by Roberta Gross-Torres
In 2003 I was a member of the first cohort of Mikveh Guides trained by Mayyim Hayyim to facilitate immersions for all kinds of reasons in our new, spa-like mikveh. The first time I witnessed an immersion for a conversion I felt like a gentle pair of hands had come to massage my heart with joy and bring me into a new spiritual life. I had never given birth to nor raised Jewish children. Yet here I was, participating in the creation of a “new Jew.” My experience at Mayyim Hayyim led me to enroll in degree-granting programs at Hebrew College.
Sadly, I could not “do it all,” and while I studied, the time I spent at Mayyim Hayyim dwindled to nothing. Nevertheless, my pride in having been part of that first cohort, and the joy I felt every time I remembered being a Mikveh Guide never left me. Therefore, as my studies wound down and time allowed, I called Lisa Berman, my old friend from the first cohort, to see if there would still be room for me on the Mikveh Guide schedule.
Lisa greeted my call with warm enthusiasm. “When can we meet?” she asked. A few days later we went out for coffee. I told her my concerns. She overcame each. She brought me my official Mikveh Guide name tag, just to remind me I was still a member of the team. She invited me to return to Mayyim Hayyim to review new policies and procedures and see what had changed. She helped me put myself back on the Mikveh Guide schedule.
Much has changed since I’ve been gone. The committees have developed language and rituals for an even greater number of reasons that bring someone here. Procedures and processes have been streamlined and made easier. Nevertheless, the basics are still the same.
Last week I witnessed an immersion of a woman who was converting. It had been a long, meandering process for her and she was anxious about reaching this day. She had invited a number of friends to join her and celebrate her milestone. While she and I participated in this ancient ritual, she as immersee, I as a witness, her rabbis and friends gathered outside the door of the mikveh to hear me say, kasher, (kosher, proper). When it came, they joyously sang to welcome her into the tribe. Another “new Jew.” I am quite sure I was as happy as she was. I felt like I had come home.
Roberta Gross-Torres, a proud member of Mayyim Hayyim’s first cohort of mikveh guides, holds degrees from Boston University, Babson College and Hebrew College. In addition to working in local real estate for more than 30 years, Roberta leads Shabbat services at a number of assisted living residences, studies regularly at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College and provides educational and spiritual volunteer services in various venues.