Last week, on a very cold and wintry Friday morning I left my apartment in Morningside Heights to catch the subway to 74th street. I was on my way to the Upper West Side Mikveh. Along with six other women, I was on my way to a field trip planned as part of the Gender in Judaism class at the Columbia/Barnard Hillel.
A few months ago I made a cameo appearance in this course as a guest teacher. It was just before the High Holidays, and I came to teach about how mikveh could be part of a High Holiday preparation process. Our conversation soon turned toward the “gendered-ness” of the mikveh space. One woman recounted the story of seeing her brother go to mikveh with a bunch of his friends before Shabbat, and being jealous that as a woman she did not have access to the same kind of experience. A number of students expressed curiosity about the mikveh, having never been to a mikveh themselves.
After hearing so many people say they had never been to a mikveh but really wanted to check it out, I suggested that we take a trip to see one. Our fabulous rabbinic intern, Megan Goldman, coordinated the excursion. We arranged to have a discussion with Sara Luria, founder of ImmerseNYC, who would explain the mikveh basics to us. Then, we would get a tour of the mikveh from Gittah, the “mikveh lady.” All these arrangements led to this particularly slushy Friday morning.
We all tumbled into the reception room and shook the snow from our clothes. The warmth of the mikveh building was more than just physical. I felt immediately welcomed there. The reception room is beautiful, brightly lit with comfy plush furniture. On our tour, I saw shiny preparation rooms with all the luxuries of a spa. The mikveh pool itself was pristine. Having interned at Mayyim Hayyim I knew what mikveh could and should be. I was not particularly surprised by any of the things I saw, although I was impressed. But, a lot of the other visitors had never been to a mikveh before, and they were floored. I was so thrilled to see these people connect with the mikveh for the first time. Even people who had been to a mikveh before were impressed with the quality of this space in contrast with others they had visited.
This trip was a reminder for me that our work is never finished. Mayyim Hayyim has made an enormous impact on all who have visited, and ImmerseNYC has hit the ground running, but there are still so many people who have no idea how wonderful mikveh can be for them. The goal of this trip wasn’t to convince anyone that mikveh had to be part of their lives, but simply to show them that it’s there and that it can be whatever they want it to be. In that sense, it was successful and deeply satisfying. I hope more and more people will continue to learn about this tradition.
Allison Poirier is 14 weeks away from graduation from the Double Degree program at Barnard and the Jewish Theological Seminary. This semester, she is also interning for Sara Luria at ImmerseNYC, the New York Community Mikveh project.