by Alan Green, Mikveh Guide
After 35 years of practicing as an OBGYN in Nashua, NH, I retired in April, 2012. So what did I do with all the free time that I thought I would have? Among other things, I became a Mikveh Guide at Mayyim Hayyim. I was accepted into the 8th cohort of Mikveh Guide Trainees, which graduated in the spring of 2013. This was a rather unique group because we were the first all-male cohort (we dubbed ourselves the “mikveh guys”). So, how did this come about?
I’ve been doing brisses since I became a doctor in 1970. There is no requirement for a mohel to undergo a formal process of certification, only to be a respected Jew in the community, be familiar with the halacha (Jewish law), and possess the skills to do circumcisions. Then, in the mid-1980’s, the Berit Mila Board of Reform Judaism came into being and offered courses of study for medical practitioners to be officially recognized as mohalim. I participated in their first certification course.
During my years as an active OBGYN, my practice partner was my wife. The demands of the office coupled with those of raising a family were almost all-consuming for us. Luckily, my understanding and ever-flexible wife was available to cover me when brisses came up. But needing to be out of the office to do a bris on only a few days’ notice was daunting, and I had to turn down many requests. After retirement, I looked forward to being more available as a mohel.
When I started out, the vast majority of my clients were Jewish couples who wanted their newborn sons to have a bris simply because that’s what they were supposed to do. Over the years, however, I encountered more and more interfaith families and new parents with non-Jewish extended family members. Initially, I think many such families were at the margins and not infrequently, lost to Judaism.
Nowadays, well over half of American Jews are married to non-Jews (more so among younger people), and many are trying hard to find a path that will let them, their spouses, and their children find a place within klal Yisrael (the community of Israel). Even among families with two Jewish parents, having a bris is sometimes seen as an optional archaic procedure, rather than as the essential covenantal ceremony that it has been for millenia. Exploratory phone calls from potential clients have gotten longer and more involved. It is not unusual to have several family members participating on speakerphone and for me to answer more questions involving the “why” of doing a bris. Over the years it has become important to figure out how to integrate families with considerable diversity into the ceremony. I saw the necessity to help these families negotiate the halachic mazes and to come out feeling accepted and included.
Enter Mayyim Hayyim. I had known of its existence, but I had never been to the place. Out of curiosity, I attended a pre-High Holiday program in 2012 and became intrigued. At a fundraising event (“Tapestry—Choosing a Jewish Life”), I saw the tears and joy of many who had incredible stories to share about Mayyim Hayyim. Anita Diamant’s mission to create a place that would be welcoming to those choosing to become part of the Jewish people really spoke to me. I applied to become a Mikveh Guide shortly thereafter.
There are many reasons that people come to immerse. Being involved with men immersing as part of the conversion process has been fascinating. No two stories are alike. Some conversion candidates need to undergo hatafat dam brit, a procedure involving drawing a drop of blood from the foreskin remnant of someone who has had a previous non-religious circumcision in order to validate it as a bris. The procedure is somewhat strange, anxiety-provoking, and often logistically difficult to arrange. I have been able to offer hatafat dam brit at Mayyim Hayyim just prior to immersion when needed, and to make the process more convenient, easier, and welcoming. At this year’s LimmudBoston event on December 7th, I will be leading a program entitled “Inclusive Brit Milah Ceremonies for Interfaith (and All) Families.” And as time goes by, I hope to continue welcoming Jews by choice to klal Yisrael more and more.
Alan Green has lived in Nashua, NH, since 1977. He is a mohel, retired obstetrician-gynecologist, and plays in a klezmer band. Alan is a proud Mayyim Hayyim Mikveh Guide.