by Vera Schwarcz
A world of holiness and of change lies nestled behind the watery sign at 61 North Main Street in West Hartford. You might drive by on the way to the fashionable Blue Black area and miss it altogether. Or you might think that the wave motif on the sign is simply part of the sprucing up of West Hartford center in colors that evoke liquid depths. In fact, there is a concrete and not yet widely known well-spring of sacredness right in the heart of our town: Mikveh Bess Israel is a place where Jewish women renew their spirits and their marriages month and month with the aid of a Shomeret—a woman exquisitely attuned to the soul (and bodily) uniqueness of each individual.
Founded in 1847 by European immigrants, Mikveh Bess Israel has been a pillar of Jewish continuity in the greater Hartford area. Although the Mikveh has relocated a number of times since its inception, each transition has furthered the mission of providing the Jewish community with a safe and sacred space for cleaning and purification. Mikveh Bess Israel serves the entire spectrum of the Jewish community by maintaining the integrity of Jewish family life and by bringing Jews by choice into our community through ritual immersion.
For the past twenty-five years, Mrs. Judy Levy (a CNA who still works with seniors at the Hebrew Home for the Jewish Family Services), was the beloved Shomeret of the West Hartford Mikveh. Several generations of women looked forward to their monthly encounter with a lady whose smile and gentle manner encouraged all, including new brides and veteran survivors of cancer. She was among the first to be told about a new birth, a new engagement, a fresh sorrow at the loss of a dear one. The deeply private setting of the Mikveh allowed for conversations and sharing that went beyond the ritual of immersion in the “living waters” that renew the spirit and prepare a wife to rejoin her husband.
Starting this August, Mikveh Bess Israel welcomed a new Shomeret, and her family into the residence at 63 North Main Street. Hannah Braune Friedman brings to the position her own unique sensitivity to Jewish traditions of the sacred. Trained as an MSW at the Hunter College of Social Work, Hannah also has extensive experience as a Birth Doula and as a Jewish educator on the Oxford campus in England. Along with her husband Rabbi Daniel Braune Friedman, Hannah worked to deepen the Jewish experience of students at Oxford while giving lectures, providing counseling, and organizing peer-to-peer outreach. Before Oxford, Hannah worked as a family therapist at the Neve Yerushalaim Family Institute and as counselor for sexual assault victims at Mt. Sinai in New York.
In August of this year, at the same time as Hannah Braune Friedman started her new position as Shomeret at Mikveh Bess Israel, Rabbi Daniel Braune Friedman began his work as the new Chaplain at the Hebrew Home. The couple has two young children.
Having installed a new Shomeret, Mikveh Bess Israel is ready to launch a variety of new educational programs. The first large-scale event—co- sponsored with the JCC and ten other local synagogues and organizations –will take place on October 22nd. It is a lecture/discussion with the renowned Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the subject of “Kosher Marriage.” At that event, Mikveh Bess Israel will be announcing several formal and informal classes to be taught by Hannah Braune Friedman on women’s spirituality and the sacredness of family relations. In the meantime, Hannah welcomes calls from all members of the community for tours of the Mikveh as well as for further Jewish learning. Her phone number at Mikveh Bess Israel is: 914-602-1783.