by Jim Ball, Mikveh Guide
New Hampshire’s loss is Massachusetts’ gain, two fold. Peter and Betty Shapiro, this year’s honorees at Mayyim Hayyim’s “Open Waters” benefit celebration on Monday, May 18th, are two folks we’re lucky to have in Greater Boston. They moved here a year and a half ago from Concord, where Peter practiced law for many years and Betty was a force in the Jewish community.
The Shapiros are no strangers to Massachusetts and Bay-Staters, though. Betty was raised in New Bedford. Their son and daughter-in-law (and grandchildren) live in Belmont. Their long-time commitment to Judaism and the Reform movement in particular, have brought them here and intensified their connection to long-time friends.
When I first met them – it was years ago but I can’t remember exactly when — I was drawn to their friendliness, warmth and fondness for others—and for one another. Peter was then President of the Union for Reform Judaism’s (then called Union for American Hebrew Congregations) Northeast Council, which covered all of New England. He travelled the five states to support congregations and the Reform movement, and he was an indefatigable presence. I was also intrigued by the fact that he always seemed to be wearing a bowtie including some, as he and Betty told me, that were made from regular-length neckties. He was quintessentially New England in that way…and definitively Jewish, too.
Betty was a continuous presence as well, the first woman President of her congregation and a tireless worker for Hadassah. I’d see them at national meetings, at regional meetings, at private get-togethers, where they were always engaged and engaging—whether telling stories, or doling out advice (always with a deep interest and broad smiles), or just laughing and enjoying themselves. People naturally gravitated to the both of them.
When Peter first heard about Mayyim Hayyim, I knew he was intrigued. He had a certain “Peter look” on his face and kept asking about it. Since I am a Mikveh Guide, I told him about my experiences, and he talked about perhaps becoming one, too. But his busy schedule and the commute from New Hampshire made it difficult given our training schedules – even though it would be a great way to see his kids and especially the grand-kids. But when he retired and moved to the Boston area, he trained and became a guide.
But even before that, he had driven from New Hampshire to immerse for the first time, inspired by his grandson’s bar mitzvah. I had signed up to guide without knowing who was immersing that day. When I found out that it was Peter I was ecstatic, but also a little wary—at Mayyim Hayyim we are always cognizant of privacy, and it may not be always appropriate for the guide to personally know the individual immersing.
In the end, it was one of those bashert (meant to be) moments. Peter, agreed that I should be his guide and we planned to have lunch afterwards. He emerged from the changing room after his immersion with a calmness that telegraphed: this was important. As we ate lunch, he talked about how meaningful it felt for him. He was further emboldened to be a guide. And he thought Betty would love it, too. I figured he was hooked, and I was right.
Not only did Peter become a Mikveh Guide, but he joined the Board of Mayyim Hayyim. And, yes, Betty immersed, too (and no, I was not her guide). Now they are firmly ensconced in the Boston area, living robust and active lives here, and I, for one, am so glad they are in our closer orbit. I know I’m not alone in feeling this.
We are grateful for their presence and their involvement. We are blessed by their commitment and dedication. And we are so grateful that they’re honorees this year at the Mikveh for Everybody benefit. I can’t think of two people who deserve it more. And yes, New Hampshire’s loss is very much our gain. Help us as we thank and bless them on May 18th at this special event.
Jim Ball is a Mikveh Guide, co-founder of the Boston Jewish Music Festival and a member of the North American Board of the Union for Reform Judaism, and married to the wonderful Mikveh Mama, Anita Diamant.