By Rabbi Margaret Frisch-Klein
Mayyim Hayyim saved my life. That is not hyperbole. Mikveh was not unknown to me. I love the water and it is a medium that spoke to me.
Before Mayyim Hayyim was even thought of, based on Anita Diamant’s New Jewish Wedding Book, I planned to immerse for my wedding at Walden Pond. It was still frozen so I went to the Concord River. BRRR! Before Mayyim Hayyim was open I experimented with niddah. I loved the idea of being
like a bride again, but it didn’t work well for us. I was too often traveling on business. I wrote my own healing mikveh ceremony which led to my applying to rabbinical school. I wrote papers on ancient mikvaot in school. I knew when Mayyim Hayyim opened its doors, held its first national conference, and hosted Debbie Friedman z’l at a fundraiser. I wanted to go. I didn’t have time. I was too busy.
Then I had a flashback. I had been the victim of a violent attack in Israel and it all came rushing back. My rabbi, Neil Kominsky, suggested that I call Aliza Kline directly. She handled that call with grace and poise and professionalism. I came to Mayyim Hayyim scared and scarred. Mayyim Hayyim has helped me mark various transitions. The major seven car pile up on the West Side Highway-Hineni, I am still here. The death of my mother. My rabbinical school ordination. A milestone birthday. Anniversaries of the attack which occurred on a major Jewish festival. And month by month by month. Mayyim Hayyim offers a chance to pause and reflect and heal. It is an intentional space, gentle from the moment you walk through the arched gate and enjoy the flowers and the three water jugs. It is a safe, non-judgmental space where attention is paid to every detail. Every time I immersed it was different, and every time it was powerful. Slowly, slowly I began to heal.
Along the way I became a mikveh guide and educator. I love guiding on a quiet weeknights and holding sacred space for another woman. It is powerful. I helped BIMA at Brandeis make a movie–and talked publicly about that attack on film. I have represented Mayyim Hayyim on the Jewish Domestic Violence Coalition. I helped build the Embracing Waters Bench. I was sent to Portland as a representative from Mayyim Hayyim to help open their new community mikveh. I spoke at LimmudBoston and at the National Conference. I have blogged about Mayyim Hayyim. I brought classes to the mikveh and taught classes. My own high school class even treated me to a surprise birthday party right there. I helped a friend use the space to acknowledge healing from breast cancer. Each of these were holy moments. I was even on the staff earlier this year while Mayyim Hayyim was in its own transition.
Now I am in a transitional moment again. I am leaving the Boston area after 30+ years. I will be the rabbi of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin, IL. It means I will have to leave Mayyim Hayyim, at least my regular connection to those living waters-and to the people who mean so much. How does one mark that kind of transition? With a dip in the mikveh. I showed up, almost unannounced on a Friday morning. This would be my own personal time to immerse. Quietly. The staff again handled it so very well. The mikveh guide did everything right. There is even a ceremony for a Joyous Life Transition. Perfect. I sat in a prep room. And wrote and wrote and wrote. I poured out my heart about the job and the house I am leaving and my hopes for my new community and congregation. Eventually I walked through The Seven Kavanot and then down the seven mikveh steps. I opened the bor. I allowed my body to slowly uncurl. Then I sang. Nowhere else are the acoustics so good.
Since then there were two more trips to Mayyim Hayyim. Once to guide for the last time. It was a quiet Saturday evening. Only two immersees. I held that sacred space. I didn’t mind doing two loads of holy laundry. I didn’t mind wrestling both pool covers. I even figured out a new technique that works better. I cried a few tears as I pulled out of the driveway. Last week, I returned to Mayyim Hayyim to leave the staff chocolate, to say thank you, to celebrate with my friends and my daughter, who is also in transition and who immersed for the first time. Again I sang, again the accoustics have never sounded better. There were homebaked brownies still warm, tears, laughter and more tears as I pulled out of the parking lot.
You don’t often get to know that you saved a life. Our tradition teaches that if you save one life it is as though you saved the world. Mayyim Hayyim has done precisely that. Thank you.
Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein is the rabbi of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin, IL. Before moving to Elgin, she served as a mikveh guide and educator at Mayyim Hayyim. She blogs as the Energizer Rabbi.