A recent visit from Aliza Kline of Mayyim Hayyim to the Conservative Yeshiva in Israel brought up a kind of intense and weird nostalgia and homesickness in me.
When Aliza arrived at my work, she called to ask about parking. I said I’d meet her outside and when I got there, the driveway was blocked by a van. After I yelled and got the van moved, the driveway was still made very
difficult by cars parked on either side. Then she had to take her car down
the steep, curved incline to our parking, while I was simultaneously
berating the man who was blocking easy entrance (he said he wasn’t) and
talking to a student who wanted to talk to me.
Later, after the presentation, her entrance seemed like a metaphor to me
about my life in Israel. There was one moment during it when I thought,
“Wait, she’s not an olah (immigrant to Israel), she may not be able to handle this”.
Aliza started her presentation talking about what makes a ritual work. In 11
years in Israel, I feel I have not heard people ask this kind of question. I
had trouble understanding it – how rituals work and don’t work – it’s rarely one
or the other to me. She asked the students what a ritual was and they had
answers – I could not remember what a ritual was. I was trying to figure out
which parts of my life are ritual and which are not, and did not feel sure I
But I should back up. That was after another conversation on our way over to
the Beit Midrash (study hall). My boss had mentioned the old mikveh in Brighton, and I
said I had been there before my wedding, and then started on thinking about
that and about what it has meant to me to pass at the mikveh – pass for
straight that is, because I’ve never been to the mikveh when I was not a
lesbian, and I’ve never been out at a mikveh, whatever that would mean.
Aliza talked a lot about safe space and what it means to create a space
where people are going to feel safe taking off their clothes. I didn’t even
feel safe talking about it. I noticed most faculty were not there, and I
noticed the relative ease with which the students participated, and I
thought about how much more restrained a culture Israel is when it comes to
talking about sexuality.
I thought about my kids, and about how I went to the mikveh before I got
pregnant, for a period of months each time, and about how I was always
passing as a straight person. I thought, and almost said something, about
how the mikveh lady told me “Livriut (Bless you)” and about how I prayed to get pregnant
each time. I thought of the Reform rabbi who married us and who had
recommended mikveh to me when I was trying to get pregnant, and I thought of
the ultrasound technician who, the day after the first time I went to the
mikveh in that process, asked me, “did you go to the mikveh?” Could she see
it on my face? It was the one and only time in the fertility process that I
was asked. I didn’t think of, but think of now, the kavanah (intention for ritual) a friend gave me for mikveh, and how I prayed for everyone who was trying to get pregnant,
and how until this day I have a track record – all the people I have prayed
for, there and elsewhere, that they be blessed to become parents, have
received that blessing.
I listened to Aliza talk about making mikveh in Massachusetts a safe and
accessible space for everyone. It kind of reminded me of how I feel when I
daven (pray) with a Reconstructionist siddur (prayer book)- like, oh, my spirituality used to be like that – open, full of possibilities. Aliza had asked for an example of
what doesn’t work and when I said, “When you can’t bring your whole self
there” she said, “Like maybe when a mechitza (partition between men and women in a synagogue) isn’t done in a way that can work for you,” and I thought of the many Shabbat mornings I spend in a mechitza shul where I daven and what it means to try to bring my whole self there to a space that doesn’t reflect my values and what it means to pray or
be part of any ritual moment and not be all of me but still feel transformed
and uplifted. And what it means to sit with contradictions and discomfort
and not knowing.
I thought of the parking lot entrance, and how much that feels like my
ritual life here. I wondered if I will one day experience some reclamation
of mikveh. My partner said maybe we shouldn’t be planning a trip to Florida
and instead should be thinking of going back to Massachusetts for a trip to
Mayyim Hayyim. Then I think of my very real moments in the mikveh, and my
very real kids, and thank G-d.
Gail Diamond served as rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in Attleboro, MA, before making aliyah with her partner in 2001. She lives with her family in Tzur Hadassah and works at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.