By Lisa Berman, Mikveh and Education Director
Q: How do you know if you are succeeding at running a warm, welcoming, open-minded mikveh?
A: You get a lot of really interesting phone calls and you love answering them.
In my role as Mikveh (& Education) Director at Mayyim Hayyim, I love fielding calls because inevitably it is someone with a fascinating and often emotional story, often seeking our guidance. The answers to these calls are as varied as the situations. Here’s a sampling from the past few weeks alone:
Caller: “My teen son is transgender and is taking a new name. We’d like to incorporate a Jewish element for this life transition. Could he immerse for this? Could we have a naming ceremony for him at Mayyim Hayyim?”
Me: How wonderful — absolutely! I’m so glad you thought to reach out to Mayyim Hayyim. I think it’s terrific – and very creative — that you thought mikveh might be the ritual solution you were looking for. How can we best support him? Would you like to tell me about what gender mikveh guide your son would prefer? Many of our mikveh guides have received training about how to welcome people from the transgender community, so we will have a mikveh guide that is sensitive and respectful of your son and this important transition in his life. Would you like to use our celebration space? We created it for just these kinds of gatherings. I’ll send you our Immersion Ceremony for a Joyous Life Transition.
Caller: “My wife and I are trying to conceive and our doctor wants to do a procedure to help. It’s important to us that my wife goes to the mikveh beforehand, but our local mikveh says it’s ‘too soon’ in the month and that she may not immerse there. We live several hours away from Mayyim Hayyim. Can you help us?”
Me: I’m so sorry you’ve had a negative experience at such an emotional time. You are welcome to immerse at Mayyim Hayyim anytime you want, but I understand it’s a long trip. Would you like us to contact our network of halachic advisors? I can put you in touch with someone who will be able to advise you on your situation and seek support for your wife to immerse before this procedure, or be in touch with the mikveh in your town. Oh, you’ve decided to come to Mayyim Hayyim after all? Wonderful. Yes, of course you can both immerse while you’re here. We have two immersion pools and you can choose how you want to be present for and support each other at this sensitive time. We’ve already emailed you our Immersion Ceremony for Preparing to Conceive. Travel safely.
Caller: “My son will be the age of bar mitzvah soon, but his cognitive challenges will not allow him to have a traditional bar mitzvah celebration. He loves water and is very sensory. Do you think that we could celebrate his Jewish coming of age at Mayyim Hayyim with an immersion and a ceremony for him?”
Me: What a great idea; I’m so glad you thought of this as an option for your family. I’ll be delighted to help you plan a meaningful experience. Would you like us to contact a local rabbi who would help you structure a ceremony around this ritual? Mayyim Hayyim’s staff and mikveh guides will provide you information and support for your son’s immersion itself. Will you tell me more about your son so I know just how to help?
Yes. Yes, we can do that. Yes, we can help. Yes, we think it’s a great idea. Yes, we know how. Yes, we will it figure out. Yes, we want to. No, we will not be the barrier between you and this ritual, because we believe in its power and its accessibility to those who reach out to us, seeking it. Yes.
Stay tuned for Part II next month.
Lisa Berman is the Mikveh and Education Director at Mayyim Hayyim, ensuring that all immersions are facilitated with dignity, respect and modest, and supervising the Paula Brody & Family Education Center.