by Amos Lassen
Recently I visited Mayyim Hayyim as part of a group from Temple Sinai, Brookline. When I arrived I found myself filled with memories from my childhood. Having been raised Orthodox, I was very familiar with the mikveh and as a youngster I would go regularly with my father. As I grew up, I came to resent a great deal about the Jewish religion and I am sure that this is because I just didn’t understand all that I needed to. The mikveh was one of those things that I hated but thinking about that now, I suppose that was because I had no choice–it was one of the things that the men of the family did together.
It was a different time back then. Today many children are friends with their parents, but when I was growing up, there was a distance between us. We did whatever we were told to do without questioning why; we learned to read Hebrew without knowing the meaning of what we were reading and we observed Shabbat because we were told that was the way things were done.
My mother had her doubts. I remember overhearing a conversation she had with my sister about the mikveh. After my mother’s first bridal immersion years prior, she said she would never go back and she had kept her word. My sister, however, was preparing for marriage and wanted to go. My mother shared her negative experience but did not try to dissuade my sister from immersing. I was reminded of my mother’s apprehension about the mikveh when I visited Mayyim Hayyim recently.
After learning at Mayyim Hayyim, I realized that in rejecting the mikveh, I was missing a great deal. When I was younger, I was always full of questions. I had wondered for example, why we need ten men for a minyan and why we observe holidays from sundown to sundown, but to ask questions like that would mean that I had not been studying. When I did ask, I did not get answers but was told where to go find them. During my recent visit to Mayyim Hayyim, I learned that many shared my curiosity. During our education program, everyone was encouraged to ask questions, and no one was made to feel bad for asking. Visiting Mayyim Hayyim and remembering all of these old memories of mikveh and Jewish ritual in my family has ended up being a way to close one chapter of my life.
Amos Lassen is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. A retired professor of philosophy and literature who lived in Israel for many years, he came back to the States and was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. After being evacuated to Arkansas friends made arrangements for him to move to Boston in 2012. He maintains reviewsbyamoslassen.com where there are over 10,000 reviews of books and movies.