guests from across the country. It will begin at 6 p.m. and include a wine, hors d’oeuvres and dessert reception. The mikveh is located at 5150 E. 5th St. For more information, contact the Beckers at 747-7780 or