It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years. A decade since marriage between two people of the same gender became legal in Massachusetts. It is also a decade since I immersed in a mikveh for the first time.
In December 2003, a friend of mine suggested that I consider going to the mikveh. I did not know much about this ritual. She immersed monthly for what I now know is the ritual of niddah. I had been having a rough time. My then partner of 13 years had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and we were both overwhelmed by her illness and by the fact that we were also raising our 5-year old daughter through this stressful time. After talking with my friend about mikveh, I took the leap. I called the local mikveh and left a message. I remember it was the first night of Chanukkah that I received a call from the “mikveh lady.” We had just returned home after attending the community lighting of the Chanukkiah. My conversation with the “mikveh lady” went something like this:
ML : Hello Mrs. Kalish.
Me: You can call me Cindy.
ML: Well I understand that you would like to make an appointment to immerse at the mikveh.
Me: Yes, I would.
ML: And will you be doing this for the purpose of cleansing yourself for your husband?
Me: Well, actually I’m a lesbian. I’m looking for more of a spiritual cleansing. Things have been kind of rough . . .
ML: Oh . . . . a lesb . . . well, HaShem(God) would not approve of that.
Me: Well, actually, I am an active member of my synagogue . . .
ML: Hm . . . HaShem(God).
Me: Well, the G-d that I believe in is ok with my sexual orientation.
ML: Oh dear, there is only one G-d.
Me: I know. It’s the same G-d we are talking about here. (I was trying to invoke some humor!)
ML: Well, clearly you would not be able to immerse in the mikveh as we provide a KOSHER mikveh and your lifestyle would unKOSHER the mikveh.
I believe that I just hung up the phone and cried as I watched the candles of the menorah in my living room burn. . . . ‘don’t let the lights go out . . . they’ve lasted for so many years . . . ‘
I went back to my friend and let her know that I would not be able to immerse in the mikveh after all.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
A few months later another friend, Joyce, told me about a mikveh that was scheduled to open in the spring on May 14, 2004. She said that this mikveh was open to all Jews (even the lesbian Jews!). I had pretty much given up on immersing, and at the same time I was very curious and was yearning for something. Joyce offered to take me to the mikveh as soon as they opened.
On May 17, around 6:00am, I went to City Hall to get in line. My partner, Michelle, joined me just after she dropped my daughter, Hannah, off at school. We were number 7 in line. We applied for our marriage license and that evening I made the trip to Newton with my dear friend, Joyce. I was nervous and excited. What if this mikveh lady turned me away too? But Joyce assured me that she had spoken with the woman at Mayyim Hayyim. They had just opened on May 14th and were thrilled to welcome their first “lesbian bride.”
The experience of being welcomed to Mayyim Hayyim was overwhelming, serene, and like nothing else that I have ever experienced. The building was gorgeous. Soft, gentle tones. Clean. Beautiful. The Mikveh Guide, Kathy, explained everything and Joyce waited outside of the mikveh doors as I entered the waters. Seven steps. Number seven in line that morning. A day of new beginnings. For Mayyim Hayyim. For me. For my family. For same sex couples. For Massachusetts. I fully understood the depth of what I was about to do. Of the covenant that I was about to make. As I write this now, my eyes are welling up with tears as I recall the Mikveh Guide declaring “Kosher.” And again, “Kosher”, and a third time, “Kosher.” I let the waters wash over me and renew my soul.
In those moments I allowed myself to feel the sense of peace and hope and renewal and pride. Pride in being a Kosher Lesbian Jew.
I still have the prayer that I wrote and recited before entering the waters of the mikveh in May, 2004.
Dear G-d, As I prepare to immerse myself in these living waters, please watch over me and my family. Please help me to feel cleansed and whole and holy – please be there with me as I take this symbolic step towards healing, purifying, renewing my commitment to Michelle through marriage. Please give me the strength to continue loving her and being there for her in every way that she needs me to be. Please give me the strength of mind and body to be the mother that Hannah needs me to be. I love her so much that it hurts sometimes. It is through my love for Hannah that I know that there is a G-d. At times when I have doubted that, I look into her eyes and I know that You are there. Her conception and birth were truly miraculous and when I look deep into her eyes, I know that she would not be here if it were not for G-d. I believe that you are a G-d who loves deeply – who loves me for the Lesbian, Jew, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Lover and Partner that I am and strive to be. Please help me to have the strength to endure whatever challenges come our way and please give me the ability to enjoy every beautiful moment in life – and the ability to enjoy the present without being consumed with worrying about what the future holds. Adonai Li V’lo Ira. (G-d is with me and I will have no fear) Amen
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I remain humbled by and grateful for the existence of Mayyim Hayyim. As one who believes that most everything in this life is for a reason, it does not feel like a coincidence that both Mayyim Hayyim and marriage equality in Massachusetts were born at the same moment in time.
The last decade of my life has been filled with major life challenges, as well as personal growth, joy, and excitement for what is to come. In July I will turn fifty and will celebrate and prepare myself for the next decade by immersing in the living waters that are Mayyim Hayyim.
Cindy Kalish lives in Worcester, MA with her 16 year old daughter, Hannah. She teaches religious school at the Worcester Community Hebrew School (PaRDeS) and is an active member of Temple Emanuel-Sinai. She is looking forward to turning 50 years old and is finally starting to feel like an adult!