April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Teaneck Mikvah Sweeps for Hidden Cameras, Develops New Security Protocols

Teaneck–The global Jewish community was shocked by last week’s arrest of Washington D.C.’s Rabbi Barry Freundel for alleged voyeurism in the National Capitol Mikvah. Many mikvahs, particularly in modern orthodox communities, have responded swiftly against any potential threat of abuse. In Teaneck, the mikvah association took immediate action to quell any concerns that women, converts, or others might have in regard to mikvah security and sanctity.

The mikvah’s leadership seeks to assure users that both mikvaot operating under the auspices of the Teaneck Mikvah Association are safe places. “The Teaneck mikvah has always been run and managed by women,” said Miriam Greenspan, the Mikvah Association’s president for more than a decade, who told JLBC about new security policies and procedures that are described in a letter that was distributed to the community on Wednesday.

“We are putting certain measures into place as an exercise of caution so everyone will feel comfortable. The two most important things for us have always been to protect the sacredness of going to the mikvah and the sense of security that women deserve to have when they come,” she said.

Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger, spiritual leader for Bergenfield’s Congregation Beth Abraham, expressed empathy about the fear women have of the possibility that rabbeim in other communities, such as our own, might somehow abuse their power in mikvah settings. Neuburger told JLBC, “I believe with all my heart that the shocking events reported do not cast aspersions on members of the rabbinate and the laity who have selflessly served our people with dedication, integrity and sanctity. Nevertheless, experience has taught us to learn from seeming aberrant behavior. Therefore our communal rabbis will do all that we can to protect the sacred privacy of the mikvah moment and we will be uncompromising in our attempts to provide the sense of safety and security that our women richly deserve.”

“The alleged events in Washington were absolute, vulgar and bizarre violations of the protocols established by the RCA and the Beth Din of America,” said Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, rabbi of Teaneck’s Congregation Bnai Yeshurun. Pruzansky also took the opportunity to urge everyone to keep level heads, and certainly not assume that such breaches of privacy and dignity are widespread. “They are not. Indeed the allegations are so unusual and beyond the pale that I am quite confident that they do not and could not exist elsewhere,” he said.

But in Teaneck, people are shocked by the seemingly grotesque misuse of the mikvah. Greenspan noted that she and other board members have faced questions and concerns over the last week since the story became public. “It’s upsetting and sad that one individual can put such a negative spin on the whole mikvah experience that we all view as such a positive experience. That’s why we did this major construction and have these beautiful facilities and why we work so hard to keep the mikvah central to the community,” said Greenspan.

She added that it is particularly unsettling that this happened even as mikvah use has increased in recent years for those outside the orthodox community, and expressed hope that the situation in Washington will not discourage women from practicing taharat hamishpacha.

Greenspan said that when she heard that cameras were present in the Washington D.C. mikvah, the association contacted the police and asked for help and advice. “Sweeping the locations [for hidden cameras] is not something they do, so we contacted a private security firm who swept both locations on Tuesday,” said Greenspan, referring to the large mikvah on Windsor Road and the new, state-of-the-art Friday night mikvah on Sterling Place.

Greenspan insisted that the measure was taken to publicly and independently ensure complete confidence that the mikvahs are secure, not because the association thought they would find anything. “I can’t emphasize enough that we were really not concerned. We have security cameras outside [both locations], and one can only get in by a computerized key, which is specific to each individual who has one.

“Miriam Feman (head shomeret), Bryna Malitzky (administrator), myself; there are a minimum number of people who have the key. Every time we access the building it’s recorded. In addition to that, the policy from now on will be that any man coming into the building must be accompanied by Bryna, myself or a board member. All conversions take place with three rabbis in attendance. Kallahs never come in alone. No one is ever in the building unsupervised.”

Pruzansky added that the violations that occurred in Washington are indeed “unthinkable” in a Teaneck context. “No rabbi on the Bet Din has a key to the mikvah and there are always other women present when a female convert is immersing. No member of the Bet Din ever meets a female (or male) candidate alone and has absolutely no contact with any candidate outside the formal sessions of the Bet Din,” he said.

Greenspan said all the new security procedures were developed in conjunction with the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County and in concert with the hard work of many individual rabbeim and board members.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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