Although I am only weeks away from my college graduation, I arrived at Mayyim Hayyim when I was 12 years old, and I have a unique vantage point with which to observe the history of the mikveh. Ten years ago, I was a student at Solomon Schechter Day School in Newton, and I stood between childhood and becoming a young adult. Much of my life at that point was filled with bubbly conversations between newly formed friends, but I was aware of the serious aspects of being a sixth-grader, too. I was in preparation for my upcoming bar mitzvah ceremony where I would chant from the Torah in front of family and friends, and I was learning the meaning behind my dad’s favorite saying, “With great privilege comes great responsibility.” Mayyim Hayyim— the idea, the people, and the venue— supported me as I was making an incredibly important life transition.
The chapters of Torah that made up my bar mitzvah portion were about the topic of ritual immersion and purification, and I felt as though I could give back to my classmates by learning and sharing these touchy texts in a thoughtful way. I began a project, inspired by tzedakah projects like collecting picture books for Children’s Hospital, where I would visit Mayyim Hayyim each week leading up to my becoming a bar mitzvah and would learn with an educator and the rabbi of Temple Reyim. The project would culminate with the creation of a blessing and ceremony that I would use to mark the occasion of my bar mitzvah and a workshop where my Schechter class would visit Mayyim Hayyim and learn about mikveh as a group.
After months of learning and preparing, I immersed in the mikveh and felt lighter than air. Surrounded by the people closest to me, I read the blessings I wrote and dunked my head completely underwater. My unique immersion was a powerful adaptation of an ancient tradition. At the workshop the following week, when I was able to share my thoughts and experiences with over 40 members of my day school class as well as parents and teachers, I could see their perspectives on mikveh change for the better.
Ten years later, I had the opportunity to volunteer while a group of sixth-graders from Solomon Schechter (my old school!) came to Mayyim Hayyim for an education program taught by Lisa Berman. Right away, I remembered the fragility and excitement in my own life when I was that age on the verge of becoming a bar mitzvah. Lisa was flawless in teaching the students about mikveh traditions and engaging the group. She explained that each one of them should feel comfortable in their own bodies and with their identities. I realized at that point how lucky Mayyim Hayyim is to have a great Director of Education, because immersion is about more than just water. Lisa is a phenomenal educator, and Mayyim Hayyim does an amazing job supporting the Jewish community with programming, both wet and dry.
Mayyim Hayyim is honoring Lisa at our upcoming Tenth Anniversay event, The Ripple Effect, Mayyim Hayyim’s First Ten Years. Lisa’s impact on thousands of learners young and old will stay with each one of them for a lifetime.
Ben Chartock is a senior at Cornell University, where he will receive a B.A. in Economics with a minor in History in May of 2014. He will begin work this summer as a Consultant at Bates White, an economic consulting firm. In his spare time, Ben enjoys jamming on the guitar with his younger brother, Josh, fishing, bike riding, and connecting with friends.