by Susan Neiman, Mikveh Guide
I’ve been a mikveh guide for about a year and a half. I usually come to Newton once a month and I try to stay for about 3-5 hours at a stretch, especially because I live quite a distance away. I try to pick a day with lots of activity, because I like to be busy, but that may not always work out, so I generally bring a book or two with me to pass the time, in case I’m not otherwise engaged. That, however, has rarely happened, and, what with unexpected appointments, the various small jobs which I gladly do, and the ever-present laundry to wash and fold, I am rarely “not otherwise engaged.”
What I never expected was that my schedule would work out so well for me in other ways. Being at Mayyim Hayyim for an extended period gives me a chance to transition away from my own life into a world of the soul and the spirit. Often—if I may express myself with a phrase from another tradition—I feel the zen-ness of the space and the work I do in it. I am given a gift each time I am there. Every time I leave, I leave newly born.
I love being in that atmosphere; I love sitting at that desk; I love putting away the dirty glasses and dishes in the sink and cleaning up afterward; I love straightening up and organizing the prep rooms and the mikva’ot; and I especially love doing the laundry, the sheets and towels that are used by each person who immerses. There’s something about the color of the linens, I think—so warm and soft and safe; there’s something about their clean and natural smell when they come out of the dryer, as though past immersions somehow yet abide on the surface to impart their energy; and there’s something so holy about folding those sheets and those towels and setting them on the pile to await the next immersion.
Which brings me, so easily and so obviously, to what Mayyim Hayyim is all about. It’s all about holiness. I know it, and everyone who steps inside knows it. Yes, it most certainly is about joy and tragedy, about ritual and conversion, and about all the special and mundane pieces of Jewish living, but what it is about at its essence is transcendence and transformation—the turning of action into spirituality, of moving through water to a space of thought and heart, changing in a most profound and undeniable way.
And I am privileged to witness that, to be part of it, to support it, and to shepherd people through this process. They appreciate my presence, and I honor their actions. In some profound way, we go through the process together, and I am part of their lives for those precious moments. Could they be more regal, more worthy of this special and holy attention? I think not.
And each time, I say my own personal shehechiyanu, the blessing that celebrates firsts. Each time, I feel it as a unique, unrepeatable miracle. Could I be more blessed? I don’t see how.
Susan Neiman is the retired Executive Director at Temple Emanuel in Kensington, MD. She received her MA in Jewish Communal Service from Brandeis University and has worked for twenty years in the Jewish community in the United States and Russia. She and her husband live in Hull, MA and are active volunteers.