A New Film from Mayyim Hayyim, Open Waters: Mikveh for Everybody

by Carrie Bornstein

Accessibility to people with disabilities has been a Mayyim Hayyim priority since the very beginning. Petichut – openness – is one of our guiding principles and it is part of everything we do: nobody is closed out of our education programs, art gallery, or immersion the mikveh itself. Now, in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, we can show you exactly what accessibility looks like and why it matters, in our newest documentary film, Open Waters: Mikveh for Everybody.

I hope this film inspires you to consider the mikveh as a normative part of Jewish life for everyone – including people with disabilities. And I hope you’ll share the film with others. I hope it will make you consider what true accessibility might look like in your school, camp, or synagogue and I hope you’ll make a contribution to Mayyim Hayyim to help us to deepen our efforts for inclusion in the entire Jewish community.

Later this year we’ll release a discussion guide to accompany Open Waters, to help spark conversation – and action – in your community.

Let us know if you’d like more information and we’ll send it as soon as it’s available.

Open Waters: Mikveh for Everybody

Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director.

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Open Waters: A Huge Success

by Carrie Bornstein

What’s the best thing about a Mayyim Hayyim event aside from the event itself? The day after the event.

Below is a selection of emails we received from you, our dedicated fan club, that started pouring in yesterday morning.

Thank you for being at Open Waters, all 500 of you. Thank you for sharing your words with us. Thank you for helping us not only meet, but exceed our fundraising goal for the evening, getting us to more than 50 percent of our annual fundraising goal. Your generosity propels us forward for a year filled with welcoming, accessibility, and transformation to keep our waters flowing.

That was an amazing event last night. It was meaningful, joyful, spirited and entertaining. It was for all generations to celebrate the greatness of what is Mayyim Hayyim and why its existence is so important.


I hope you are still walking on air. Last night was truly a fabulous night. The take-away message certainly came across clearly; Mayyim Hayyim is for everyone.


I don’t have to tell you how fantastic last evening was….

The amount of effort and love put into the event was evident.

You deserve all the accolades!

I hope each one of you have given yourselves a well-deserved hug and had a deep and restful sleep last night…I know I did.


A really fabulous event last night.  A great presentation of Mayyim Hayyim, and wonderful to honor friends like Peter and Betty.


You guys did an amazing job.  It was a beautiful (tear-jerking) evening.


A superb evening from start to finish. And people were rocking – music was great! And the film was really superb… all in all, great evening.

Soon we’ll share more photos and our newest documentary film we premiered at the event. It’s about accessibility at the mikveh, it’s so good, and I can’t wait until our formal launch to the public.

Until then, feel good knowing you’re helping Mayyim Hayyim to thrive. We’re all better off because of it.

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Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director.

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Subject Line: First Timer

Tonight is our major benefit event – seems like we should be writing with one last ditch effort to promote and build excitement. But recently we got this email below and just had to share it with you. While we still can’t wait to celebrate with all 500 of you tonight(!!!!), we are brought back to the simple fact of why we’re here, and how proud we are that the Boston Jewish community supports Mayyim Hayyim for people like Talia. Enjoy the read.

Dear Carrie,

Last night was my first visit to Mayyim Hayyim, and I just wanted to reach out and let you know about my visit.

I have been to a number of mikvehs over the last 12 years, at times in my life when I have felt more or less open to the practice and with various needs/desires from the mikveh beyond Taharat Hamishpacha (literally, the laws of “family purity”).

While overall (with some unfortunate exceptions) I have not found those visits to be in particularly negative, I also have never experienced mikveh as particularly positive.

I felt last night that it was a qualitatively different visit than I’ve had before. For the first time I experienced the mikveh as my own, and the immersion in the mikveh as belonging to me, to be felt and experienced as I wished. It was a feeling I hadn’t realized was missing until I had it. It was really special, and I’m very much looking forward to future visits.

I’m grateful to be part of a community where Mayyim Hayyim exists, for myself and for others, to use the mikveh and to be a place that allows for ‘yes’ to be the default.Talia

Thank you for all that you do to sustain such a special place (and thanks to Gail, my wonderful and attentive Mikveh Guide last night).

– Talia

Talia Engelhart manages a program at Boston Children’s Hospital for teen parents and their children. She lives in Brookline with her husband and four kids. 

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One of our Favorites: The Gift of the Guide

Next week, Mayyim Hayyim will honor the authors of Blessings for the Journey: A Jewish Healing Guide for Women with Cancer. Since its publication this book has brought hope and renewal to women throughout the world. One of them is Rabbi Robin Nafshi, who also happens to be the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Jacob, the New Hampshire synagogue of the event’s other honorees, Betty and Peter Shapiro (nothing is a coincidence!). Below is Rabbi Nafshi’s 2012 post about her personal experience with Blessings for the Journey (available for purchase here).

We hope you’ll join us on May 18 to celebrate Blessings’ authors and inclusion at Mayyim Hayyim.

Okay, now on to the post:

The Gift of the Guide

Written by Robin Nafshi, Rabbi of Temple Beth Jacob

This past June, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. While I was only 50 at the time of my diagnosis, it really wasn’t a shock. My father – and his sister – had cancer. So did his mother and his uncle. And I have since learned, so did his grandfather, his mother’s father. I have always taken after my father. Although not consciously, I think I have been “waiting” for a cancer diagnosis for about the past ten years.

Read the full text here

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Behind the Scenes

by Walt Clark, Office Manager10575385_10101407932399142_6711001650359510826_o

A good friend of mine worked at Disney world one summer as a facilities technician. Unlike other places, he was not called an employee, but a “cast member” because at Disney you are expected to always be in character when interacting with people at the different parks. Some people he worked with would actually put on costumes like Mickey Mouse or Cinderella and go interact with people at the park. If you were in uniform, you had to act the part, regardless if you were a explorer selling sodas or an astronaut handing out maps.

Unlike other cast members, he didn’t have very many opportunities to be out and ‘perform’ because the nature of his position often meant he was working behind the scenes. Ever so often though when he was traveling between projects, he could travel through the park and enjoyed being able to put on a show for folks visiting.

The past couple of weeks here at Mayyim Hayyim we have been getting ready for our benefit event, Open Waters: Mikveh for Everybody. I have been deep in working on many of the administrative aspects of this event as well as for the rest of the building, so like my friend, I really have not gotten a chance to experience what has been going on as often.

Lucky for me we keep a guest book by the front door where many people have shared their experiences. The quotes below I picked are from the last couple of weeks. They are my way to get a glimpse at what people are experiencing and how we are bringing value to their lives. In a small way, they let me take a stroll through the park, even on the most hectic days.

“It is a blessing to have our families gather for this celebration in such a warm and welcoming space. We are so appreciative of the way you opened your doors to our diverse (and plentiful!) groups of Jews and Colombians! Thank you thank you thank you!”

“I felt that I was preparing myself and cleansing myself to become a bat mitzvah.”

“What a wonderful way to celebrate the coming arrival of our son. Thank you for letting us commemorate it in such a special ceremony.”

“I could not have had a more beautiful welcome to my Jewish life!”

“Thank you for making the dream come true.”

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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Out of the Margins and Into the Water

by Sandy Slavet, Mikveh Guide

Sandy_Slavet2Each of us who comes to the waters of Mayyim Hayyim is called by a voice from within: a voice that awakens our souls to the possibility of transformation. It is a voice that recalls an ancient Jewish ritual and that is as new as every breath we take.

I first decided to become a Mikveh Guide at Mayyim Hayyim knowing that I wanted to guide others into to the warmth and safety of the water. As an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, I wanted Mayyim Hayyim to be a place where access would not depend solely on spoken language. I knew I could support that access.

But I soon realized that there are others who would come to Mayyim Hayyim to mark their own important moments who might need a little extra support: people with unique and perhaps unconventional ways of communicating. For some, spoken or visual language is challenging. For others, understanding instructions and following directions is difficult. Sometimes immersing in water is scary. Experiencing Jewish rituals is unfamiliar.

At Mayyim Hayyim these challenges become opportunities. I have had the honor to guide and support individuals with developmental disabilities and autism who came not only to learn about mikveh but to immerse to mark important moments in their lives. Six adults in their 40’s and 50’s who had never been able to study Jewish texts or been called to the Torah as thirteen-year-olds, came to immerse just before their adult B’nai Mitzvah.

My own daughter came to mark ‘turning 22’ (a very big transformation in the life of someone with developmental disabilities). These are Jews who come to Mayyim Hayyim to take their place in line behind so many others who have come to this mikveh to mark special moments. At Mayyim Hayyim, I have been blessed to guide these Jewish adults from the margins of Jewish life into the water.. into the center… where we all belong.

Tickets are still available for Open Waters: Mikveh for Everybody on May 18 at Temple Emanuel, where we’ll premiere our newest documentary film on accessibility at the mikveh, made in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation. (And featuring Sandy Slavet.)

Sandy Slavet is the Director of Jewish Life Services for People with Disabilities at Jewish Family & Children’s Service. She is also a nationally certified ASL Interpreter. Sandy serves on the Board of Directors of Synagogue Council of MA, South Shore Mental Health and is the President Elect of Temple Sinai of Sharon. She has been a Mikveh Guide at Mayyin Hayyim since 2006. Sandy and her husband, Joe Strazzulla, have four wonderful daughters and are the adoring grandparents of Rowen, Shiloh and Grace. 

Posted in Accessibility, Inclusiveness | 1 Comment

Open Waters Every Day

by DeDe Jacobs-Komisar

DeDe_Jacobs-Komisar_pic_1_Before I started as Development Manager at Mayyim Hayyim last year, I was afraid that the daily demands of fundraising would make it hard to always appreciate the amazing things that happen here every day. I feared that I would begin to see people only in terms of their “capacity,” as we say, and not for their full stories, their journeys that bring them to this place. Thank God, this hasn’t happened, because every day I encounter Mayyim Hayyim’s vision transforming peoples’ lives in powerful, tangible ways.

I’m currently buried in planning and raising funds for our upcoming event on May 18 – Open Waters: Mikveh for Everybody. It’s my first time running a major benefit, and it’s been both rewarding and challenging, putting together endless tiny pieces that will add up to a beautiful whole. Open Waters is focusing on inclusion at Mayyim Hayyim, and in addition to honoring Betty and Peter Shapiro and the authors of Blessings for the Journey: a Jewish Healing Guide for Women with Cancer, we’ll be premiering an original documentary on accessibility at the mikveh, made possible in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation. Take a look at the preview:

Pretty amazing, right? Imagine for a minute what Mayyim Hayyim’s accessibility means to those who need it. Consider the fact that Mayyim Hayyim is one of about a dozen mikvaot worldwide that are fully accessible. Can you imagine not being able to immerse – at all – because your local mikveh does not accommodate your accessibility needs? At Mayyim Hayyim, access for everyone is essential to our mission. We provide a welcoming and accommodating experience for everyone in the Jewish community, including those with physical and developmental disabilities.

Up to my eyes in budgets and response cards this week, I got a reminder of the impact of this access. I answered a call from a woman whose name I did not recognize. She said that she wanted to make a donation for the upcoming event. I thanked her for her support and grabbed a pen to take down the details, when the voice on the phone broke down into tears. She explained that her son was born with a developmental disability, and for a long time she couldn’t fathom how to imbue him with a sense of Jewish identity, indeed if it was even possible. As he approached his 13th birthday, she despaired of giving her sweet, bright, loving son a bar mitzvah. How could it even be done?

Then she found Mayyim Hayyim, and knew at once that it was the right place to welcome her son into his Jewish adulthood. Working in partnership with our Mikveh and Education Director, Lisa Berman, and one of our volunteer Mikveh Guides who happens to be a rabbi, she is planning a bar mitzvah immersion and celebration here for this coming June. While he does not have the ability to read from the Torah, immersion is a ritual in which he can fully participate, thanks to Mayyim Hayyim. “Mayyim Hayyim showed me that this was possible,” she finished, “I can’t tell you how much this means to us.”

I hung up the phone and looked around at the budgets, response cards, the press release that I had nearly memorized, the lists of donors and participants. Each name was a story, a journey, a moment of transformation this place has made possible. Thanks for the reminder.

DeDe Jacobs-Komisar is Mayyim Hayyim’s Development Manager. She hopes she’ll see you at our event on May 18.

Posted in Accessibility, DeDe Jacobs-Komisar, Disability, Inclusiveness | 3 Comments