A Day of Rebirth

by Daniel Goldberg

DanielDecember 8th, 2015: my first mikveh experience. I’ve been Jewish all my life, but up until a few months ago I didn’t even know this ancient ritual could be practiced by men, other than for the purpose of conversion. I met Rachel Eisen, then an intern at Mayyim Hayyim, at a Jewish event organized by The Network, and was excited to learn that mikveh immersion has been adopted for many celebrations, including birthdays. As a social worker, I was also impressed to learn that the modern mikveh can be used for emotional healing from trauma.

I’ve felt my Jewish identify strengthening in the past few years, and this past Rosh Hashanah I realized that this year marks twenty years since becoming a bar mitzvah. It was an easy decision to celebrate my birthday and to spark a year of re-dedication to Jewish learning and practice by immersing for the first time. I also knew it would help me to heal after a difficult year.

I arrived feeling the anxiety of a weekday rush and did a quick meditation in my car to prepare myself to savor the experience. In the preparation room I used the Seven Kavanot (intentions) for Mikveh Preparation to help me focus. I slowed down, became present, and allowed myself to consider my body as a gift.

Hineni” (here I am) I said with eyes closed in front of the mirror, with my reflection as my witness.

As with every Jewish ritual I practice, the spirit of generations, past, present, and future is felt closely. The pain and loss, the resilience and joy. Every step I take in a moment of ritual, no matter how alone I might be at the moment, is sparked by thousands of years of family tradition, and will spark thousands more. I counted the holy number of seven stairs as I descended into the water, while at the same time moving toward a feeling of aliyah (spiritual ascent).

Standing alone, I let in the living rain water from outside. “I’m still here,” I said with the Eternal as my witness.

Acknowledging the trauma of the past year, and all the years before it, I created distance with the three traditional full immersions, each completed with more confidence and intention than the last. I said the Shehecheyanu blessing with a new sense of humility and gratitude to God for allowing me to reach this moment. I thought of all my ancestors who have or have not had the opportunity to experience this, and I felt extremely privileged.

This same room has welcomed my new brothers and sisters who have chosen to be reborn into the Jewish family. These same waters have instilled bar and bat mitzvah children with joys I once felt, and they have comforted aging bodies from pains I have yet to feel.

This space and this time is holy.

The Shema prayer affirmed my belief in the Oneness of this sacred moment and helped me commit myself to a new year and a rediscovered purpose. I took time to simply enjoy being in the water. Intensity gave way to the plainest joy, and I floated refreshed, laughing and smiling, cradled in warmth like a newborn. My anxieties of the day were left behind in those waters, and I left feeling relaxed with a sense of truly existing in the moment. I made a promise to myself that for the next year I will try to be more mindful in the moment. I will be back for days of rebirth to come.

Daniel Goldberg is a social worker and musician living in the north shore of Massachusetts.

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A Quiet Holiness

by Kelly Banker, Intern

55aa894d-0359-46de-99cd-a84cf54377aeA few weeks ago, I was in deep need of a ritual space. I was yearning for a way to mark a rite of passage, a moment in time, with my partner (who is Christian), and yet finding something that would be meaningful for the both of us was feeling increasingly difficult. I felt drawn towards marking the day with Jewish ritual, which I knew might be a challenge as an interfaith couple. I can’t quite name what the calling to Jewish ritual is, but it feels visceral, ancestral – written into my body. When I asked my partner if he would be willing to mark this moment by visiting Mayyim Hayyim together, he was receptive but also distanced from it. He said that he would definitely go with me, but that it would be for me, and not for him. Since he is Christian, and the mikva’ot at Mayyim Hayyim are for Jews and those converting to Judaism, immersing is neither an option for him nor a strong point of identification. However, he is wonderful and knows how important the mikveh is to me, so he went along with me.

I had spoken to the staff at Mayyim Hayyim in advance of my visit to think through how to best make my partner feel welcomed and involved, despite his not being able to immerse. We talked through several options, including a hand-washing ritual and his being present in the space to witness my immersion (Mayyim Hayyim empowers guests to choose how their friends and family will support them). I was inspired by their attention to ensuring that Mayyim Hayyim was welcoming for an other-than-Jewish person who was understandably apprehensive about visiting a mikveh.

When my partner and I stepped across Mayyim Hayyim’s threshold, we felt a subtle shift. The warmth and kindness of our mikveh guide made us both feel at ease, and since she had been informed of our interfaith status, she focused her tour on providing information so that my partner would feel comfortable, able to ask questions, and connected to the place and to the ritual itself. Prior to arriving, he and I had decided that he would witness my immersion. Yet there was something ineffable about walking through the space with our guide, a sort of gentle calm that neither of us could quite pinpoint. As I began preparing, I felt my nerves begin to spark. Was it strange to have my partner witness me? Was it too non-traditional for the both of us? Would the immersion hold meaning for me if he was there, and vice versa?

I stepped into the mikveh room wrapped in my sheet, and there he was, waiting for me. As the mikveh guide had taught him, he held up the sheet to obscure his view, and I walked the seven steps into the sacred water. As I immersed, he lowered the sheet just beneath his eyes to witness my transformation. I prayed, sang, and felt held by the water-womb and by his modest, unassuming gaze. I climbed the seven steps out of the water and he wrapped me back in the sheet. I had never felt such warmth.

As we thanked our guide and stepped out into the chilly air, I felt a newness on my skin, the blooming of new beginnings and the bittersweet sting of endings. We held hands, and I asked him what he thought. He breathed deeply and paused. “It’s a holy place.”

His words underscored what many of us who immerse here regularly know, but it was a feeling I never thought would be accessible to us as a couple. We walked on, hand in hand, the air chilly against our faces, still basking in the afterglow of Mayyim Hayyim’s quiet holiness.

Are you interested in thinking more about interfaith relationships? Join us on Sunday January 24th at 3:30pm for Intermarriage & Gender in American Jewish Life: Dispelling the Myths about Marrying Out.”

Kelly Banker is an intern at Mayyim Hayyim. She is also a resident organizer at Moishe Kavod House and teaches Hebrew school at local synagogues. Kelly recently earned her BA from Carleton College in Religion and Women’s Studies, and has worked as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence. Kelly is also a doula, a farmer, and a certified yoga teacher. She loves movement, exploring the woods, poetry, and the moon.

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McGinity is Not A Jewish Name

by Dr. Keren McGinity

Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2014-02-15 17:22:22Z | http://piczard.com | http://codecarvings.comIf I had eighteen cents for every time someone told me, “McGinity? That’s not a Jewish name!” I’d be a wealthy woman. The statement is based on two assumptions: Jews have distinctive Jewish names and someone with an ethnically “other” name couldn’t possibly be Jewish. OK, so how does a nice Jewish girl end up with a name like McGinity?

I am the daughter of New York Jews. My parents’ acrimonious divorce illustrated that two Jews marrying each other was not a guarantee of happiness. I still figured I’d end up marrying a nice Jewish boy but when a cute Irishman popped the question, I said “yes!” I married young but mature enough to make one critically important deal: we agreed that I’d take his name and we’d raise any children as Jews.

Being intermarried forced me to ask: What does being Jewish actually mean? Becoming a mother meant figuring out: How do I transmit Judaism to my child? My Jewish identity deepened along the way and I became more involved in the Jewish community. I wondered: Am I an anomaly? I wrote about my experience and that of many other women who wed in the twentieth century in my first book, Still Jewish: A History of Women and Intermarriage in America. Turns out, my experience was not unique. I had it relatively easy: as a Jewish woman, my child’s identity was never questioned.

What about intermarried Jewish men? My new book Marrying Out: Jewish Men, Intermarriage & Fatherhood is a contemporary history, 1945-present. A current argument regarding intermarriage in America is that Jewish husbands are ambivalent about Judaism and less proactively vocal than their wives of other faith and cultural backgrounds about how children will be raised.

During my research, I learned that some men are actually “deciders,” insisting that their children be raised Jewish. Like women, men’s Jewish identities intensified when they intermarried and became fathers. As one intermarried man explained, he wanted to raise his kids Jewish and knew that mothers tend to play an important role. Since there wasn’t a Jewish mother, he said: “it’s almost like an overreaction to make sure it gets done.” That said, the structural realities in which men live are shaped by traditional American gender norms. Men are caught between wanting to spend more time with their families and the “rules” of masculinity that encourage them to win, to get ahead, to make more money. While some of our best “Jewish mothers” are Christian or becoming Jewish, the disproportionate responsibility for Jewish parenting has ramifications.

Policy discussions fueled by Pew’s 2013 “Portrait of Jewish Americans” abound. Is the glass half full or half empty? What to do once Birthright participants come home? The organized Jewish community has yet to address the troubling fact that millennial children of intermarriage are less likely to be raised Jewish if the father is Jewish than they are if the mother is Jewish.

I founded the Love & Tradition Institute to help equalize Jewish parenting and identity building. The Jewish people will grow and the Jewish future will strengthen if we build communities that are not only pluralistic and inclusive but also emphasize egalitarian Jewish parenting. Enabling Jews of all genders to parent Jewish children is essential. Men can and do assume proactive roles raising Jewish children, but they need communal support and education about the value of their Jewish identity work inside the home. Jewish clergy, lay leaders, and Hillel directors alike will benefit from educational programs designed to make explicit the relationship between Jewish intermarriage and gender. In order to truly understand intermarriage, we need to hear everyone’s stories. Intermarried Jews, our partners, and children: we’re all part of the Jewish future.

Dr. Keren McGinity will be sharing more of her research and perspective on these topics during a talk and Q and A session, entitled “Intermarriage and Gender in American Jewish Life” on Sunday, January 24th from 3:30 – 5:30pm at Mayyim Hayyim. Register online today. 

Keren R. McGinity is the founding director of the Love & Tradition Institute, a nonprofit organization committed to accessible education about Jewish intermarriage and gender. She is also affiliated with the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University. She lives in West Roxbury with her daughter, practices yoga, and frequents J.P. Licks. 

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Six Reasons I’m Psyched for 2016

by Carrie Bornstein, Executive Director

  1. Sheri Gurock.
Sheri Gurock cropped

Sheri Gurock

As of January 1, Sheri is Mayyim Hayyim’s board president. If you follow our blog regularly, you’ve gotten to know her a bit already, or maybe you even know her in real life. Sheri is crazy smart, super creative, and holds Mayyim Hayyim to the highest standards possible, as she should. She is well-poised to become the next link in a strong chain of leaders, taking what Anita Diamant created and what Jennifer Slifka-Vidal strengthened, and bringing us to new heights.

  1. The Tipping Point

Call it what you will, but we’re on an upward trend with immersions in Boston. 2015 saw a total of 1,525 immersions which was our highest number in one year, a nine percent increase over 2014, which was our busiest up until that point. This isn’t just a numbers game, though. It means that we’re reaching more people, for more reasons, at more times in their lives. We expect to follow this trend in 2016, knowing that our impact will be even greater.

  1. Strategic Planning

In 2015 we embarked on a strategic planning process. We’ve been outlining our goals for the years ahead and planning for how we’ll get there, to bring more people to Mayyim Hayyim locally, and to clarify how we can make the greatest impact nationally. I can’t wait to share more with you about some of the exciting plans in store.

  1. We’re Hiring

The Mayyim Hayyim staff is the hardest working, loveliest, most caring bunch you’ll have the pleasure to meet. And with new staff comes fresh ideas and new opportunities as we strengthen for the future. Here’s more information about our openings for a Director of Annual Giving, Administrative Assistant, and a temporary position between now and June to plan and coordinate our annual benefit event.

  1. New Curricula

In the coming year, thanks to the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, we’ll be making two new curricula available that can be run anywhere, no mikveh necessary. The first, “Beyond the Huppah,” is a program for engaged and newlywed couples and the second, “Now What? Questions and Answers for the Newly Jewish,” helps shepherd women and men into the Jewish community after their formal conversion process ends.

  1. Access for People with Disabilities

In the next year we’ll launch two new resources for people with disabilities in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation. A discussion guide based on our short documentary film, Open Waters: Mikveh for Everybody, aims to help participants all over the country recognize potential barriers in their own settings and consider how they can work together as a community to overcome them. We’re also creating a picture guide of our Seven Kavanot for Mikveh Preparation – this accessible version will be used by people who find the written word a stumbling block, those who do not speak English, and children.

So there you have it. Lots of good things to come, and I am grateful to each and every person on this journey with us, and to all those of you who have answered the call by contributing financially to strengthen our base for the future. In whatever way you’re joining on this path, it feels good knowing you’re a part of it, no?

Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director.

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Deciding to be Intentional

by Lori Kramer, Office Manager

LoriA big theme in my house is intentionality.  Eight years ago we went on a mission to blend our family when I married my husband.  We had two seven-year-olds and a five-year-old between us and without some very careful planning and forethought about how we wanted to go about this monumental task we would have been in trouble.  Eight years and one more kid later, it’s not all roses, but what house with three teenagers and a six-year-old would be? I really feel that because of our intentional thought process we did the best we possibly could.

I look for intentionality in most things I do, working at Jewish overnight camp for four summers, our recent move to Rhode Island, and when I was job searching.  I was looking for an organization where I could grow, learn, and work with fantastic engaged people who are passionate about what they do.

Fkidsrom my first conversation with staff, through my interview, I was blown away by how warm, welcoming and intentional Mayyim Hayyim is.  When I was leaving from my interview, two men were sitting in our reception area holding their tiny, gorgeous newborn baby boy, so excited to welcome him into the world as a Jew. I got chills and hoped I would get that call back to come make a contribution at an organization that values the same things I do – inclusion, diversity, and accessibility.

The last six weeks settling into my new role have been great; I have experienced new things (like writing my first blog post ever!), streamlined some processes, and am learning to be intentional even on my commute to work, which some days can be quite long. I look forward to many more opportunities to practice being intentional.

Lori Kramer comes to Mayyim Hayyim from an extensive background in non-profit administration. She previously worked at JCC of Greater Boston and JCC Camp Kingswood. She lives in Woonsocket, RI with her four kids and her husband. 

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Abba, is Santa Claus Real?

by Shira Cohen-Goldberg

shira cohen goldberg“Abba, is Santa Claus real?” says my four-year-old from the back of the car. This is most certainly my child. I used to put cookies and milk out on the counter for Santa to take when he came to our house on Christmas Eve. In the morning, the cookies and milk were always eaten, cup rinsed out, plate washed and put away. We were Jewish, and I knew it. Santa did not being presents to our house. But why wouldn’t he want to stop at our house for a snack in between gift deliveries?

We are Jewish. No we don’t celebrate Christmas. And here, the words of my mom leak out of my mouth, as if rehearsed, as I explain to our son, “We don’t celebrate Christmas because we are Jewish,” with the addendum, “We celebrate other, really fun holidays, like Purim, and Sukkot and Chanukah!”

This is a tough time of year for people who do not celebrate Christmas. The lights and trees are beautiful. Belief in Santa Claus is a lovely secret that young children share with their parents until they stop believing. The abundance of wrapped gifts, cookies of all types, and cheerfulness of Christmas celebrators in general make this time of year very appealing. And finally, the wintertime fantasy of elves, magical toy workshops and sleigh rides feels like a welcome re-framing of the record-breaking Boston winter of 2015 when we were literally confined by snow: Boston’s very own North Pole.

This year, for the first time, my child was asked, “Is Santa coming to your house?” It is an even tougher time of year to be a parent to children who don’t celebrate Christmas. I am experiencing it firsthand. L’dor va’dor. From one generation to another. Christmas time is present for others. But it is not ours.

My husband and I choose to send our four-year-old to a non-Jewish school that provides him with the support he needs to grow emotionally, academically and socially. It is a good match for him, but few of his classmates are Jewish.

Now adults, creating a home together, my husband and I have a pride in being Jewish. With the last name Cohen-Goldberg, there no hiding who we are; only shouting it loud and proud. We are making a home for our children similar to the homes of our childhoods; where both sets of our parents strove to inculcate us with strong Jewish identities, despite the fact that most of our peers were not Jewish. As children, the rituals around being Jewish were either mundane or exciting, but they were ever-present.

The good news is that we, Jews, have SO MANY rituals. From the Shabbat that comes every week, to the gragger drowning out Haman’s name when the megillah is read on Purim, to the lighting candles on Chanukah. We have the ancient; we re-enact how the Kohen HaGadol (the high priest) prostrated himself on the ground on Yom Kippur, or the created, such as a tree-planting ceremony that my mom wrote and my family instituted upon the my birth and that of each of my siblings.

Our calendar ticks to the rituals of our Jewish clock. Not only do we Jews have abundant rituals, but we have abundant language and often songs to accompany them. I am devoted to Mayyim Hayyim for the many opportunities I have had to engage in new rituals and language that enrich my life and deepen who I am as a Jew. Maybe you are open on Christmas? Joke.

The last time I wrote, I shared my confounding struggle of being in the privileged position to choose my path, and realizing that at times, there is actually no choosing. To me, being Jewish on Christmas is not about choosing how to celebrate, not about how to create a ritual that will make our children as happy as those children who are celebrating Christmas. Being a Jew on Christmas is about being reminded again and again that it is not me celebrating this time. That this is not my holiday. That this is one that my children will be sitting out. Being a Jew on Christmas is about choosing to be Jewish, to raise Jewish children, in a world that nurtures, but also challenges me to remind my childhood self that Santa only stopped at my house for cookies and milk, and that was okay.

Shira M. Cohen-Goldberg is a long-time member of the Cambridge-Somerville Jewish community. She works as a literacy specialist at an educational non-profit focused on organizational change. She spends most of her time working and rearing her 4-year-old, Hallel, and toddler, Ya’ara, in partnership with her husband, Ari.

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Call me Schnorrer – again.

by Anita Diamant

I am writing this because (1) it’s important and (2) you care about Mayyim Hayyim.

ADiamantColor 2012 Gretje FergesonI’ll start with (2). If you’re taking the trouble to read the Mayyim Hayyim blog, I’m betting that you understand what Mayyim Hayyim adds to Jewish lives here in the Boston area, New England and well beyond. There is no other ritual and no other mikveh that is as open to the entirety of our community. Mayyim Hayyim adds a profound dimension to important moments that occur in the course of any human life: joyful peaks, times of pain, and countless changes, both anticipated and unexpected.

Now for (1) and why I’m putting on my schnorrer hat. As the end of the year approaches, Mayyim Hayyim faces a $58,000 deficit.

Your community mikveh stays afloat thanks to very tight fiscal management. But stuff happens, like the fact that both of the pumps to clean and heat the mikveh broke — at the same time! Even the great news that our immersion numbers were way up in 2015 means added expenses.

I can’t say that I’m completely comfortable in the role of schnorrer, but it’s something I’m willing to do because of the all the ways that Mayyim Hayyim continues to change, grow and find new ways to serve the Jewish community, body, mind, and spirit.

Please join me in making a year-end gift to erase the deficit and begin 2016 free and clear.

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Thanks so much for your past support and for your help today.

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P.S. If you respond to this heartfelt and shameless schnorring, you will be entered in a random drawing to receive one of five hardcover copies of my most recent novel, The Boston Girl, signed and personalized. Send an email to info@mayyimhayyim.org to let us know you made a donation and you’d like to be entered into the drawing.

Anita Diamant was the founding president of Mayyim Hayyim. She is the author of six guidebooks to contemporary Jewish life, including The New Jewish Wedding and Choosing a Jewish Life. She has written five novels including The Red Tent and The Boston Girl.

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