Submerging oneself in a pool of natural water is a long-standing Jewish tradition, and it's one that is getting a modern twist in Columbus.
For the past few years, a board of Jewish community members has been working on funding and constructing a mikvah, or ritual bath, in central Ohio.
Now, the bath, which is designed to purify those who use it, is near completion and will open in May in a building on Main Street in Bexley.
The new mikvah will feature a spa-like experience complete with more private rooms, plush bath robes and an online booking system for women, the most-regular users.
"We hope people will use the mikvah a lot more," said Devorah Lipkind Weprin, co-chairwoman of the Columbus Community Mikvah's building committee. "The way it looks, the way it feels, it really fosters that experience."
The 5-foot-deep pool will be filled with rainwater, collected and stored for this use, and will have a state-of-the-art filtration system, Lipkind Weprin said.
Going to a mikvah is a personal, private experience that involves having a connection to the water, to nature and to God, Jewish leaders said, as people immerse themselves in the mikvah's water while wearing no clothes, jewelry, makeup or even nail polish.
The reasons for going to a mikvah also can be very personal and private, Lipkind Weprin said, adding "It is used to mark a change in ritual status" or a transition in life.
People might also go to a mikvah before holidays or if converting to Judaism.
"It's about spiritual cleansing and renewal and rebirth," said Rabbi Avi Goldstein of Beth Jacob Congregation on the East Side, where the existing mikvah is located.
More recently, mikvahs also have been used in more nontraditional ways, such as for healing after divorce or to help those going through a job loss, divorce or rape, said Rabbi Sharon Mars, senior rabbi at Temple Israel, which is hosting services at the Columbus Jewish Community Center in Bexley as it prepares to move to a new location.
Mars said she went to a mikvah after having a miscarriage and has found that "just dipping in that tub can help you go on" with life.
"It can be enormously powerful, enormously healing," she said.
The board needs to raise $190,000 more toward its $2.1 million goal, Lipkind Weprin said. The total cost includes $500,000 to create an endowment fund for maintenance of the mikvah, which can be costly, she said.
"The idea is we create something sustainable for generations," she said.
Built in the early 1970s in the basement at Beth Jacob, the old mikvah is not as modern or as spacious as the one being built, Goldstein said. It's also not accessible by the disabled.
Goldstein said the local mikvah board will decide whether to keep the current mikvah open after the new one is built, but he doesn't see a reason for it to keep operating.
"This will accommodate more people in a more practical way," he said.
Cost to use the mikvah will be $250 a year or $25 for a one-time visit. Special occasions may cost more.
For more information about the new mikvah or to donate to its construction, call the Columbus Jewish Foundation at 614-338-2365 or visit columbuscommunitymikvah.org.