Late last year, my youngest daughter, Liana, and I spent three Sunday afternoons at Mayyim Hayyim participating in their Beneath the Surface class for Bat Mitzvah girls and their mothers. We joined on a friend’s recommendation and had no expectations. I had attended several fundraisers for Mayyim Hayyim over the years, but had never immersed. Liana knew that her older sister, Rachel, visited Mayyim Hayyim for an immersion the day before she became a Bat Mitzvah. We passed the mikveh several times each week as we traveled, knowing that this building belonged to our community, but never considering that it belonged to us.
During the course of the program I began to think about how the Jewish institutions of my family’s community here in Newton in 2014 are worlds away from those I grew up with in central New Jersey in the 1970’s. When I was young, my family belonged to the conservative synagogue in town. I attended Hebrew School. I became a Bat Mitzvah. But in retrospect, those experiences were not warm and nurturing, not meaningful. I don’t remember any special preparations or discussions with my Rabbi or any other educational leader. I don’t remember being told or feeling what the significance of the service was. And, other than the Jewish summer camp that I attended, there was really no other Jewish community space in my life.
Perhaps because I have become involved so gradually over the last several years, I hadn’t noticed how spiritually moved and Jewishly involved one could become in countless ways and places around Boston. It also dawned on me, perhaps during our second Sunday at Mayyim Hayyim, that this mikveh, only blocks from my home, is another place for us to experience our Judaism. Though I had supported Mayyim Hayyim since its inception, I supported it to help those going through crises and transitions and hoped it would be there for me or my family should we ever need it for those reasons. I did not think of the mikveh as a spot for us to gather or learn or bond. Meeting with other moms who were also preparing for their daughters’ b’not mitzvah gave me the opportunity to review my Jewish past and see how my particular Jewish connections and understandings developed. We all had different stories, different paths, different ideas. But we all had the same intention, which was to make sure our daughter’s transition to becoming a Jewish adult was meaningful. Beneath the surface, we found, the moms and daughters had many feelings and ideas that bubbled up as we laughed and shared and learned. In private and in groups, Liana and I reflected on our connection to each other and to our Jewish lives. I know that in a few weeks, when Liana walks onto the bimah, her experience will be that much richer from having been Beneath the Surface.
Hope Suttin and her family are members of Temple Emanuel and live in Newton, MA. Hope and her daughter Liana participated in Mayyim Hayyim’s mother-daughter bat mitzvah program Beneath the Surface in fall 2013.