The Marathon and the Mikveh

by Rabbi Danielle Eskow

DaniRabbiShotAs a monthly mikveh goer, I had always appreciated the cleansing experience of immersing in the water. The routine enhanced my own life, as well as my marriage. As a rabbi, I had witnessed the powerful experience of a new Jewish person immersing in the mikveh upon conversion. I had not yet experienced, either personally or professionally the powerful healing that the mikveh could bring. This all changed when the Boston Marathon Bombings occurred on April 15th 2013.

My husband ran the marathon that year and finished four minutes before the bombs went off.  I had been standing in front of where the first bomb went off.  For twenty minutes I could not find him, the longest twenty minutes of my life. That night when we finally were able to go home, I told my husband, “this was one of the hardest and worst days of my life.” Little did I know that the days that followed would be much worse.

I was a few months pregnant at the time of the bombings. I found out the next day that I had lost the pregnancy. I was in the hospital the Friday that they found Dzhokar Tsarnaev in a boat in Watertown. As I drove to the hospital that day, I passed FBI and police along the way. Nothing, not even the lockdown could stop me from trying to move on. I hoped that the pain of this loss would wash away after I left the hospital.

Friends, family, even my own thoughts were telling me to go to the mikveh. I couldn’t; I could not imagine washing away the pain and finding comfort in the water. The mikveh had always been a positive place of peace and tranquility for me. Months before, I stood in the water with tears in my eyes as I prayed to God to grant me the blessing of pregnancy and children. I was not ready to change the meaning of the mikveh for me forever. I did not want to “taint” it with my pain, suffering and loss.

I suffered emotionally and physically for a while. I realized that time was not making the pain go away. I needed a transitional experience. I needed the mikveh. My husband and I went together, and I asked him to come in the mikveh room with me, but not in the water. With the guidance of Mayyim Hayyim’s immersion ceremony, “Mourning a Miscarriage,” I once again was crying in the healing waters. This time, I was not praying to God to bless me with pregnancy, but rather, to bless me with the strength to pick up the broken pieces of my very being. As I stood in the water I felt indescribable pain as my tears hit the water. At the same time I felt I had finally given myself the space to really mourn my loss. I was broken, and would always have a few cracks as a result of this experience. The mikveh reminded me that I was not shattered, but rather would become a new version of my whole self. It would just take time and a lot of support.

daniwithkidNow, two years after the Marathon Bombings the bomber has been found guilty. Each time the trial is covered and the images of the bombings are shown on TV I feel a sharp pain in my heart, but I am also reminded of how far I have come. This week Boston demonstrated how strong we are through the patriotism and love at this year’s marathon. I stood this year cheering on the runners with my one-year-old daughter in my arms. I am the most complete version of myself that I have ever been, more than I imagined could be possible two years ago. I continue to visit the mikveh on a monthly basis, and each time I am reminded of both the power and the pain that comes with each immersion. I am reminded of the beautiful times such as my wedding and the ninth month of my pregnancy, as well as the painful experience of cleansing my body and soul of the pain of pregnancy loss. The waters truly healed and continue to heal me. Like the city of Boston, I will never be truly whole again, but I am stronger than ever before.

Rabbi Danielle Eskow is the co-founder of OnlineJewishLearning.com, a program which focuses on providing high quality and accessible online personalized instruction across the world to affiliated and unaffiliated Jewish individuals. Danielle graduated from The Jewish Theological Seminary in 2013 with a MA in Scriptural Interpretation. She lives in Brookline with her husband, daughter, and pug.  

 

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“I Have a Question,” the Answer is “Yes” Part II

by Lisa Berman, Mikveh and Education Director

0016Q: How do you know if you are succeeding at running a warm, welcoming, open-minded mikveh?

A: You get a lot of really interesting phone calls and you love answering them.

In my role as Mikveh (& Education) Director at Mayyim Hayyim, I love fielding calls because inevitably it is someone with a fascinating and often emotional story, often seeking our guidance. The answers to these calls are as varied as the situations. Here’s a continued sampling from the past month:

To read Part I, click here.

Caller: “I’m a rabbi and am working with a transgender individual for conversion. I know there are many issues to consider so that she has a completely positive experience at her conversion, but I have no idea what these concerns might be or how to address them. Do you know anything about this?”

Me: We certainly do. I’ve shared your contact information with four clergy who have supervised conversions here for transgender individuals; I’ll bet they will be happy to share their experience with you. And here are three of our blog posts that depict one special conversion here at Mayyim Hayyim:  perspectives from the transgender conversion candidate, her rabbi, and her mikveh guide.

Caller: “I recently learned – as a young adult — that my parents were Jewish. I didn’t know, and I wasn’t brought up Jewish, but I have been drawn to the religion my whole life. I understand a lot of things about my upbringing now that were mysteries to me before. I’ve been searching for a way to mark my father’s yahrzeit in a few weeks. Now I think that immersing in a mikveh would help me come to terms with these challenging changes. Could I immerse to mark this new realization?”

Me: What an amazing story. It sounds as if you have a lot to think about. Since you’re learning so much about your family, I’d like to suggest some resources that might provide you with additional support, including contact information for a few welcoming synagogues in your area, a clergy member who would be happy to meet with you, and the website for a Community Mikveh in your area. I hope you’ll stay in touch.

Caller: “I’m not Orthodox but I’ve been going to the mikveh regularly for a while – as long as I’ve been in a committed relationship. We moved to western Massachusetts recently and I called our local mikveh and even though I’m getting married in two and a half weeks, they told me I can’t go there because I’m not married yet. I’m so upset! I’m going to drive the two hours each way to get to Mayyim Hayyim because you’re all so nice there and you make me feel welcome. If there’s bad traffic on the way, will it be okay if I’m a little late?”

Me: (Surely by now you know our answer to this one…)

Lisa Berman is the Mikveh and Education Director at Mayyim Hayyim, ensuring that all immersions are facilitated with dignity, respect and modest, and supervising the Paula Brody & Family Education Center.

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Why I Don’t Go to the Mikveh Anymore

by The Viking Jewess

ninaMy several years-long experience observing the Jewish tradition of a married woman’s monthly immersion in the mikveh, ended abruptly and awkwardly.  It didn’t end because I had reached menopause, which would have been the natural conclusion of the ritual, but because of something more complicated: I found myself in the middle of a delicate quandary or sheyla, involving my menstrual cycle, a rabbi and his kindly wife. That turned out to be a few too many people for me. What happened was likely a small trauma, if a trauma can be measured in size; one I have yet to recover from, which is too bad, because not only do I find this ancient custom to be meaningful and one that added something special – not easy, but worthwhile – to my life and marriage, I also genuinely liked both the rabbi and the rebbitzen, his wife.

It goes back to when I’m in my mid-thirties, living in Connecticut, and we have three young sons, all born within four years. Life is busy but life is good. I’m a stay-at-home mom with a not quite completed PhD in French Literature. The time I might have used for research and writing about mighty philosophical and literary queries is instead invested in a full-time Jewish family life teeming with the Jewish traditions I, as a convert, have come to love and cherish. Engaging with a Jewish lifestyle roots my existence through my choice in actions, and helps me see my small life in a perspective and relationship to all the Jewish people who have come before me, and to all those who are to follow. I have come to incarnate a merger of two epic empires: that of the yiddishe mama and the balabusta (homemaker), as I deftly managed full throttle yiddishkeit as C.E.O of the Lichtenstein Household, LLC.  All this is to say it gave me a sense of heightened Jewishness by embracing it all, lock, stock and mikveh. Instead of counting the pages of dissertation chapters I could write, I am now counting days of the month.

In Jewish tradition there’s a lot of counting, which at times can feel obsessive. We especially count our blessings, but never our children. Counting souls is believed to invite the trouble of the ayin harah or the evil eye. My period is over, and I am counting the seven days with no bleeding or spotting required before I can go for my immersion, to finally get to be intimate with my husband again. I feel the urge to be with him, and when I’m showering I close my eyes and imagine his hands running over my body and how good it will be to once more affirm the natural symbiosis of our physical relationship. Lips, hands, breasts, legs, hips and genitals tightly connected; our breath close and our union affirmed. Two more days and I will call the mikveh lady, a gentle and elderly woman who serves as the shomeret (mikveh attendant), and make my appointment. After sunset on the seventh day, I will make sure my hubby will be home with the kids as I scurry off in the dark to the small house on Main Street where the ritual bath with its small pool of gathered natural waters will symbolically render me “kosher” again, for marital relations. I will emerge like a bride on her wedding night, or like the Sabbath queen, blessed and eager to bringing kedusha or holiness into the mundane. In more earthly terms, re-discovering the comforts and beauty of our physical relationship after almost two weeks of abstinence will simply feel really good. A royal tumble awaits me, and the mere anticipation makes my insides jittery.

But wait a minute! Later that day I notice a small brown spec, the size of a lentil, in my panties. Oh shit, say it isn’t so. I’m spotting. I check myself internally with the thin, delicate cotton cloths provided by the mikveh attendant, to see if maybe it was just a fluke. But there is more. Oy. Oy is right. I call up the mikveh lady to ask her advice. She tells me to call the wife of the supervising rabbi, who will act as an intermediary so as to ensure discretion, to ask him what I should do. I am told that in order for him to make the appropriate recommendation, he needs to see the spots. I am asked to place the “evidence” in a zip lock bag in an envelope and drop it off after dark in their mailbox at their residence. I know this rabbi and his lovely wife. Their kids are in the same school as my kids. They have dedicated their lives to helping Jews observe Jewish traditions, and they both do it with grace, kindness and wisdom.

On the phone, I listen to his wife giving me instructions as I sit in a wing back chair near the window in the den of our house, away from the children and their going-ons, and what I experience feels so surreal that it seems the chair is hovering in the air. With me in it.  Outside the window, the birds flutter soundlessly in the overgrown rhododendron bushes. I see their small yellow beaks open as they chirp eagerly – angrily? – at each other, negotiating who will have a turn next at the bird-feeder stuck to the window with a suction cup. But I hear nothing. My fingers feel prickly and numb and there’s a buzzing sound in my ears. To be a bird right now. How liberating. My cheeks and neck flash hot and warm and I am cold sweating. I sit slumped in the red velvet hand-me-down chair, holding the phone against my pounding ear, imagining the rabbi examining up close the spots on my underpants, while hearing somewhere in the distance the rabbi’s wife explaining as gently as possibly his ruling that I will have to start counting the seven clean days from the beginning again. It is, I can honestly say, the most surreal out-of-body experience I have ever had. To put it bluntly, it was the day the rabbi had to check my undies that I decided – in a moment of feeling utterly flummoxed and humiliated – ­­that I would no longer continue to observe the laws of family purity.

It has now been about fifteen years since that unfortunate experience. I have since divorced and lost the two most important men in my life, my husband and my father. But thankfully, I have also embarked on new beginnings, and now share a deeply spiritual and meaningful Jewish life with a new partner. I know in my heart that I am not done with the mikveh. As life goes on, I have learned that time heals many, if not most wounds, and I have thought about immersing again to mark the changes in my life. Perhaps I may even be making an appointment again one day as a kallah, a bride.

Nina B. Lichtenstein, aka the Viking Jewess, is a mother, writer, teacher and blogger who is almost done raising her three Jewish Viking sons Thor, Balder and Odin in West Hartford, CT. The piece above is adapted from her forthcoming memoir Tribal Matters: Diaries of a Viking Jewess. When not cheering at her sons’ ball games or hosting Shabbat dinners, she dreams of moving to Maine once the boys fly the nest.

 

 

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L’chaim and We Mean It

by Leeza Negelev, Associate Director of Education

leezaThe other day I was looking for last of the kosher for Passover cakes at the local grocery store. I was in a rush, but as I ran to the check out counter, I stopped to grab two yarzheit candles without thinking.

In the car, I questioned the last minute grab, and then with sudden heaviness I remembered that last June I lost both my cousin Jamie and uncle Alec to cancer. These were two people whose passion and vitality could fill up a room. And yet, last summer and the months that followed I’ve tried to make sense of how a body once so alive can deteriorate so rapidly. Daily life is now full of big holes. I want to make a phone call, share a story or just check in, and they are simply not here. It’s what I imagine when people speak about a lost a limb that echoes old sensations.  The last minute grab for those yarzheit candles was a strange reminder that my body seemed to know more than my mind. I physically craved an action to remind me that their spirit was still here, even though their bodies were not. The light of the candle is just one way of marking that. In today’s blog post, I hope I can explore some examples of the way our written and oral Torah has wrestled with the tension of loss among the living, as well.

Jewish Bioethics

Last year, while studying some of the halachot (Jewish laws) of death and mourning, I learned about what Rabbinic Judaism refers to as a goses, someone who is about to die. Jewish law, which so often asks what is right in life’s most tenuous moments, discusses the idea that in all ways, we must treat the goses as if he or she is fully alive. The text I read in Masechet Smachot, a minor Talmudic tractate, euphemistically called, ‘Happy Things’ offers one view: We don’t prepare their casket, we don’t plan their funeral, we cannot speak of them as though they are about to die. The bioethical sticking point comes fully to the surface in the subsequent discussion of whether we are allowed to do anything to hasten the death, or remove an impediment to dying.

Now, many months after my loved ones have passed, I understand how hard it can be to internally and externally uphold this kind of separation. Watching your loved one suffer in front of you could naturally pull you towards imagining their relief and yours. Yet there is something comforting in knowing that we choose life. The goses may be ill beyond recognition, but as long as their neshama, their soul, is within them, we must afford them the same honor as when they were a healthy person. Much can also be said of the extreme care afforded to the dead through our traditional burial rites, called TaharaWhether in the process, or final stage of death, our tradition offers a path to mark loss among the living.

Tazria-Metzorah

As the parshiyot (chapters) Tazria-Metzorah approach, my mind has been wrapped up in another form of spiritual separation.

In Tazria-Metzorah, the Torah describes a skin affliction called tzarat, similar afflictions of clothes and home, a mother who is post-birth, and all kinds of bodily fluids. As it has been said in other modern commentaries, all of the above physical experiences are aspects of life leaving the body naturally (childbirth, menstruation, seminal emission) and others which are irregular, (afflictions and irregular emissions). These physical states render the person tamei, or in a state of spiritual impurity. Hence, there is a direct correlation to your physical body and your relationship with God and holiness because being tamei literally means you can’t make an offering to God. The Torah’s protocol for addressing this ritual unreadiness depends on what created the tumah, but generally it involves waiting a certain number of days, washing your clothes in water, and then make an offering of various animals, and/or flour and oil. Later on, our Rabbinic tradition interpreted the lines referring to washing our clothes in water to mean immersion in a mikveh.

Like the goses, whose life hangs in the balance but who we are obligated to treat as fully alive, here is a healthy person who has just had a temporary experience with their own human fragility. Illness, a woman who has held life and released it, a discharge of bodily fluid that had the potential for life, but created none; we spare no effort to restore a ritual balance. It’s almost as though we are screaming L’CHAIM (to life) at the top of our lungs. We sense our power; we can create life. And we sense our precariousness; our bodies can falter, and they do. We are both potential partners with God in creation, and also completely helpless. The choice is clear, we choose life, but we don’t fail to mark death by recognizing a separation. In these parshiyot, the separation is space, time, and an offering to God on an altar.

To be honest, I don’t think I’m that good at acknowledging the fragility of my own life. I can exist for long bouts of time in my mind, at my desk, in my every day material concerns. When I think of God, It is a limitless presence that is within everything, but Its presence is diffuse and abstract. Dare I say, easy to ignore? By contrast, the world that our written Torah speaks of is a deeply physical one. The Israelites knew physical labor in a way I never have, and the amount of exercise they got during those forty years in the wilderness….well, you get the picture. Moreover, the God of Bamidbar (the wilderness) had an appetite. The smell of incense and burnt offerings, the mixing of choice flour and oil. Spring water, hyssop and the sight of blood appeased and atoned. All of this happened in what one might call a bayit, a home, a place where God physically dwells (mishkan, or tabernacle, comes from the root for the word to dwell, and the Beit Hamikdash, the temple that stood in Jerusalem, was just that, a bayit, a house). While I’m not advocating for a return to our sacrificial system, I want to point out the obvious; on our path towards modernity, we’ve lost touch with the way our bodies and the bodies of all living things are a pathway to holiness.

A turtledove, a lamb, flour and oil, a sprinkling of blood; these powerful symbols of life restored our connection to God. Later on, our Rabbinic tradition understood that, mayyim hayyim, living waters, were part of what restored our relationship to holiness as well. What makes these waters alive? It’s not just that they come from nature, it’s that they come naturally, unaided by human hands. The waters of a mikveh cannot be mayyim sheuvim, drawn watersWhether it’s a spring in our backyard, or our very own mikveh, those waters are connected to a source that is beyond our intervention, beyond our own transitions from one state of being to another.

It all makes for quite the paradox. Our bodies are formed, we are told, in the image of a changeless, eternal God, yet we grow up, we get sick, we experience loss or death, we cycle through these shifts in our body until our last day on earth. At each point, we have a choice. We can ignore it, or we can pause to marvel at our body’s precarious brilliance. We can try to honor these fragile moments by reaffirming our connection to something far greater than us, and although we don’t have a physical home for God as we once did, our own bodies, our prayers and the warm waters of the mikveh have become a new kind of home. As we read the upcoming parshiyot, Tazria-Metzorah, I hope for many of us, we will be able to reflect on our own and others’ moments of fragility and think l‘chaim, as we often say, and remember that we really mean it.

Leeza Negelev is the Associate Director of Education at Mayyim Hayyim. She enjoys theologically discourse and sharing long toasts during festive meals that end with a murmur of people mumbling “l’chaim!”

 

 

 

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Just Dropping In

by Lisa Dee Port White, Mikveh Guide

lisa port white olderLast week I was driving down Washington Street and decided to pull into the Mayyim Hayyim parking lot. I wanted to see if it might be possible to immerse. I have wanted to for months, thought about making an appointment, thought about dropping in, and each time, I’ve done nothing to follow up.  There are a few reasons for not following through: timing, forgetfulness, etc., but the real reason was shame.  I haven’t been actively guiding for months now, and while it’s not like I just disappeared (I let them know I needed to take a break), still, I wasn’t doing my part.  I know very little about what it takes to run Mayyim Hayyim, but I do know that it needs its volunteers.

Another thing I know is that it’s not great form to just drop by and see if the mikveh is available. Mayyim Hayyim is a busy place. In addition to the thousands of immersions that happen every year, there are tours, education programs, art exhibits, talks, meetings, and celebrations.

Carrie Bornstein, the Executive Director, was in the reception area having a meeting with someone and she greeted me warmly, despite my interrupting her. She called Lisa Berman (Mikveh and Education Director), interrupting her meeting, to make sure the mikveh was free. Leeza Negelev (Associate Director of Education) came down, interrupting her work, to be my guide.

I’d never met Leeza before, but I immediately liked her—she was kind and open and warm—she made me feel safe and welcome and cared for by: a) smiling, b) not acting as if I was rude and inconsiderate and thoughtless for just showing up, c) offering me the opportunity to check out the rituals available, d) making sure the room and mikveh were ready before bringing me back, and, e) treated me like a guest, like any other person coming in to immerse.  When I offered to help put the cover back on after my visit, she said, “You’re not here as a guide, you are here to immerse: just be here.” And I immediately started to get teary.

I really needed to be there.  To just be there.  To pause, and prepare, and let myself be held in the warm waters of Mayyim Hayyim.

This has been a tough winter in the Boston area. With all the snow, school delays, snow days, and school vacation, my family was not the only one feeling hemmed in.  Beyond that, though, it had been a tough few months, personally. Nothing catastrophic, just hard. I know the difference.  But even though hard isn’t catastrophic, it is still, well, hard, and that can be exhausting and bring up all kinds of other hard—like grief and sadness and maybe a little depression. So, for some time, I have reined in, pulled back, offered less, like not signing up to guide.

I could not remember the last time I had immersed.

I took my time in the prep room, not lingering, but not rushing.  I removed the nail polish from my toes.  I remembered that I’d stopped getting pedicures a few years ago when I was immersing regularly. When I was in the shower, as I washed my hair, I felt the earring I had forgotten to remove, and took it out.

After all the soap and shampoo was rinsed off, I wrapped myself in the sheet and went to the door separating the prep room from the mikveh. I took a breath and entered my favorite room in the world. I never move quickly, but sometimes I rush. I did not want to rush this. I hung the sheet up on the hook and stood before the steps leading into the water—the first two dry, the rest with my feet submerged.

Hineni, I am here. Please guide my steps. Buoy me with Your Spirit.

Privilege is a popular topic these days and as I dressed, I wondered if I had used my mikveh-guide privilege when dropping in. I am also a member of Mayyim Hayyim; would my being a (small) financial supporter of the mikveh mean I would be treated in a privileged way? Was I counting on that when I ‘just dropped in?’

Gathering the damp towels and sheet, I decided it wasn’t privilege that allowed me to immerse, (although it probably allowed my presumption to ask). What allowed me to immerse was my need for it and fortunately the mikveh was available. I think Leeza recognized something of that when she was asked to be my guide.

People don’t just show up at the mikveh because they want a shower and a quick dip. We come because something has shifted and it is time to move from one state of being to another. We come because there is nothing else that manifests that transition; we come to be embraced and buoyed and held by the living waters. And really, everyone who walks through the door is welcomed the same way. But, next time I will make an appointment.

Lisa Dee is a member, a mikveh guide, and a big fan of Mayyim Hayyim. She works as a massage therapist, providing gentle, intentional, non-medical touch to oncology, medically fragile, and hospice patients of all ages in their homes, hospitals, or skilled nursing facilities. She has found a new passion in fiber arts and spends much of her free time hooking rugs. 

 

 

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Pesach and My Gluten Free Life

by Walt Clark, Office Manager

10606485_10101343564453022_869520489535807548_nIt’s Pesach (Passover) at Mayyim Hayyim. Late last week, the staff gathered downstairs to get the kitchen ready for the upcoming holiday.

As I was surrounded by the fury of cleaning, I realized that the Mayyim Hayyim kitchen had gone gluten free. I live in a gluten free household so I know the warning signs. Cake is gone. Bread is gone. The most exotic sauces we buy now are tomato sauce. It’s a big change in any kitchen. Because of this change, I’m now experienced with reading ingredient labels to make sure there isn’t any flour in foods and having to call restaurants in advance to ask “is there anything that doesn’t have flour in it?” For today’s post, I wanted to share with you the best ways to survive and flourish in such an environment.

Here are my top 3 strategies to cope with no grain in your life (even if it’s only for Passover).

1. Carbs. Who needs ’em?

Not being able to eat grain frequently means I am eating fewer carbs. I tell myself when I walk in front of a bakery and smell fresh bread that the fact that I am walking past the bakery and not walking in and eating all the bread is probably good for my health in the long run. I use it as an excuse to eat healthier.

2. Filling up on your other food groups

During the day, if I want a snack, fruits are a great to way to feel full, as well as picking up some extra vitamins. For meals, if you want to get carbohydrates, potatoes are the way to go. Here is a great recipe for scalloped potatoes. You may want to use my third strategy to make this kosher for Passover.

3. Ingredient substitution

If there are things that you absolutely can’t give up, there always the option of tweaking recipes and finding ingredients that will keep the consistency correct. For flour (which is in everything), I typically use corn starch as a substitute for a lot of baked dishes, but for Passover that may not be acceptable for everyone. For some, corn isn’t kosher for Passover because it is considered to be in the category of kitniyot(which also includes rice, millet and legumes). That being said, coconut flour is a viable non-kitniyot substitute.

Grain is a huge part of many people’s diets, but it is possible to live and have a good meal without it. Wishing you culinary strength in the days ahead.

Walton Clark is Mayyim Hayyim’s office manager and jack of all trades.  He is a working keyboardist in Boston, playing Black American Music and leads the acid-funk outfit Roxo Gato as well as performing in a variety of groups. You can follow him on Twitter @walt_twitwalker and on Instagram @welaxer.

 

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Living in the Moment, Connecting to My Past

by Gail Kazin

gailkazin1With the big 6-0 looming in the wings I had considered how I might celebrate this meaningful birthday.  Since neither of my parents had lived to be sixty, I looked forward to the day with tremendous gratitude and some trepidation.

At some point I decided that immersion at Mayyim Hayyim was perhaps the most meaningful thing I could do to honor this day.

Would I go with others or by myself?  Bring my husband?  Tell anyone?

The first time I immersed, ten years earlier, was after completion of breast cancer treatment. I had come with a group of women who had supported me during those long months.  It was a special experience with songs, blessings and many tears, smiles and hugs. I recall thinking it was not so much the immersion but the sisterhood that encircled me in the atrium.  I was in a white robe beaming as my friends shared their words of love and I recognized just how much their presence had nurtured me during the months of medical care.

And now I was eleven years post diagnosis and sixty!

I booked the appointment on a day that two important women were able to join me. I did not have a plan of how this particular immersion should go.  It would just be. I was emotional when I thought about it in advance.  Surely I would cry, I assumed.

The day started like every Friday with morning yoga, then I went home, to have lunch and to get ready. I thought, “I need to bring something with me to the mikveh.” I searched for my mom’s Star of David and my grandmother’s gold earrings but could not quickly locate either of them. Plus, I realized those things would need to be removed to immerse.  But suddenly an idea popped into my head: photographs.  I would bring family photos with me.  I would have my family “with me.”

I grabbed a few framed photos that adorn our home.

One was of my maternal grandmother, Sarah, as a bride, she who was the epitome of strong, funny and courageous during her life.  She too had breast cancer.  Lived a decently long life into her seventies. I adored grandma Sarah. She made me happy, and despite her hard life was frequently laughing.

A photo of my parents, Bea and Sid.  In the photo, they are healthy and radiant, I suspect in their forties, living their lives, working, raising children, bringing joy to everyone who knew them. Life was good then, but did they know it?

One photo was of me with my two sisters, smiling, dressed in florals, at an easier time in life.

A photo of my mom with my eldest child when he was two. A favorite photo.  I didn’t know it would be one of few with his grandparents alive. A smiling bubbie, a happy grandson.

One photo is at our middle son’s Bar Mitzvah in 2001.  Our growing family joyously draped with our tallitot, prayer shawl.

And lastly our family of five on vacation post-breast cancer treatment, me with chic short hair, celebrating life, having fun, and feeling joy. gails photo

Upon arrival at Mayyim Hayyim, I placed the photos on the wooden container inside the mikveh by the pool.  I would have my family watching me as I descended the seven steps, turned the bor cap, (the handle that connects the rainwater to the immersion pool), and said the blessings.  They would witness my immersion.

It created a holy moment that was unplanned and magical.

As I read from the mikveh ceremonies about joyous occasions and gratitude, I really felt that turning sixty was just that; joyous and full of oh-so-much gratitude.

In the atrium, my friends greeted me with hugs. They shared song and poetry with me, and my mikveh experience was perfection!

Gail enjoys being with positive people, listening to music and being in nature. She works as a nurse practitioner in Primary Care, has a great husband, and three lovely sons who live too far away. She can be found in yoga class several days a week and thanks her many friends near and far who have made her birthday month incredibly special. She is embracing winter and living for today.

 

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