by Naomi Malka
There is so much sechel, or wisdom, in the Jewish calendar. I love that our year ends with the conclusion of summer and the entry of fall. We’ve celebrated, davenned, and fasted, but this week we’re taking the party outdoors. Sukkot recalls the harvest season in ancient Israel, when the land was so bountiful and there was so much work to be done that the farmers slept in rickety shacks in the fields to wake up early the next day and continue reaping what they had sown.
For me, Sukkot is about sealing up our memories of summer, finding equilibrium in the present, and beginning to address the questions that the future asks. We go into the sukkah to harvest all that we worked for, as we listen to the night sounds and take in the stars. We invite in our friends and invoke our ancestors, we shake the lulav and etrog in all directions, sensing our way into a new season.
Similarly, mikveh is a ritual of transition. By immersing in the mikveh a person goes from one season of life to another. People come to mark the brilliant and the bittersweet. Each ceremony creates—just like a Sukkah–a place to “sense in” to what is really happening at times of change.
Immersing in the mikveh is a physical way of expressing what our teffilot, our prayers, so often say: Hashem, (God), we don’t know You or Your mysterious ways, but we will chant Your name and praise You and put ourselves in Your hands forever in the hope of connecting to You. And that is what I love about mikveh. It is a physical, embodied act that connects us to our ancestors, to Hashem and to our own bodies.
The message of the mikveh is this: Your body is holy. Your body will go through cycles, it will age and become different than it once was, it will serve you and it will fail you at different times. But whether your body is thick or thin, light or dark, married to another body or sleeps alone, gay or straight or female or male or something in between, your body is the vehicle through which you create good in this world. Your body moves you through the seasons like a ferry taking it passengers from one shore to another. The mikveh is a place to experience the holiness of this journey.
Naomi Malka has been the director of the Adas Israel Community Mikvah since 2006. Naomi trained as a Mikveh Guide at Mayyim Hayyim in 2008. She earned a masters in Jewish Music from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2000 and a BA in Sociology from UCLA in 1991. In spring 2010, Naomi served as the ritual consultant for DCJCC Theater J’s production of the Israeli play “Mikveh.” She is also the founder of Tevila b’Teva: immersion in nature, a program that introduces outdoor immersion to Jewish summer camps.