Written by Rachel Galper
Rachel wrote this monologue for Libi Eir’s “Scenes from the Mikveh Monologues” production.
For as long as I could remember, I’d hated myself. I hated my body, my feelings, and the dark, nasty voices inside my head. I hated being a Jew and a woman- a living, walking target. And I was furious at God for not keeping me safe from being violated as a child and a young woman. My memories of molestation and rape were uninvited guests that haunted me, awake and asleep, and refused to leave no matter how hard I begged.
At 40ish, I had come to the realization that despite my best efforts, I could not trust or love people fully. I was broken, and though I kept trying, I had no idea of how to fix myself. Thankfully, my inner fighter and seeker always seemed to rescue me from despair and return me to my Source, no matter how far I strayed (and trust me I strayed far).
Until a couple of years ago, I’d never thought of doing mikveh. I wasn’t even sure what it was. But one day, a new friend called and invited me to immerse in the river. I was clueless about ritual, so I prayed the best I knew how and immersed again and again until I felt cleaner. I wasn’t sure what cleaner meant, or what I was releasing and receiving. I just knew I longed for peace and that being enwombed in water felt right.
The following year I brought my newly purchased shofar that I could hardly blow and prayers someone had printed off the Mayyim Hayyim website. Before immersing, we each blew our shofarot. I felt myself calling out to God, a surge of strength coursing through me. Part of me had hoped that doing mikveh that day would free me of my past and its demons, but I was learning mikveh was a process, not an outcome. So when I immersed, I just tried to be present- naked before the Holy One- and let the river take me home. Each time I have done mikveh since then, I have peeled another layer of pain, fear, and anger and recovered another little piece of myself.
Several weeks ago, my memories visited me with a vengeance. I knew they were more than I could handle, so I went to see Miriam, a local healer. She and I did a ritual of severing. She then led me to a tub. I poured bucket after bucket of water over me as I cried, screamed, sang and prayed. “Get out!” I told my demons over and over. Miriam sang and drummed for me. She shouted over and over, “Stand in your own power, Rachel! Stand up!”
So I stood there naked and cried out to God with arms open wide, “I’m yours; I’m yours; I’m yours!” It was a moment of complete surrender and victory.
A month later I went on retreat. In a workshop on sacred sexuality, I discovered that many of the women had been violated as children and adults. One woman had created a mikveh ritual after she’d been raped. So we decided to adapt it and co-lead a ceremony for the women who wished to participate. Over 20 women showed up, crammed onto a small dock by the stream-fed pond. Every woman who did mikveh that day was witnessed by a strong woman to wrap and bless her, to, to sing and drum for her, and welcome her back into herself. We invoked our ancestors, calling in our mothers and grandmothers, many of whom had been abused as well. Gaining strength we sent blessings through the generations, to those still suffering and those yet unborn. “Never again!” we shouted. Each time we immersed, sometimes holding each other, sometimes alone, we emerged to shouts of “Kasher!” Each one of us reclaimed a piece of our power and beauty that day.
Two hours later a woman I had never met told me she was a survivor and asked me to be her mikveh guide. As I witnessed her immersions under the moonlight, I realized that God had helped me heal so I could be present to this woman and all the woman on the dock hours before. I knew that together we were breaking the cycle of violence, one mikveh and a time.
Rachel Galper is an ordained Maggid (Jewish storyteller and inspirational speaker), end-of life- doula, mikveh guide, art educator and body prayer facilitator. She lives in Durham, North Carolina and works throughout the Triangle with people of all ages and backgrounds in a variety of secular and religious institutions and organizations. Her passion is to support people who are struggling with trauma and difficult transitions through creative ritual, prayer, energy work, story, art, and dance to reclaim themselves. Rachel is the co-founder of a Triangle-wide interfaith dialogue and dinner group and one of the founding members of Yavneh: A Jewish Renewal Community. Click here to visit Rachel’s website. She can be reached via email or phone (646 241-7555).