There’s No I in Uterus

By Carrie Bornstein, Executive Director 

Life has been a little busy lately. For all the normal reasons, yes. And, there are some other reasons, too. Mayyim Hayyim has a funny way of having an impact on people, myself included. So I want to share with you some of what’s keeping me busy lately, in the form of the first post from a personal blog that I started keeping a few months ago. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read the beginnings of it below, and then click over to TheresNoIinUterus.wordpress.com to read more:

This Idea that I Had…

I used to joke that I should have someone else’s baby. I’m good at being pregnant, I thought. I get pregnant easily… I stay pregnant easily… I give birth easi fast… it just feels like something I do well. And in some sick way, I’ve enjoyed giving birth. I like hospitals… all those people coming to help take care of me, bring me water, bring me food that I don’t have to cook or clean up myself… no one with the chutzpah to argue with me over the remote control… (I know – I’m nuts, right?)

Except you know what I really don’t need more of in my life? Kids. They’re everywhere – we’re infested with them.

“I’d love to have another baby,” I’d say. “I just don’t want another kid.”

So I joked like this for a while until one day I thought to myself, “Huh. I wonder if I really could do that. That’s a thing, right? No – I’m sure I’m too old,” I told myself.

But then one day, I looked it up. Yes, it is a thing. No, I am not too old. Yes, I can do that, it seemed.

Nearly ten years ago, I started volunteering at Mayyim Hayyim. Two years later I joined the staff and I’ve been the Executive Director for the past four years. People come through our doors for all kinds of reasons, finding joy and healing in a small pool of water called a mikveh. Our visitors have had a real impact on me, particularly the ones who have been on some kind of journey to build a family. I’ve seen women and men in pain over repeated failed attempts to have children, more miscarriages than I could possibly count, and the loss of stillborn babies late in pregnancy. The sadness, isolation, and anger is intense. I’ve also seen the sheer delight when one of these women returns for an immersion in her ninth month of pregnancy, a couple brings their long-awaited adopted child to convert to Judaism, and when two men visit with their infant who undoubtedly has taken incredible determination to bring into their family.

Want to read the rest of Carrie’s story? See the full post here.

carrie-headshotCarrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director.

 

Posted in Carrie Bornstein, Fertility, gestational surrogate, Infertility, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Making a Marriage: Inside Beyond the Huppah

As Beyond the Huppah 2017 approaches, we are reminded of these unique insights written and adapted by educator Judy Elkin.

Imagine it. Ten couples sitting around a table, munching on Terra Chips, hummus and carrots, mixed nuts, and Peanut M&M’s; some soon-to-be married, some already married, in their late 20’s and older, gay and straight, Jewish-Jewish, interfaith, and all, if they have children, interested in raising them as Jews. They want to start their marriages on the right foot. What that means is gaining tools for having productive and meaningful conversations on major topics, exploring how to create Jewish lives that match their values, and learning how to stay curious about each others’ lives. This is what Beyond the Huppah is all about.

One of the fun things we do in this workshop that hones in on one of the most serious issues marriages face – conflict – is becoming familiar with the 4 toxins that Dr. John Gottman identified as showing up most commonly during conflict. The toxins are: blame, defensiveness, contempt (which is the most toxic), and stonewalling. Now, we ALL do ALL of them, it’s just the degree to which they exist that is of concern. Gottman tells us that healthy couples have a 6:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. One of the best antidotes when a toxin appears (besides naming it) is to build positivity in the relationship.

One way to do this is so simple, and yet, like many simple things, is also so hard – to acknowledge and appreciate your partner, out loud, each day. Even if the something seems mundane, do it.

To learn about these toxins, we get up out of our comfy chairs and go into the lobby of Mayyim Hayyim to find the name of each toxin arranged in a square on the floor. Participants stand in each one and recall times they experienced each one. They are asked to pick their favorite and talk to others who share that experience. They then move to the one they think their partner uses most. There’s laughter, new awareness, and a deepened understanding of what transpires when they fight. Couples then sit together in a private place to talk about what they learned and how they’d like to help each other when the toxins show up.

And then we look to our tradition, where in the siddur (prayer book) before the Shema we’re reminded that each day God renews creation. The rabbis understood that we’re going to fight, AND we need to remember that tomorrow is another day, a new beginning, another opportunity to create and maintain positivity.

There are times throughout the course where we deal head-on with how Jewish tradition and practice will be woven through the fabric of our marriages. In the session on ritual, we study relevant texts about Shabbat in particular and Jewish ritual in general. Then we enact a role play where two partners are in the midst of a frustrating conversation over Shabbat observance. One partner thought they were on the same page about keeping Friday night as a night for themselves or friends, but at home in a more traditional way and not out at a restaurant. The other partner thought they were still trying to figure it out and is more ambivalent about it, and accepted an invitation from the boss to go out as a couple on the upcoming Friday night. As participants jump in to play out the relational issues, they also get clearer about the importance of Shabbat in their lives, what shape it will take, how it’s similar or different from how they were raised, and for Jews-by-choice, how they want to bring to their relationship their new commitment to Jewish life.

Beyond the Huppah is about grounding the general wisdom about relationships in our Jewish tradition and creating opportunities for couples to dig deeper on important issues than they might otherwise on their own. With this sneak-peak of experiential activities in mind, I invite you to join me for the upcoming series beginning April 20th. You can learn more and register here.

Learn more about bringing the Beyond the Huppah curriculum to your community here.

judJudy Elkin, M.Ed., PCC  is certified as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) from the International Coach Federation in both individual and relationship coaching.  In addition to her private practice in Newton MA, focused on career transitions, executive leadership, parenting and aging, Judy teaches Parenting Through a Jewish Lens for Hebrew College. She brings to her coaching a 25 year career in Jewish education and professional development.

Posted in Adult Education, Education Programs, GLBTQ, Inspiration, Interfaith | Leave a comment

My Monday Morning Inspiration

by Rachel Eisen, Director of Annual Giving

I want to tell you an amazing story.

A donor—let’s call her Susan—who received our end-of-year appeal letter went on to our website in late December to make a donation. By accident, she donated twice.
When we saw this, we naturally suspected something was up. Most people don’t donate twice in one day to the same organization! So we called Susan to let her know that her credit card had been charged twice – did she want a refund? Amazingly, she said no. She saw this had happened, and told us she decided to let both donations go through, because “Mayyim Hayyim is such a special place.”

Susan is one of hundreds of donors who understand the amazing impact Mayyim Hayyim has: Mayyim Hayyim breaks down barriers. Mayyim Hayyim’s impact is that no matter who you are or what kind of Jew you are, you have equal access to the beautiful ritual of mikveh. Regardless of your denomination, race, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age, you are welcomed and proudly and proactively included into our Jewish space. You are able to ask questions, learn, and explore; you should be able to celebrate, heal, and mark big moments in your life.

But Susan also knows that her donation isn’t just about Mayyim Hayyim’s impact on her and her community. It’s about her impact on Mayyim Hayyim.

Mayyim Hayyim is a small organization. Every gift matters. By doubling what, to Susan, probably seemed liked small gift (just $50 for a total of $100), she made enormous waves for Mayyim Hayyim.

Hundreds of Mayyim Hayyim’s donors—60% in fact—make gifts of less than $250. These gifts add up: to nearly $30,000 in 2016. In 2017, we need to raise nearly $50,000 from donors who give gifts of this size.

Why the increase at this level? Because as great as Mayyim Hayyim’s impact is, we know it could be even greater. And because we believe so strongly in pluralism, in belonging to the whole community, we also want our financial support to come from the whole community.
Susan is an inspiration to me. If she inspires you, too, to make an incredible impact to support the values of pluralism and petichut—openness and accessibility—then I would ask you to join Susan and hundreds of others like you and her, and make your 2017 gift to Mayyim Hayyim today.

rachel-eisenRachel Eisen is Mayyim Hayyim’s Director of Annual Giving. She loves the culture of philanthropic giving that has sprung up in the past few months—and asks you to consider supporting a small organization—like Mayyim Hayyim!—that does the hard work of fighting locally for inclusion and equality from the ground up.

Posted in Inclusiveness, Inspiration, Philanthropy, Religion | Leave a comment

Reinventing Ritual

by Rachel Karish, Bronfman Youth Fellow, translated from Hebrew by Daphna Ezrachi, Bronfman Educator

The 21st-century world that we live in is one of constant progress and change. The industrial revolution, which began a few centuries ago following the Enlightenment, led to a technological race. In that race, human knowledge continues to grow endlessly, and we don’t always know how to deal with the changes that result from it. One of the positive aspects of these changes, however, is the willingness to discuss and to deal with the clashes that arise from them.

As Jews, and as people who hold to a belief system, we find ourselves constantly trying to deal with the rapid advances and clashes that occur in our world. We struggle to find solutions that will satisfy people of different opinions; this is not easy. During my visit to the pluralistic mikveh, Mayyim Hayyim, I was deeply impressed with how this amazing institution is able to bridge our progressive and open world with that of halacha (Jewish law), worlds that often clash. The design of the building, the staff of the mikveh, and the work that is done at Mayyim Hayyim creates a powerful feeling that we are all equal, and we are all welcome to enter and find our place.

Immersion in a mikveh is an important and meaningful ritual in the lives of many Jews, men and women alike. The mikveh is a source of physical and emotional cleansing. The most powerful element for me was the fact that Mayyim Hayyim was able to find halachic ways to open up the mikveh for anyone to come and cleanse themselves – no matter what stage they are in their lives, no matter where they come from, or where they are going.

As an Orthodox young woman, I felt that the visit resonated with me personally. A few months ago, we started learning about marriage and the laws of Taharat Hamishpacha (Family Purity) in school. I was amazed to see how Mayyim Hayyim created a viable and halachic way to include all those who want to come to the mikveh, which I plan on and very much look forward to doing regularly upon marriage.

For a while now, I have been looking forward to immersion in a mikveh. There is something so purifying about this experience. During our visit, I realized how important it is to me that the option of immersion be available to every Jew, no matter who they are. It is such a basic and natural thing to want to purify oneself and connect to oneself and to God. I found Mayyim Hayyim’s ability to make this basic, natural, and fundamental aspect of Judaism accessible to everyone profound and deeply touching.

rachelllRachel visited Mayyim Hayyim as a participant in the Bronfman Youth Fellowship, a network of 1,100+ young Jews from Israel and North America. She is a senior at Ulpanat Shirat Hayam and majors in dance. Rachel is active in her local youth movement and will soon be a volunteer through the Israeli national service program. Daphna is an educator and alumna of Amitei Bronfman.

Posted in Education Programs, Inclusiveness, Inspiration, Israel, Niddah, Religion | Leave a comment

Inclusion First

by Lori Kramer, Office Manager

Alongside my role as the Office Manager at Mayyim Hayyim, I have the pleasure of being Ema (mom) to four wonderful, amazing, patience-trying, and dynamic children. My oldest, Avi, is turning 17 next month. I have proudly worn the label of Special Needs Mom since Avi was in second grade (though I’ve really been a Special Needs Mom since he was born, we just did not have the words to describe it), and the more specific label of Autism Mom since July 1, 2014.

While my son’s autism diagnosis did not come until he was 14, we have been managing his Individualized Education Program, special services, and pullout classes for over 10 years.

13524545_10154194438710119_3654785534025217541_nLast year, Avi moved to a school for students with language-based learning disabilities. The change in him – not just academically – is astounding. He has evolved into a social teenager with typical drama with friends, rolled eyes about doing chores, and a wonderful sense of self-confidence he has never had before. Okay, I’ll be honest, he always rolled his eyes about doing chores.

It has always been paramount in my parenting to make sure there are accessible, welcoming places for Avi that accept him just as he is. Mayyim Hayyim has always made sure that people just like Avi feel included and embraced. Mayyim Hayyim’s commitment to accessibility can be seen in our film, Open Waters: Mikveh for Everybody.

In support of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month 2017, Mayyim Hayyim is so proud to launch our simplified, pictorial version of the 7 Kavanot (intentions) for Mikveh Preparation for people with developmental disabilities, non-native English speakers, and children, (created in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, along with the Open Waters film) ensuring that even more people can access the ritual of mikveh.

During Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month, I am so proud to work for an organization that puts inclusion first.

rjs_5588tsLori 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. 

Posted in Accessibility, Children, Disability, Immersion, Inclusiveness, Inspiration, Parenting | Leave a comment

Off the Deep End!

by Cantor Louise Egbert Treitman

I converted to Judaism almost 45 years ago and have been immersed in the Jewish world ever since. I was still in college when I began studying with my sponsoring rabbi, went to the mikveh, converted, and got married. But what happens when you get out of the water? It can take a while to feel Jewish. The important thing is to connect with a community of like-minded people who want to “be/do Jewish” together. Thankfully, that’s what happened to me in college. I had started attending the Introduction to Judaism course offered by the Reform movement. This program is a wonderful way for folks to learn about Judaism, whether or not they choose to convert. For me, I wanted more. I decided to take a course in Jewish philosophy with a young Jewish instructor at my college. She became my mentor and helped lead me on my journey. She came to celebrate with me at my mikveh in Boston. I continued to study with her; the next year it was Biblical Hebrew, Bible, and Jewish History. By that time, I had made friends with the other Jewish women in my class, but I still didn’t feel Jewish.

That took years, but these friends were the beginning of my Jewish community. They made me feel welcome, they taught me, they took me to the synagogue and helped me find my way around the siddur (prayer book), they celebrated holidays with me, they cooked Jewish food with me. All of these women are still my friends. This ultimately led me to a double major in music and Judaic Studies. I went to college not knowing what a hazzan (cantor) was. It’s ironic that my studies were, in fact, critical in leading me to my life’s work as a cantor. I’ve been swimming in the “deep end” as Jewish clergy for many years, so something must have worked for this convert! In fact, many of my congregants, students, and colleagues may not even know that this all started when I chose Judaism.

I was fortunate to find a space where I felt comfortable exploring my Judaism after I converted, but oftentimes that space is missing. Mayyim Hayyim is always thinking out of the box and coming up with creative ways to serve the Jewish people. Mayyim Hayyim’s “Now What? Questions and Answers for Those Who Have Chosen Judaism” program is exactly that space – a wonderful opportunity to wrestle with your toughest questions while connecting to others.

In a way I think my Biblical Hebrew class became my own personal “Now What?” program. It is next to impossible to be Jewish alone. I am forever grateful to my sponsoring clergy, Rabbi Herman Blumberg, who has remained a dear friend, to my professor at Wellesley College, Myra Siff Weiss, as well as my Wellesley classmates – Muriel, Dorit, Karen, Sally, Abby and Barbara, and to my Hillel director, Danny Freelander (now a rabbi and president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism).

“Now What?” can be there for you in the way these friends were there for me. I have been so fortunate to build this community. Perhaps you will find yours at Mayyim Hayyim.

Registration is now open for “Now What?” beginning on March 2nd. Learn more and register here.

treitman-hc-2012-fullCantor Louise Egbert Treitman currently serves as one of the spiritual leaders at Beth El Temple Center in Belmont after spending many years at Temple Beth David in Westwood. She also teaches at Hebrew College in Newton and sings in the Zamir Chorale of Boston. In 1972 she decided to embrace Judaism and has never looked back.

Posted in Adult Education, Conversion, Education Programs, Inspiration | Leave a comment

Among the Trees and Grasses

by Lisa Berman, Mikveh and Education Director

I feel bombarded… by the news, the noise, the anger, the anxiety. I know we are all lisa-b-4struggling to adjust the volume of our interface with our world. Sometimes we need it to be loud and in our face, to wrestle with it, move our bodies with it, react to it with passion and intensity. But this weekend I needed to turn that volume down – turn it off even. I needed to open up new spaces in my soul and turn my face and my thoughts to something quiet, pure, intimate – to peace.

lisa-b-2Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a Hassidic master from the Ukraine around the turn of the 19th century, spoke of the power of simply being in nature: “Grant me the ability to be alone. May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grasses, among all growing things and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer to talk with the one that I belong to.”

lisa-b-5I went outdoors this weekend as my antidote to the cacophony. To focus my thoughts, I took my camera (just an iPhone), and I looked. I looked at the vistas, the horizon, the sky, the light. I looked at the tiny canvases of beauty: the grasses, the moss, the pine cones, the lichen – and the water, of course. There was so much to marvel at, and the closer I looked, the more I immersed myself in the experience, the more I saw. On a mostly gray, chilly day in the dead of a New England winter, I saw amazing things.
Just as our weeks need Shabbat, our consciences need a rest, and a recharge too. And that rest is right outside our door – at home, maybe even at work, on Shabbat and the weekend – it is all there waiting to help us connect to our world in a different way, and to give us back that most precious gift, the gift of peace.

lisa-b-3

Nachman reminds us: “Find a day for yourself, better yet, late at night. Go to the forest or to the field, or lock yourself in a room… You will meet solitude there. There you will be able to listen attentively to the noise of the wind first, to birds singing, to see wonderful nature and to notice yourself in it… and to come back to harmonic connection with the world and its Creator.”

lisa-b-1You can find such refuge in the warm waters of Mayyim Hayyim. Our mikvaot were designed to combine a sense of nature-found beauty with the marvelous advantages of indoors – privacy and warm, clean water. Come find the serenity you seek here, too.

We would love to welcome you to Mayyim Hayyim. You can schedule a visit here or call 617-244-1836 x205.

lisa-blog-photoLisa 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 Healing, Lisa Berman, Religion | 1 Comment