When I had heard that Mayyim Hayyim offered mikveh experiences for elementary schoolers and b’nei/ b’not mitzvah, I must admit I was somewhat surprised, given the traditional associations of mikveh with sexuality. But a recent experience made me change my mind, and even lower the recommended age!
I recently had the honor of escorting a bride to the mikveh in Jerusalem before her wedding. She had just made aliyah from South America and wanted to go with her close female family members and some friends. The time she chose, however, was later afternoon when I am with my kids. I expressed concern, but she urged me to bring my daughters aged (5 and 3) and assured me that her two close friends were also bringing their young kids so that she felt comfortable, and the kids could play together in the waiting room while she immersed. I took her at her word, and off we set to Nachlaot, where a newly renovated mikveh in a most traditional neighborhood was flexible and accommodating.
At first the kallah, the bride, only wanted her mother to witness the immersion, but after she had completed the preparations, she was visibly moved and decided to share the event with all the assembled entourage. It was quite crowded in the tiny hallway, so I stayed off to the side, but the little girls jostled eagerly for a front row seat. They saw her immerse, heard the blessings, smelled the chloriney water, touched her soft bathrobe, and noticed the kallah crying with joy. After some words of blessing and a small snack in the waiting room, we parted ways with hugs and more tears.
“After all these years of hearing me talk about my book and hearing the word mikveh, what did you think it would look like?” I asked them. “A wall with notes in it, like the Kotel,” said the older one, and her little sister had no reply.
I thought that was all for Mikveh 101, but when we arrived home my daughters went straight to the balcony, took out a large laundry bucket, filled it with water, and proceeded to play “mikveh.” The little one was the hatan , the groom, the older one the kallah, and they took turns playing in the water, then dressed up, made a huppah, and enacted a Jewish wedding.
I was thrilled that this was their first encounter with mikveh, that it was positive, moving and personal, feminine and beautiful. I hope this blog continues a conversation about taking the mystery out of mikveh while retaining its intimate and magical nature.
Rabbi Miriam C. Berkowitz is Co-Director of Kashouvot: Advancing Pastoral Care in Israel and serves as one of Israel’s first Hospital Chaplains. She is a member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, wrote Taking the Plunge: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to the Mikveh (Schechter Institute, 2007) and is director of the new pre-rabbinic track at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. Rabbi Berkowitz can be reached through www.mikvehconsultant.com or www.kashouvot.org (in progress).