by Benjamin Maron, Mikveh Guide
In many ways, my work has been about the people at the fringes of our communities, those outside looking in. I’ve worked in social services, ran youth outreach groups, and started interfaith dialogue groups between Muslim and Jewish students on a too volatile campus. I spend my days at InterfaithFamily, trying to create more space for intermarried couples to explore, and find their place in the Jewish community. So when I saw that Mayyim Hayyim was looking for men who were interested in becoming mikveh guides, I didn’t really have to think before I sent in my application.
My experience with mikveh goes back a number of years, but only recently has come to an indoor setting.
My very first experience with a mikveh was in a large city that will remain unnamed. A good friend was converting to Judaism and needed to take her dunks as part of the process. She asked if I would be her witness. Honoured, I joined her at our local mikveh at her appointed time. Once they saw her, they made up excuses and shooed us away. My friend was transgender, and I guess didn’t look “woman enough” for the local mikveh lady to let us get past the entranceway. Undeterred, we got in my car and drove to one of our local nudist beaches, of which there were a few. My friend chose the nudist beach frequented by women only, usually lesbians and queer-identified women. At this natural mikveh, I was the one who caused (a couple) raised eyebrows; my friend was able to immerse without further harassment.
Over the years, I’ve had fortune to witness a number of friends and strangers alike as they immersed in waters. Each time, I’d stand on the shore, by the side of the stream, next to the pond, and look up as I heard them splash under the surface, glancing just long enough to see if all their hair was under the water (along with the rest of their bodies), before averting my gaze.
I’ve had opportunity to immerse as well, always in natural bodies of water outdoors. Once, in a lake in New Hampshire, with a bunch of other men, we immersed before Shabbos at a retreat. And, with the exception of the septuagenarian who cannonballed off the dock into the lake, it really was a serene experience.
Before moving to the Boston area, I had assumed that any future immersions in my life would likewise take place outside, in nature. I never dreamed that there would be a community mikveh that was this welcoming and inclusive. But once I found out about Mayyim Hayyim, I knew I had to get involved.
So here I am, trained and ready. Happy to guide and welcome whomever shows up. Happy to tell my friends and communities just how welcoming and nonjudgmental this special mikveh can be. And happy to be trying out the mikveh indoors for once.
Benjamin Maron, Director of Content and Educational Resources at InterfaithFamily, is known online as @thewanderingjew. A Canadian nomad of North America currently residing in Brookline, MA, he’s an educator, editor, writer, community organizer, advocate, chef, Scrabble player, and baby whisperer.