Saying Goodbye

by Jody Comins, Development and Events Coordinatorjody talia blog photo

When my older daughter was born fifteen years ago, I went to my supervisor and asked if I could work 4 days a week to have time with my baby. A year later, I cut my hours back to “mom’s hours” and she said to me, “It’s wonderful to spend time with her while she’s a baby. That’s for you. When she’s a teenager, you’ll want to be there for her.” She was right. I now have two daughters, who are 12 and 15 who need me in very different ways than when they were babies and toddlers. Sometimes it’s just a ride, but sometimes it’s a lot more and I want to be there for those moments because they’ll be gone in the blink of an eye.

And so it’s time for me to say goodbye to my professional role at Mayyim Hayyim. Actually it’s more like saying L’hitraot, which means “see you later” in Hebrew, because I know I’ll be back. Back to visit, back for immersions when life’s transitions invite me in and back for a Beneath the Surface class with my pre-Bat Mitzvah daughter in November.

I love working at Mayyim Hayyim. From the moment I walk through the garden in the morning until I shut down my computer to head home, I am challenged by my work; planning and designing events, talking with Board members, volunteers and mikveh guides, writing or working on the website, and having interesting conversations and discussions with my colleagues. In the last two years I have had the pleasure of managing four large benefit events honoring some terrific people and raising money for a place I believe in. I also worked on a number of smaller events- art gallery opening receptions, open houses, our birthday party and intimate conversations with Anita Diamant for various groups including two discussions on Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In.

After a lot of introspection this year, I decided I want to “lean in” to my family and say no to some opportunities that come my way. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been working part-time while volunteering in the community and taking care of my family and trying to do it all well. Where will I go? What will I be doing? When I told both my kids that I was leaving Mayyim Hayyim, they said, “You should do your own events.” (Although the younger one asked me to wait until I finish planning her Bat Mitzvah next May). They are both away at camp for the summer and I’m going to do a lot of thinking about how I want to spend my time and what the next chapter of my life will look like. I’m sure some kind of event and conference planning will be part of that picture.

I’m going to miss working here. But I know that I’ll stay connected to the place, to the people and to the community of Mayyim Hayyim. I won’t go far.

L’hitraot, See you later…

Jody Comins is the outgoing Development and Events Coordinator at Mayyim Hayyim. She plans to spend the rest of the summer sitting on a beach daydreaming.

Posted in Parenting | Leave a comment

Longing for a Mikveh Guide

Alanna Cooper 1 Hi Res RGBby Alanna Cooper

I generally don’t speak much about mikveh. An intimate aspect of life, practiced in almost total privacy, the topic doesn’t lend itself to much conversation.  Now, on occasion of Mayyim Hayyim’ tenth anniversary celebration, I’ll open up, using the opportunity to reflect on why I miss it so much since I moved from Boston last summer.

I begin with an incident that unfolded a few days after my husband and I – then newlyweds – returned home from a long travel-adventure.  My thick hair was set in rows of beautiful braids, each one tied at the end with three plastic beads that clinked gently when I moved.  I was about to part with them because it was time for my monthly immersion in the mikveh.

Two women had spent hours creating that hair-do for me one muggy night shortly before we left Bangkok to return home.  Their fingers were nimble, and they worked quickly, but multi-tasking took its toll.  Between braids they were also tending to their other stand; a pastry cart, where they fried crepe-like treats for a steady-stream of backpacker tourists.

“I don’t want to take them out,” I complained to my husband back at home.  I loved the braids almost as much as the memories of our travel woven into them.  “So don’t,” he responded.

But I didn’t have a choice.  Right? I knew the rules – the halachah:  Anything that prevents full contact with the mikveh water is a hatzizah – a barrier that invalidates the immersion; dirt on the skin, hanging cuticles, contact lenses, knots in the hair.   A mass of colorful beads dangling from scores of braids. . . Those could not go into the water.

Still, Moshe raised his shoulders as though to say, “If you don’t want to take them out, then why would you?”  Years later, I recall my troubling response.  “The Mikveh Lady won’t let me.”

Later that evening I immersed my smooth hair, and when I emerged the Mikveh Lady pronounced, “Kasher.” To this day, I am not sure why I removed the braids.  Was it because I had consciously decided to observe the halachah?  Or was it on account of the Mikveh Lady?

Until I began to frequent Mayyim Hayyim, I re-visited this same sort of dilemma each time I went to the mikveh.  Some Mikveh Ladies are demanding (taking my hands to inspect my nails without asking), while some are kind, gently asking whether I might like their help to ensure that I am hatzizah-free.  Regardless, the very nature of our fleeting-relationship is a hierarchical one because the Mikveh Lady has the authority to let me in, or not.  She holds the key to permit or deny access to this most private religious act.  What would I have done about my braids if I had not had to consider the gatekeeper?  I can never know.  That is disconcerting.

I – and I alone – had chosen to immerse that night.  Yet, the very nature of the Mikveh Lady’s position removes women’s agency in decisions about how, in what way, and with what sort of attention to detail.  So after our immersions we are left to wonder:  Was this intimate mitzvah mine?  Or hers?

That question does not present itself at Mayyim Hayyim, where there are no Mikveh Ladies.  There are only guides.  Each guide makes it clear – through her body language and through her words – that the mitzvah does not belong to her.  Her purpose is assist with the woman’s immersion (or not) in whatever way she herself chooses.

It has been almost a year since I’ve moved.  Now, hundreds of miles away from Mayyim Hayyim, I struggle with the sense that someone (no matter how kind she is) holds the authority to let me into the mikveh here (or not).  I usually don’t tell people this when they ask me what I miss about Boston, but since I’m being frank about intimate matters:  What I long for here is a guide.

Alanna E. Cooper, Ph.D., cultural anthropologist and adult educator, is the Director of Jewish Studies at Case Western Reserve University’s Siegal Lifelong Learning Program. She became interested in women’s lifecycle rituals while conducting field research in Central Asia, and has written about them in her book, Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism. See her recently-published article in Lilith Magazine about how she re-casted upsherin, the traditional boy’s coming-of-todderhood ceremony, for her three girls. http://lilith.org/articles/a-little-girls-first-haircut

Posted in Immersion | 3 Comments

A Sense of Belonging

By Lisa Berman, Mikveh and Education Director0016

On May 29, 2014 at Mayyim Hayyim’s tenth year celebration event, we honored our Director of Education, Lisa Berman, who has taught more than 20,000 visitors to our education center since our opening.  Here are her remarks about her Jewish journey and her path to Mayyim Hayyim.  

You know that woman who grew up, went to college nearby, got married, bought a house in her hometown, and still lives there? That woman had 100 friends at her Memorial Day barbeque last weekend. She has a sense of belonging to a place that defines her. I have never been that person.

I was a quirky wallflower in high school and a Yankee in a southern college. I am a Jew in a Protestant family, and a convert in a Jewish family. There is a part of me right now that is saying, “How did I get mixed up with a mikveh for Heaven’s sake? Do I really belong here?”

But, maybe it all actually started with the mikveh. Maybe it started in the mikveh.

The truth is, I did not have a good time in the mikveh when I converted. I was 22 years old and I arrived at the mikveh in the basement of the Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth, New Jersey without a clue about what a mikveh was or what you did in it. The mikveh lady spoke mostly Yiddish to me, and the black-hatted, white-bearded rabbis stood outside a louvered door that seemed to provide seriously insufficient privacy.

I used to say that what was most important was that I came out of the mikveh a Jew, but to be honest, I couldn’t wait to get out of there, and I got the same impression from my Jewish friends who were with me. We definitely didn’t feel as if we belonged.

There were many challenges in my years as a single, unattached newly Jewish young woman. Rosh Hashanah services in basements of synagogues with piped-in sound from the sanctuary upstairs; long walks to shuls that offered inexpensive guest tickets, Yom Kippur break-fasts alone in my apartment. I invited myself to Seders with people I hardly knew. One year I went as the date of a not-yet-out-of-the-closet guy I worked with; boy, was his mom nice to me.

I think back on those experiences as a test of whether I was really meant to be Jewish, whether my Jewish soul, my neshama, was really present and strong. It turns out it was, but I needed help.

My biggest help came from my beshert, my husband Jeff. He was a disillusioned Jew seeking meaning in the question, “Why be Jewish?”  I was a Jew looking for someone to be Jewish with. We have created our own personal Judaism together, and watched our kids Sarah Ze’eva and David do the same.

And then there was Mayyim Hayyim. I had been Jewish for 23 years the day I attended the first mikveh guide information session. The building was still under construction but the fledgling education center was packed – and it seemed as if everyone was a social worker from Temple Beth Zion or Beth El Sudbury except me. Later that winter I attended the guide training, feeling a little lonely and very insecure about my Jewish knowledge.

But I was there the day we opened and the first two months were pretty wild. There were only two staff members – Programming Director Kathy Bloomfield and the office manager, Dori Berman (no relation); Aliza Kline, our founding director, was on maternity leave at the time. It was clear right away how important the mikveh guides were going to be, and it was thrilling. We learned how to work alongside the clergy during conversions. We learned how to hold the space for those who were emotionally fragile. We donned bathing suits to help brides afraid of the water, and sat on the steps to touch the water with toddlers. We made mistakes and learned how to fix them. We radiated in the glow of our guests’ contentment.

It was in those early days of guiding that I found the kol d’mamah dakah, the still, small voice inside me that I yearned to hear. I came to belong. I knew I was needed and I realize now how much I needed Mayyim Hayyim to anchor my place in the Jewish community. It provided amazing colleagues to learn with, opened the door to my love of teaching and my love of students. Mayyim Hayyim has given me a window through which to see the face of American Judaism and the opportunity to be of service — to guide, to teach, to shepherd, to hold, to care for, to enlighten, to learn from the thousands of people who have walked through our doors in the last ten years.

The Zionist writer Ahad Ha’am said, “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” I would say, much more than I helped Mayyim Hayyim grow and flourish, Mayyim Hayyim has made me a Jew.  And, today, a very happy one.

Lisa Berman has been involved with Mayyim Hayyim since its opening in May 2004. Lisa trained as a Volunteer Mikveh Guide and then served as the liaison to area congregational religious schools and adult study groups. Since 2006, Lisa has directed the Paula Brody & Family Education Center, where she develops curricula for all ages and interest levels; she also organizes and oversees more than 110 programs annually. A convert, Lisa is especially sensitive to the challenges experienced by interfaith families, particularly around milestone events.

Posted in Conversion, Inclusiveness | 2 Comments

Yes, Mayim – We Do Need You

The following originally appeared on kveller.com – read the full text here.

by Carrie Bornstein

It’s been a year since you wrote “Since My Divorce, I’m Missing the Mikveh,” and you know what, Mayim? You and I have a lot in common.

OK – so I’m not a movie star. But I have watched Beaches approximately 517 times. That’s got to count for something, right?

Like you, I grew up in the world of those who knew not mikveh, and significantly expanded my learning in college. I immersed before I got married and my introduction to mikveh was from a more traditional perspective. In all honesty, as I learned more about alternative uses for mikveh, I had a hard time with it.

Read the full text here.

Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director. She lives in Sharon with her husband, Jamie, their three young children, Eliana, Dovi, and Jonah, and three baby chicks.

Posted in Carrie Bornstein | Leave a comment

Mikveh Prayer

by Arlyn Miller

This post is the third of a three-part series of poems inspired by our Gathering the Waters International Mikveh Conference in 2010.

Begin
again.
This time in benevolence
without violence or betrayal.
This time without someone else’s story
dragging you under, drowning
you breathless with terror.

This beginning
begins with you.
Take the love you have been given,
that which you have seen
and that to which you have been blind,
and sew it together to make a whole
cloth of shelter and fertile comfort.

Begin
again.
Pick a name for yourself,
the name by which you want to be known,
the name by which you want to know yourself.

A poet, essayist and journalist, Arlyn Miller was inspired to write these three poems while attending an international conference at Mayyim Hayyim. Of the three poems, “Gathering the Waters” (which was also the title of the conference), appeared in the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Volume 9, 2013, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author. The piece first appeared digitally on the Jewish Writing Project.

Arlyn is the founding editor of Poetic License Press, which publishes creative writing that is “authentic, accessible and engaging,” including the poetry anthologies, A Light Breakfast: Poems to Start Your Day and A Midnight Snack: Poems for Late Night Reading. Arlyn teaches writing workshops in the Chicago area.  Her poems, essays, and articles have been widely published.

Posted in Inspiration | Leave a comment

Immersion

by Arlyn Miller

This post is the second of a three-part series of poems inspired by our Gathering the Waters International Mikveh Conference in 2010.

As if you didn’t have a body,
were all thought and feeling.
As if the clumsy feet, the aging hands,
the blemished skin and unwieldy hair
were not you. Most of the time
you can move about in this way,
and name yourself
what’s housed inside, incorporeal.

The water will disabuse you.
Temperature and displacement
a stark mirror: you are finite and imperfect,
separate from what is not you,
no matter how connected,
connected, no matter how separate.

The waters have parted
to make room for you
and gathered you in.

Neither have they drowned you
nor have you made of them a flood;
you’re not that powerful – only human
holy human.

A poet, essayist and journalist, Arlyn Miller was inspired to write these three poems while attending an international conference at Mayyim Hayyim. Of the three poems, “Gathering the Waters” (which was also the title of the conference), appeared in the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Volume 9, 2013, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author. The piece first appeared digitally on the Jewish Writing Project.

Arlyn is the founding editor of Poetic License Press, which publishes creative writing that is “authentic, accessible and engaging,” including the poetry anthologies, A Light Breakfast: Poems to Start Your Day and A Midnight Snack: Poems for Late Night Reading. Arlyn teaches writing workshops in the Chicago area.  Her poems, essays, and articles have been widely published.

Posted in Immersion | 1 Comment

Why Membership Matters

by Sherri Goldman, Administrative and Finance DirectorDSC_0169 

“Membership at Mayyim Hayyim allows me to focus on myself. My membership allows me to immerse as many times as I want, focusing solely on my kavanah (direction of my heart); I have no concerns or thoughts about anything else.”

“I feel completely supported by Mayyim Hayyim. My membership allows me to support Mayyim Hayyim back.”

“I want to support Mayyim Hayyim — I love making the yearly commitment and feeling like my small contribution is another voice saying “Yes! This place is important and I want it to continue! Yay, Mayyim Hayyim!”

-Quotes from current Mayyim Hayyim members

Membership is belonging.  Our interests, motivation, health and happiness all seem to be tied to the feeling that we belong to a greater community that shares our common interests and aspirations.

I find a sense of purpose in being a member. My membership at my local gym, school community organization, book group, Temple congregation and Sisterhood reflects everything about who I am, what I value and what is important to me.  My memberships give me purpose, drive, friendship and a sense that I am living my life in a meaningful way.

As an organization, Mayyim Hayyim relies on the support of our members: individuals, families, organizations, schools and congregations. Their membership to Mayyim Hayyim reflects their dedication and commitment to support our work in the Greater Boston Jewish Community and beyond.

Membership Benefits for Individuals and Families include:

  • Participation in all Mayyim Hayyim education programs that are open to the public
  • Complimentary immersions for 12 months
  • One immersion gift certificate to give to a friend or family member
  • Additional immersion gift certificates available at a discounted rate
  • Use of Mayyim Hayyim’s meeting rooms/celebration space at discounted rates

Membership Benefits for Organizations, Congregations and Schools:

  • Immersion gift certificates
  • Education Programs at Mayyim Hayyim, tailored to your needs and facilitated by Mayyim Hayyim leadership
  • Blessings for the Journey: A Jewish Healing Guide for Women with Cancer
  • Presentations in your community by Mayyim Hayyim representatives
  • Additional immersion gift certificates, education programs, and use of meeting/celebration space at discounted rates
  • Use of Mayyim Hayyim meeting/celebration space at a 25% discounted rate
  • Listing in Mayyim Hayyim’s online and print directories of member organizations
  • Consultation with your board or executive committee for a board installation ceremony at Mayyim Hayyim, including immersion as an option

Membership benefits everyone, it’s a grand two way street. The continued support of our members helps Mayyim Hayyim sustain who we are; allowing us to maintain and be guided by our seven Principles of Common Purpose. Similarly, being a member of Mayyim Hayyim is an important statement of what is meaningful to you and who you are; what you value and hold meaningful. Membership at Mayyim Hayyim reflects your partnership with us going forward to the next ten years and beyond.

Mayyim Hayyim belongs to the community. Mayyim Hayyim belongs to you.

For more information about becoming a Member yourself: http://www.mayyimhayyim.org/Getting-Involved/Individual-Family-Membership

Sherri is responsible for managing Mayyim Hayyim’s financial and building management operations. Sherri holds an M.B.A. from Suffolk University and is a registered Notary Public in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Sherri also serves as Treasurer of the Medfield Music Association, supporting music education in the Medfield Public Schools and Treasurer of the Sisterhood at Temple Beth David in Westwood.

Posted in Inclusiveness | 2 Comments