God is With Me, I Will Not Fear

by Cindy KalishCindy Kalish

Following up on A Kosher Lesbian Jew, this is a prayer that Cindy created and read to her guests before immersing for her birthday. 

As I prepare to immerse in these waters,

I reflect on the past decade in an effort to open myself

to the possibilities of the decade that lies before me.

I am here to cleanse myself of the sadness, anger, fear, illness that has been present in my life.

I am here to hold near the joy, happiness, love and fulfillment that has been present in my life.

I hold in my heart all the people I love who are no longer on this earth.

I open my heart to all who I love who are on this earth.

I am filled with gratitude for those who have touched my life and for those who have shaped my world. Who have made me who I am and who will walk beside me as I embark on all that lies before me.

Dear God. I stand here with gratitude for the love, support, strength, and wisdom that you fill me with through my family, friends, and community. I ask for strength and for peace and for hope. I ray for this not only for myself and for all of the people in my life. I pray for this for those who are in need that I do not know. For those who have no one to pray for and with them.

I pray for peace in the Middle East and I pray for the safety of all of the innocent people who are there. Both Israeli and Palestinian. I pray for wisdom and strength and intelligence that a peaceful solution will be sought and realized.

I pray for an open heart as I enter this new decade of my life.

Adonai Li V’Lo Ira -God is With Me, I Will Not Fear

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.

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There and Back Again

by Samantha TestaSamantha Picture

I was raised Jewish, I learned about the mikveh in Hebrew school. And like a lot of other things I learned in Hebrew school it didn’t stick with me. Then last summer, I interned at Mayyim Hayyim and I was reintroduced to the mikveh. It changed how I view and experience the Jewish world. The day after I graduated from University of Delaware I went on a spontaneous trip backpacking through Europe for a month. This trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and I was able to see a lot of Jewish history throughout Europe.

Sam in EuropeWhile I was in Berlin, I decided it was important to take all the lessons I learned about Nazi Germany and see it in person. I went to Oranienburg Concentration Camp. It was one of the smaller camps that I had not heard about before, but it was a powerful and moving day for me. I also traveled to Prague while on my trip. There is a ton of Jewish history in Prague and I spent a whole day in the Jewish quarter. I went to the Pinkas Synagogue, where the names of Czech and Moravian Jews who were victims of Nazi genocide are inscribed on the walls. The synagogue is a memorial to over 80,000 men, women and children who were killed. The names in the synagogue are written one after another and I walked slowly through reading names. Every wall of the synagogue was covered with names of somebody’s loved ones.

I then met up with my tour guide to go see the historical Sam in Praguemikveh. Before working at Mayyim Hayyim I probably wouldn’t have gone to see it, but now that I knew so much I was curious to see it. The mikveh dates back to the early 16th century and was discovered during an archaeological survey in the 1970s. It was deep in the ground because the streets had been raised, so the water level was much lower than it originally was. It was fed by a stream and heated by a fire place. It was very interesting for me to see the historical mikveh and before Mayyim Hayyim I would have missed this awesome part of Prague history.

Samantha Testa was a Development intern at Mayyim Hayyim last summer and has been back to visit on several occasions. She is a recent graduate of the University of Delaware and is looking for non-profit work in the Greater Boston area.

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Discovering Ritual for my Children

DSC_0169by Sherri Goldman, Administrative and Finance Director

I wrote recently about my children at the mikveh. It was a story of hope that my children know Mayyim Hayyim is a place where they are welcome and immersion is an option in their lives.

Coming from a non-traditional religious background, immersion was not part of my family’s Jewish tradition. At Mayyim Hayyim I have seen what a mikveh can be. At Mayyim Hayyim, I see that immersion here is inclusive. Regardless of Jewish affiliation or point of view, regardless of whether you are here for traditional or non-traditional reasons, Mayyim Hayyim welcomes everyone.

Realizing that mikveh is an option for them, my children and I have been thinking of what the right time to immerse would be. I suggested to my son that he might want to consider immersing after he graduates from high school next year. We have been touring colleges these past few months, and leaving home to attend college is a major transition. He agreed and said he might even want to immerse after his college acceptance letter arrives in the mail.

I suggested to my daughter that she has many reasons she would want to immerse – graduating college next year, moving to Los Angeles, new internship and job opportunities, transitioning to independent adulthood. She told me she’s been thinking about immersing, and I hope she does.

My children know immersion at Mayyim Hayyim can be about celebrations, transitions in their lives, healing, whatever is significant and meaningful to them. Ultimately they will choose their own reason to immerse and it’s wonderful that Mayyim Hayyim is a place for them to determine spiritually their own moment. As my children consider Mayyim Hayyim and immersion, I wonder if I should also choose my own reason to immerse. It would be a moment to be hopeful about what the future holds and creating new family traditions.

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.

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Anything Else but the War

by Sheila Handlerhandler

It’s Thursday evening and I’m lying in my bathtub, preparing myself for the mikveh. In the background, the radio is playing, announcing the missile strikes, as they hit; down South, in Ashkelon, Yavne and Be’er Sheva; in the center of our country, in Tel Aviv, Petach Tikva and Kfar Saba;  up North near Herzilia, Naharya and Haifa.  Just like my monthly mikveh preparations, these announcements have become the norm.

Only my youngest child is home.  He is downstairs, listening to music and playing a video game on his computer. The other three are out, serving their country.  My two sons are in the regular army and so they have given up their cell phones, preparing to enter Gaza.  My daughter has been called into the reserves. Yesterday, she should have been attending her graduation from Shenkar College (in Jewelry Design). Instead, she was guarding our borders and protecting us from infiltrations. And, this, too, has become the norm.

This afternoon, I spoke to my sister, Sherri, who phoned from Massachusetts, to ask how we were doing. We spoke and laughed about our children and shared some news and a few funny stories.  Enjoying the moment, she spent some time helping me solve a word puzzle from the morning paper.  Everything is fine, I tell her. And it is, because this has become the norm.

Even now, as I gather up my things and head down the hill of my town, toward the mikveh, it occurs to me that I have performed this act hundreds of times.  Every month, I spend an evening, just like today, pampering myself in preparation for the mikveh.  And, every month, I walk down this same path, nodding at neighbors and listening to the evening sounds of my town.

I can hear some children laughing outside the youth center and from somewhere I hear a single car driving into the town.  But, except for the calls to prayer that are coming from the Arab town on the next hill, all is quiet, which, again, is normal, here.

Inside the mikveh, I greet my friend, tonight’s mikveh lady, before heading in to rinse myself off for the mikveh. She has four sons, and like mine, they are all without cell phones and out of our reach. So, while I say the prayer and cleanse myself in the mikveh, we talk about work and getting together and anything else, but the war.  And, this, too, has become the norm.

Sheila Handler is a college instructor at Beit Berl College and at Open University.  She has lived in Israel since 1989 with her husband Chaim and children Lirone, Noam (and his wife Gitit), Donny and Yoel, in Yakir, a town in the center of Israel. Sheila’s sister, Sherri, is Administrative and Finance Director at Mayyim Hayyim.

 

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Mikveh → Tikvah

by Carrie Bornstein

CBTapestryThe world feels like an ugly place right now.

We can’t escape the reality – all throughout the internet, on the news, on the radio, in conversations with friends – that our world is a highly imperfect place.

We are in the lowest time of our liturgical year too. These weeks between the 17th of the month of Tammuz and the 9th of the month of Av symbolize all that is wrong in our world now, and the way it has been for so many years in our history.

Posting on Facebook or blogging about anything else these days feels like walking around with blinders on. And yet, I hesitate to share my thoughts publicly, particularly about Israel, because I fear that sharing any opinions only drives us farther apart.

So I look for the things that give me hope. That make me feel like we will turn these situations around. And I thank God for summer. The light… the air… it somehow seems just a bit easier to deal with than it would be during the dark days of winter.

Every year at this time, students from the Genesis and BIMA programs at Brandeis visit Mayyim Hayyim to discover a pluralistic institution in action, to contemplate their own spirituality, and to appreciate the possibilities of the Jewish community.

No matter what is going on in the world, their visits give me hope for our future. The root of the Hebrew word mikveh – kuf, vav, hey – is the same as the root of tikvah – hope. I continue to find hope in the people who find meaning here; reading their words and remembering that these are 16- and 17-year old boys and girls – makes me believe that it’s all going to be okay.

“Today was my first time being immersed in a mikveh. I had learned about them in Sunday School but I had never experienced one. As I was preparing, I felt nervous, trembling at the face of God. When I immersed though, time seemed to stop, and I felt closer to God than I felt before. For the three times I was under, all my worries seemed to float away. I felt natural, pure in God’s eyes.”

“I had a very meditative experience in the mikveh. The warm water nourished my skin and warmed my heart. I only heard the sound of my thoughts. It was incredibly serene.”

“I had never gone into a mikveh before. It was a unique experience that will stay with me a lifetime. The reading I chose about coming out was meaningful and brought to the surface something in my heart. I have been out for almost a year today. It was uplifting and freeing to cleanse myself and to have a time to symbolize and bring forth answers to myself and God that I am me – I am b’tzelem Elohim – made in the image of God. Thank you, Mayyim Hayyim. There is a piece of my heart here.”

“Being submerged in the mikveh made me feel God. I do not quite know what that means at this point in my life, but I know that I felt something powerful during my time here.”

It’s all going to be okay.

 

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 young chickens.

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Creating Traditions

by Rene Katersky, Mayyim Hayyim Mikveh Guiderene

Judaism is filled with beautiful traditions and rituals. Indeed, our lives and the lives of our families are made fuller and richer by the traditions that we establish. In so doing, we honor special moments and make them holy.

I find it heartwarming to know that some of our guests at Mayyim Hayyim  have included a visit to the mikveh… our mikveh… as part of their family traditions. In a few weeks, I will have the honor of being present again as mikveh guide for a couple coming to mark their anniversary celebration. One of the partners immersed here for conversion and they have included Mayyim Hayyim in their annual celebration for several years, traveling from out of town to spend time with us.

I will welcome them back, give them their space to be present for each other as they immerse, and, at their request, take a picture of them standing in front of the mikveh, as I have done several times.  This is very much a ritual moment for them, and a truly meaningful one for me as well.  How wonderful that they have chosen to include Mayyim Hayyim as they celebrate each other. What a blessing!

Rene Katersky lives in Scituate, MA with her husband Ed. She is a proud mikveh guide and educator at Mayyim Hayyim and serves as an Ambassador with Reform Jewish Outreach Boston, both of which feed her soul.

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Escaping the Bubble

by Walton Clark, Office AssistantWalt

Often times, I see and hear about people getting caught in the proverbial bubble, having this feeling of being stuck where they are. Life is just the same series of actions, over and over again; the feeling that what happens today is not any different from the next day. The feeling of being caught. How do you escape the bubble?

Last week a good buddy of mine returned from a trip to Southeast Asia. I would categorize him as a social butterfly. He is a man who has traveled frequently and is the type of person who will find the best and most interesting parts of any city he is in. He is an explorer and a fellow musician. He had originally gone on this trip to see family he had not seen in a very long time. The trip became a spiritual experience as he was able to travel from China through Vietnam, seeing the land of his ancestors and getting in touch with his family’s culture. He told me about some of the wild experiences he had, from joining the bandstand in a bar in Shanghai to running away from an angry mob down the Ho Chi Minh Trail after refusing to be ripped off.

Hearing him regale me with stories of his exploits, I am fascinated by the breadth of experience and somewhat envious of his ability to travel. I wouldn’t say I have put down roots in Boston, but I have created a life that is dependent by the work I do here. Working at Mayyim Hayyim in Newton as an office assistant does not offer many opportunities to travel the world. That is just the nature of the postion. But I am still exploring.

As a non-Jew working at a mikveh, I am constantly pushing the boundaries of what I know as I am literally surrounded by a different culture. I may be working on a project and from the lobby I will suddenly hear a chorus of people chanting in Hebrew. Frequently Yiddish phrases will be thrown around and people will have to stop and turn to me to translate. I recognize it is not the same degree of culture shock like being a westerner walking through the Forbidden City, but everyday I am surrounded by a different culture and world than my own. I am uniquely a resident visitor in this building.

What I have come to realize is that the bubble, like everything else, is first and foremost a perspective. Changing your geography is a fantastic way to bring a freshness to your life, but if you can’t change what you physically see everyday, change your mind’s eye.

Walton Clark is Mayyim Hayyim’s office assistant and jack of all trades.  He is a working musician in Boston, playing keyboard and writing songs in a variety of groups. You can follow him on Twitter @walt_twitwalker and on Instagram @welaxer.

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