Here I Am

by Rachel Hillman

HillmanPhoto3Hineni, I said aloud.  Here I am, marking today as a transition point from one part of my life to another.  I removed my nail polish, which covered the discoloration due to chemotherapy on my once-beautiful (and soon-to-be-beautiful-again) nail beds.  I appreciated my body as I undressed, remembering that even with my new scars and radiation tattoos, I am still created in God’s image.  I showered, washing the hair that had begun to regrow on my body.  I cleaned my ears, brushed my teeth, and gave thanks to my body’s ability to carry me to where I stood that day, after having endured so much and been so broken.

My breast cancer diagnosis came at the end of January, two months after I turned twenty-eight. After learning about my treatment plan, I discovered that, if my timeline stayed on track, I would finish treatment come September, just in time for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  In the dead of winter, it seemed it would take forever to reach that milestone of completion. In reality, it was a blur.

At some point during my treatment, I knew I wanted to commemorate my transition from cancer patient to cancer survivor by visiting the mikveh.  After months of focusing on my physical health, it was important to take care of my emotional and spiritual health as well. Having cancer, especially at such a young age, made me feel alone and scared, and I wanted to feel empowered and renewed come the end of treatment. I made an appointment at Adas Israel Congregation’s Community Mikvah in Washington, DC, where I live, to immerse the day after my last round of radiation.  It was my first day no longer being a cancer patient.

HillmanPhoto2Seven months passed from my date of diagnosis to the completion of treatment, and when I read through Mayyim Hayyim’s Seven Kavanot and saw the seven steps into the mikveh, I felt a spiritual connection because the number seven was already on my mind.  Preparing for my immersion allowed me the time and space to reflect upon seven stages of my experience with cancer: the fear from the initial diagnosis, the decisions to make about my future, the hours of chemotherapy, the emotional and physical exhaustion, the strength of my body and spirit, the support of my family and friends, and the scars that now mark me physically and emotionally. Even though my visit to the mikveh was not for a traditionally commanded reason, the language in the Seven Kavanot spoke to me as though it were written just for me and for what brought me there that day.  For seven months I felt physically weak and emotionally drained, and that day, the Seven Kavanot guided me toward a feeling of strength and acceptance of what I endured.

For my immersion, I used a ceremony for healing, created by Mayyim Hayyim, that read, in part: “Compassionate God, Healer of my body, Healer of my soul, heal me.  Strengthen my ailing body, soothe my aching heart, mend my shattered existence.  Make me whole.” I felt the pain of the past seven months wash away in the water.  I felt the appreciation for my body’s strength rush over me as I immersed fully.  I felt myself becoming whole again.

Rachel Hillman lives in Washington, DC and works for BBYO, the leading Jewish pluralistic youth movement. Rachel earned her B.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies as well as History from Brandeis University, and holds an M.B.A from Indiana University and a Master’s in Jewish Education from Hebrew College. In her spare time, Rachel enjoys traveling, reading voraciously, spending time with her friends and family, and being obsessed with Tina Fey.

Mayyim Hayyim created a powerful Jewish healing guide for women with cancer, called, “Blessings for the Journey.” For more information, click here.

Posted in Healing, Immersion | 4 Comments

Roller Coasters and Merry-Go-Rounds

by Lisa Berman, Mikveh and Education Director

GrandmaThere’s a great scene from one of my very favorite movies of all time, Parenthood, with Steve Martin. At one point, seemingly out of context, the grandmother says to Steve, “You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

Okay, I get it. If life were one long merry-go-round ride, we’d all be bored and a little bit woozy. But I don’t like roller coasters. Never have. Once, at Disney World, I spent a whole Space Mountain ride trying to reach around the seat in front of me to clutch my son and keep him from what was surely about to be certain death by unplanned ejection. Trying to seem cavalier on a date once, I went on some ridiculously unsound enormous wooden structure that teetered out over the Atlantic. I was absolutely certain we were all about to crash – people, cars, timbers and all – into the ocean. Unlike Parenthood’s Grandma, the feeling that you are about to die is not exciting or thrilling for me. It is one I wish to avoid at all costs. (Don’t get me started about turbulence on airplanes.)

And yet, there are times when our lives – on a micro level – seem more roller coaster than merry-go-round.

Here at Mayyim Hayyim, the month of September has been one of the busiest ever, with more than 200 immersions so far. Life on the “wet side” has been a whirlwind of appointment-making, welcoming, guiding, supporting, laundering, tidying, and wishing all a good year, shanah tovah. We are honored to support so many in our community who have made an immersion part of their personal holiday preparations.

But it all came to a temporary but appreciated halt this past Wednesday afternoon when we closed the mikveh doors and left to join our families and friends for Rosh Hashanah and the weekend.

For me, a bit of that roller coaster feeling prevailed.

ZeraMy family enjoyed what is now a rare occurrence, a family dinner, at a lovely little restaurant near our daughter’s new Brooklyn apartment. The next morning at Rosh Hashanah services at Congregation Beth Elohim, we had the pinnacle experience of being led in prayer by our daughter who served as cantorial intern-in-training for the parallel family service. Hearing my “child” intone the traditional Rosh Hashanah liturgical prayers, Unetaneh Tokef and Avinu Malkeinu, watching her lift up toddlers so they could see the open Torah scroll, sharing a time of quiet reflection with over 300 congregants as she sang “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” softly to them… was a surreal and memorable experience.

Hospital BedA few days later I sat in a hospital room with my elderly father as he struggled to clear the growing confusion from his thoughts, to sort out reality from delirium, knowing that a return to full clarity is not in his future.

On the way home from the hospital in Connecticut, my husband and I stopped at River Highlands State Park and walked the path through the woods to a bluff far above the Connecticut River. Through a small break in the leaves we could see the calm water reflecting the foliage – mostly green with splashes of red and gold – and hear the soft sound of small waves on the shore. Not exhilarating, not troubling, just peaceful. But a peacefulness that was surely heightened by the highs and lows of the days before. These are the highs and lows I can live with and live for. And that is the peace that I must seek out, to create the space in my soul for the highs and lows yet to come.

Park

Lisa Berman is the Mikveh and Education Director at Mayyim Hayyim, ensuring that all immersions are facilitated with dignity, respect and modesty and supervising the Paula Brody & Family Education Center.

Posted in Holiday | 2 Comments

Immersing at Ice House Pond

by Rabbi Sarah TasmanSarah Red Scarf

For the last number of years, preparing for the High Holidays has been full on. As most other Jewish professionals and clergy will tell you, preparing for the High Holidays is a whirlwind that includes creating service outlines, tutoring volunteer Torah readers, sermon writing, rehearsing with lay song leaders and so on. Before I know it, my mind is full liturgical melodies and logistical details.

At this time of year, in the midst of all of the preparation, I try to find a way to hold on to the golden end-of-summer light while still acknowledging the inevitable change of season. I remind myself that there is another kind of personal preparation I must do. I find myself eager to carve out sacred time in my busy schedule to mark the coming of the New Year in an embodied and spiritual way.

This year, my annual trip to Martha’s Vineyard coincided with my time of preparation for the High Holidays. My annual dip in Ice House Pond took on a new meaning as a pre-Rosh Hashanah immersion to prepare my mind, body and soul.

Ice House Pond is a short fifteen minute walk through the woods. Pine needles cover the ground on either side of the one lane road, filling the air with the smell of late summer. I follow the trail that leads to the pond, and when the view of the water suddenly appears before me, I catch my breath. It’s beautiful and secluded. I notice that my body and soul are thirsty. I’m eager to be refreshed.

The water is cool at first, and I step gingerly into the pond. I dunk and say the blessing for immersion.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam asher kid-shanu bi-tevilah b’mayyim hayyim. Blessed are You, God, Majestic Spirit of the Universe, Who makes us holy by embracing us in living waters.

I decide right then and there that immersing in Ice House Pond is a spiritual practice that I can’t do without.

I let the waters embrace me. In this mikveh, I’m ready and able to let go of the stress and challenges of the last year. I feel the water wash away the cobwebs in my mind and all the distractions in my life. I feel a deep sense of clarity and possibility, a sense of renewed purpose. In the water, I become aware that I am connected to everything around me. My heart feels more open. I whisper my intentions for the new year, my prayers for the days and weeks to come.

I emerge from the water, dry off, and head back through the woods to our house. On my walk home, I contemplate my ritual. I’m filled with gratitude for this simple and profound pleasure. I am now ready for whatever the new year will bring.

Rabbi Sarah Tasman is a longtime Mayyim Hayyim mikveh guide and educator. She recently moved to Washington, DC where she currently teaches Jewish mindfulness, yoga, and mikveh workshops at Adas Israel Congregation. This Rosh Hashanah, Sarah is guest rabbi at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue leading Jewish meditation, yoga, and text study. Visit her website at: rabbisarahtasman.com

To schedule an immersion for the High Holidays, or for any occasion, call (617) 244-1836 ext. 1 or click here.
Posted in Holiday, Immersion, Season | 1 Comment

Just a Blessed, Holy, Magical, Energizing Experience

by Carrie Bornstein

One hundred eighty-one people have already scheduled an immersion at Mayyim Hayyim for the month of September. By the time the month is over, we’ll be pushing well into the two hundreds. Our guests are coming for all different reasons, of course, but more than anything now we’re seeing women, men, and even children coming in to get ready for the New Year.Pre-Shabbat Immersion, faher and son photo by Rebecca Sher (1)

Ten years ago, for our first High Holiday season, 137 people came during the same time period. That’s about a fifty percent increase from where we started. Word has spread, and more and more people are looking for something – a moment… time and space… maybe even a song while they’re here – to get themselves ready.

So what’s this all about?

Here are some words from this year’s visitors:

“I came to bless my body for an upcoming stem cell donation that I’m giving, my first time at Mayyim Hayyim. Just a blessed, holy, magical, energizing experience and a transformative way to mark the upcoming New Year and other life changes. So much thanks to my amazing friend and Mikveh Guide, Salem, for holding this space for me.” –J.G.

Shanah tovah u’metukah – a sweet and happy New Year!” To a year of more sweetness all over this planet. May we all realize our potential and contribute to the reality of what is possible for each of us to achieve as individuals and collectively.” –L.G.

“My third New Year here – and it’s as renewing as ever.” – S.P.

“It was a beautiful and sweet experience of healing and teshuvah – repentance – as we enter the Days of Awe. Thank you for building such a beautiful mikveh and all your work to keep it going.” – S.C.

“Did not want to get out. I’m ready for the new year (I hope).” – D.K.

“My first New Year’s immersion was a beautiful experience. I hope for a sweet year ahead. I feel truly blessed.” – L.N.

“Thank you for maintaining this sacred sanctuary.” – B.L.

Haven’t made your appointment yet? We’re here for you, when you’re ready.

Say ‘you’re welcome’ to all those who continue to thank us by making a gift to Mayyim Hayyim for the New Year.

Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director. 

Posted in Carrie Bornstein, Chaggim/Holidays | Leave a comment

Change and Continuity in the Living Waters

by Gary Waleik

Front and center in the book of Leviticus, tractate Mikva’ot of the Talmud, Chasidic writings and throughout Jewish literature, is the idea that a mikveh is inherently and completely holy. But haven’t we always known that water is sacred somewhere deep in our souls? Water was a means of survival for our ancestors, and continues to be for us today. But more than that, it is revered and celebrated for its holiness by many religions and cultures through ritual and prayer.

Think about the times you’ve gone for a swim at the lake your family visited each summer when you were a kid, or at an ocean beach overflowing with memories, or in a river whose clear, moving waters cooled body and mind on late July evenings.

Remember the sensations as you went completely underwater. Semi-weightlessness set in, sound and vision went somewhat askew as your body adjusted to the water’s temperature. Did you feel different in a way that went beyond the physical? Were you imbued with a sense of holiness, or at least made more aware of something bigger than yourself? Was the DSCF0217experience encouraging to you as you prepared to face the challenges of the coming days, weeks and months?

Oceans, rivers, lakes and ponds have been used for mikveh immersion from biblical times until the present day. If you have ever stepped away from your everyday life and taken a few minutes to immerse in a natural body of water, you may have intuited the power of a mikveh.

At the age of six, my grandparents taught me to swim on the tiny beach of an all-but-hidden glacial pond in southeast Massachusetts. The pond’s shores are ringed with scrub pine and oak, except for a sandy strand no more than twelve feet wide. The sand is so fine that it feels like wet confectioner’s sugar between the toes. The spring-fed pond is relatively small, so in summer the water is always warm and inviting. My family and I made it a point to swim there for twenty years, and each time it was a hallowed pilgrimage. But my grandparents passed away and the nearby cottage was sold.  We simply stopped going. It was heartbreaking.

Seventeen years later, my wife and my sister suggested we return with our families for a summer vacation, so we did. One of our first stops was our favorite little pond. My daughter, who was six at the time, learned to swim on that same tiny beach, in the exact spot I had learned thirty-six years earlier, and where my son would learn two years later.

That day, my daughter popped out of the water and exclaimed with all the glee of a six-year old, “Daddy, I can swim!!!” I embraced the feeling of continuity, which made me happy, thankful and even a little sad at the same time.  My wife and I celebrated with her, and as we did, I submerged so that nobody could see that I was crying. It was a powerful experience.

Though we had obviously not followed the protocols of a kosher mikveh immersion (washing beforehand, saying the blessings) or fulfilled the mitzvah, that wonderful little pond was a mivkeh that day and we were a holy family. The experience energized us. It was a source of strength as we faced the challenges of that year, until we returned again the following summer and restarted the process.

I immerse at Mayyim Hayyim before the High Holidays each year to regain that same sense of holiness and purpose. It’s encouraging to know that no matter how badly I get it wrong during the previous year or how out of touch I am with my better self or how overwhelming daily life can be, I can always reconnect with the Source of holiness and try again.

Mikveh-goer Gary Waleik is Senior Producer of NPR’s Only A Game, the network’s only sports program that has been running for 21 years. He is also a musician and songwriter in beloved indie rock bands Big Dipper and Mars Classroom. He lives in Metrowest with his wife and two children. His son Daniel, (pictured above in a sukkah, and not in a mikveh), immersed at Mayyim Hayyim for the first time last year. 

To schedule an immersion for the High Holidays, or for any occasion, call (617) 244-1836 ext. 1 or click here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Five Questions for New Year’s Reflection

by Sherri Goldman

The High HSherriolidays, or Jewish New Year, is a time for reflection.  Every New Year gives us a moment to look back over the past year to see what was successful and what in our lives can use some improvement. It’s a time of year to give ourselves the opportunity to grow and make ourselves better in all areas of life: family, friends, community, work, etc.  For me, the High Holidays is always a time of introspection and meditation, a time for personal planning and goal setting.

Every summer, the Mayyim Hayyim staff gathers at the beautiful Cape Cod home of our 2014-08-21 14.25.28Vice President, Diane Black, for our staff retreat.  It’s refreshing to take time away from the office to form bonds with one another, contemplating our purpose and motives in doing our best work at Mayyim Hayyim. Add in a delicious lunch, walk on the beach, a fun, creative art project, and you have a unique opportunity to talk, work and play. We re-focused and re-energized ourselves as a team – the Mayyim Hayyim Team.

Thinking ahead to the New Year, our staff had the opportunity to spend a lot of time on reflection at the retreat. As Mayyim Hayyim celebrates its ten year anniversary this year, we focused on Sarah From’s Five Questions for New Year’s Reflection, a powerful tool to help us evaluate how we, as a staff and individually, can bring Mayyim Hayyim forward into this New Year and into our next ten years.

Five Questions for New Year’s Reflection

  1. Looking back over the past year, when were you at your best?
  2. What has changed within you this past year and what is just beginning to change within you now?
  3. At the end of this year, what is weighing you down? How can you shift your experience or perception of that which is weighing you down?
  4. Imagine that it is 12 months from now and you’ve had a fantastic, fulfilling year. How did you make that happen?
  5. In the coming year, what are the critical areas for your learning and growth?  What are your first steps for attending to these areas?

Looking out at the beautiful Cape Cod Bay, I thought about what I could learn in this New Year and decided on ways I could challenge myself personally and professionally. It’s hard to start ascending a new learning curve, but I realized that moving myself forward requires getting out of my comfort zone.2014-08-21 10.32.10

As the High Holidays approach, we can all ask these questions to reflect on the past year and the year ahead. If you can’t meditate on these questions at the beach on Cape Cod, stop by Mayyim Hayyim to reflect in our beautiful garden, art gallery, or in our mikva’ot.

Wishing you peace and joy in the New Year!

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 Holiday | 1 Comment

Meditations of My Heart For Rosh Hashanah

by Ivy Helman

Rosh Hashanah represents a return to God.  Immersing in a mikveh renews my sense of purpose and grants me a sense of wholeness I just haven’t found elsewhere.  Yet, it’s also so much more than this.

Two thoughts come to mind that truly capture why I go to the mikveh before the High Holidays, as well as why I choose to go to Mayyim Hayyim. First, kavanah, or intention. Number four of their “Seven Kavanot for Mikveh Preparation” reads, “B’tzelem Elohim, I Ivy Helman Appealam made in the image of God…Each person enters the mikveh as naked as the day of his birth, as the day of her birth. Without rank or status. Simply a human being. Gloriously a human being.”  To me, this says that in the mikveh I am exactly as God intended me to be.  There is no pretense, nothing to hide behind.  In the waters of the mikveh, it’s easier to remember that all bodies are beautiful. This reminder opens up a clear and intimate channel through which I talk to God.

Second, the mikveh is where I’ve felt the closest to both God and myself.  The kavanah is palatable.  I’m honest and sincere with God.  We talk, sometimes very seriously, sometimes not.  Sometimes I laugh.  Other times I worry. Occasionally, I sit silently in the presence of God.

Y’hiyu l’ratzon imrey fi, v’hegyon libi l’fanecha, Adonai tzuri v’goali

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to You, Adonai, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Tehillim (Psalms) 19:15

Whenever I say these words at the end of the Amidah prayer, I recall my experience in the mikveh and I once again feel as close to God as I did immersing.

Unfortunately, I just moved to Prague, so I won’t be able to immerse at Mayyim Hayyim this year. But I’m content with knowing that pre-holiday immersions will be meaningful for many people. Perhaps you too will consider immersing as a way to prepare for the New Year.

Despite my distance, Mayyim Hayyim is my partner in preparing for the High Holidays each year, as it is for so many people who come to mark transitions in their lives. I hope you’ll join me and become a partner in Mayyim Hayyim’s life-changing work by making a gift to welcome 5775.

With your help, Mayyim Hayyim will continue to bring renewal to our entire community.

May you have a sweet New Year. L’shana tova!

Ivy Helman has her Ph.D. in Religion, with an emphasis in Women’s Studies, from Claremont Graduate University and a master’s degree in religion from Yale University.  Her book, Women and the Vatican: An Exploration of Official Documents, explores the creation of a Roman Catholic theology of womanhood by church officials. Ivy is a regular contributor to feminismandreligion.com. She currently lives in Prague, Czech Republic.

Join us this Sunday September 14th from 2-5pm, for fabulous teachers and learning at Mayyim Hayyim: “Get Ready: Releasing the Past, Embracing the Future”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment