The week before my New York wedding, I boarded a train at Penn Station, Boston-bound, to immerse at Mayyim Hayyim. I was flustered and hurried, as brides often are in those logistics-packed pre-wedding days. The instructions in the prep rooms at the mikveh gently urged me to slow down, to reflect, and to clean under every fingernail. As I lathered my body with the soapy washcloth, I began crying big tears of release, of memory, of transition. The last time I had felt a soapy washcloth on my body was when my parents bathed me as a girl. Until that moment, I had been preoccupied mostly with place cards, flowers and seating arrangements. Standing in the shower at Mayyim Hayyim, crying, I began to truly get ready, emotionally and spiritually, to become a married woman.
We need a community mikveh in New York City, for the brides who don’t even know that slowing down in that last week is a possibility. We need a community mikveh in New York to be an expressly welcoming space for conversions, and an intimate space to observe niddah (monthly immersion). We need a community mikveh in New York where men can immerse after their last round of chemotherapy, where women can mark weaning their children, where a Bar Mitzvah boy can come to celebrate his life transition.
Over the past summer, I began working on the New York Community Mikveh Project (now ImmerseNYC), funded by the Dorot Foundation, and in consultation with the wonderful team at Mayyim Hayyim. I was expecting to spend much of my summer discussing real estate and answering the question “why a mikveh?” Instead, meeting after meeting was filled simply and profoundly with stories. Stories of searching for a mikveh to celebrate a 60th birthday, stories of invasive questions from the mikveh lady, stories of feeling unwelcome for being gay. When we build a New York community mikveh, the pools will be filled with water, and overflowing with stories.
This year, ImmerseNYC’s main goals are two-fold. First, to train our first New York cohort of mikveh guides, enhancing already established mikva’ot through their presence. Second, to take members of the New York Jewish community on bus trips up to Mayyim Hayyim, so that we can all see firsthand what is possible when passionate and thoughtful lay leaders, clergy, and organizational partners come together to create a community mikveh.
When I am ordained as a Reform rabbi in May 2013, I will begin working full-time to make the dream of creating a community mikveh in New York a reality. Yet, our success in this work will be measured by how many people got their hands “wet” – this is, of course, a community project!
If you’d like to share your story and be part of this work, please contact Sara at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara Luria is in her final year of rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. A trained community organizer and birth doula, Sara hopes to integrate her passion for social justice and commitment to meaningful Jewish experience in her rabbinate. For the past two years, Sara served as the rabbinic intern at East End Temple in Manhattan. She is an alumna of the JOIN for Justice fellowship in community organizing. Sara graduated with honors from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with her husband, Isaac, and their children, Caleb and Eva.