by Joseph Gindi
My recent move back to Boston to begin rabbinical school has really felt like coming home. I had previously interned at Mayyim Hayyim, so when Lisa Berman, the Mikveh and Education Director, invited me to come back and volunteer as a Mikveh Guide, I decided to get in the water myself to mark the beginning of my journey toward rabbinical ordination. I thought, “Sure, that could be nice.” I really didn’t know how meaningful it would be.
At first it felt silly coming to do a ritual for myself. God is not an easy presence to conjure up in my life. Was this really going to work? Was I really going to drive all the way out to Newton to get in a warm bath for a few minutes? As I got in the car I realized I hadn’t planned what I was going to do. The Jewish tradition is rich with rituals to hold us and uplift us as we experience all the twists and turns of our life. Today most of those rituals are communal (weddings, b’nai mitzvah, funerals). We’ve mostly lost the forms of private prayer and ritual that peppered the lives of our ancestors. When I’m crafting rituals for others I try to blend song, classical ritual forms, and opportunities for the individuals to hear from and share with their community. For myself, though, I just hopped in the car and drove to the mikveh.
So, future rabbi, what do you do when you show up unprepared for your own ritual?
First I slowed down, taking time to sit and breathe, to sing whatever wordless melody came to mind. Then I just opened my prayerbook and starting singing songs of gratitude and praise. Like any relationship, you have to get in the mood and build intimacy before you can have a real connection. This helped, I was warming up, but what was my make-it-up-as-you-go-along ritual going to be about? There is no page in the siddur that says, “For Immersion Prior to Rabbinical Training.” Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day Mayyim Hayyim creates an immersion ceremony for just that reason.
Even as I stepped to the water’s edge, I had no idea what this ritual would be about. I stepped into the warm water and, imagining the rainwater that showers all of creation, I opened the bor cap connecting the heated pool to the collected rainwater outside. As I was about to say the blessing and immerse I realized that the three traditional immersions corresponded to three central reasons for my decision to enter rabbinical school. And so I spoke, out loud, to myself and the universe, a dedication to use my training time to cultivate a spiritual practice and relationship of self-care to support me in my work. I said the blessing, and down I went. I dedicated my next immersion to being of service to others. I requested support in meeting others where they are at, and weaving them into supportive relationship with themselves, others, and the universe. I dedicated my final immersion to God, to the connected, pulsing totality of existence.
I was surprised by how powerful it felt to do this improvised ritual, and how different it felt to be doing it in a sanctified space with structure and intention. I knew that I was going to rabbinical school to serve myself, others, and the world, but there was a big difference between thinking those thoughts and making them real through ritual speech and action.
I was astonished at how easy it was to invoke this connection to God’s presence (all I did was sing some songs, say some words, and take a bath), and at the same time how hard it was. I don’t usually find God accessible in my daily life. I discovered that I need ritual and structure to cultivate those moments of connection. What was so inspiring about my experience at Mayyim Hayyim was finding out that I can do that for myself and by myself. I think with the right set of tools, we can all do this for ourselves.
Joseph is really excited to be back in the Boston area. He is a rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Newton, MA, and previously served as coordinator of the Men’s Initiative at Mayyim Hayyim.