It was indeed a moment of rejoicing when Sam emerged, glowing, after having immersed in the mikveh. She was now officially Jewish, though Sam reflected that she had felt Jewish during her many months of study leading up to this triumphant moment, and there were many tears of joy. Sam’s smile and extra jump in her step said it all; she was so happy to be Jewish. Throughout this past year, I was moved by Sam’s motivation as she read, studied, asked questions, practiced Hebrew, celebrated holidays, prayed, observed Jewish rituals and thought critically about her beliefs and choices. From God to Israel, abortion to women’s rights, Shabbat to personal prayer, we engaged in many discussions as Sam’s Jewish identity took shape. As a rabbi, Sam was my first conversion student and I was humbled by her commitment to study, her admiration of Reform Judaism, and her eagerness to join the Jewish people.
As a guide at Mayyim Hayyim, I have witnessed many profound moments as people have immersed for a whole range of reasons. The mikveh provides an essential ritual to mark time; it is a concrete experience that helps an individual transition from one state to another. Because of my journey with Sam, I appreciated the unique role of the mikveh in a deeper way. I recognized how important it was for Sam to have a tangible way to mark this moment. During this pivotal time, I would not be the mikveh guide, but the rabbi, on the other side of the door, waiting to hear the splashes and the guide utter the word “kosher” three times. The Beit Din rabbis, Sam’s family and I, stood breathless, holding on to every word, as we heard Sam reciting the blessings and the Sh’ma, in flawless Hebrew. And, later, when Sam’s soon-to-be mother-in-law, Cantor Marcy Kadin, and I, recited the priestly blessing, we were all overcome with emotion. At that moment, as we welcomed a Jew into our people, the world stood still, and there was nowhere else I would have rather been. This is one of the greatest rewards of being a rabbi, a moment filled with such pure joy; it is the creation of a Jewish soul. “This is the day that God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”Rabbi Sandi Intraub is a rabbi and educator at Beth El Temple Center in Belmont, MA. She also works as a rabbi and interfaith chaplain at the Jack Satter House (a Hebrew SeniorLife housing site) in Revere. When Sandi is not at work, she can be found playing tennis, reading or kayaking in Vermont. Sandi can be reached at email@example.com.