by Sofya Tamarkin
My husband and I are eager travelers of far and remote places of world. Thus, we embarked on the cruise that started in Sidney, Australia and went to Tasmania and New Zealand. Just a few months before the journey I committed myself to the monthly visits to a mikveh.
When I first realized that I would need to use the mikveh during my journey on the ship, I brushed off my worry with an optimistic thought: I could always use the ocean as a natural mikveh. I was clearly missing some data about the temperature of the water around the Tasmanian region. During the day of my still-not-so-planned visit to the mikveh, we stopped in the city of Melbourne. My husband and I decided to spend our time visiting a local museum, where we coincidentally spotted a religious family on a day trip with children. I approached them and inquired if there was a mikveh close by. The woman told me that there are few close by but they all opened at night.
This was a problem since our ship departed Melbourne at 5 o’clock pm. The woman asked me where we were going next and I informed her that our next port of call was Hobart, Tasmania. This very friendly couple offered to call their rabbi to see if there was an opportunity for me to use a mikveh in Tasmania. They explained that according to halacha (Jewish law) I could not immerse before the scheduled night and would have to do it the next day. All this was new to me. I felt rather determined to make it happen and not miss an opportunity to feel the holiness of the immersion, regardless of where I was in the world.
After almost an hour of following this friendly family through the museum rooms, as they made one call after another, it was finalized that a woman named Penina would meet us at the pier in Hobart and take me to a mikveh. I was at peace.
When we walked off the ship in Tasmania, we right away spotted a Jewish woman wearing a long skirt and a wig. She was absolutely ecstatic to see us. She hugged and kissed me as if I was her long lost child. I was both stunned and pleased to be so welcomed in a strange land by a fellow Jew. I was wondering if anyone was ever that happy to see me in my entire life, including my own parents.
We took a taxi to a private home where a non-Jewish family lived. The mikveh was built as a separate standing shed-like structure in the backyard of that home. Penina explained that years ago they lived in this house and when they sold it, the new owners agreed to let the mikveh remain as a functional facility.
I began my preparations by taking a bath and shower before the immersion. As I turned on the water, the pipes made a loud unwelcoming noise and a brown looking liquid burst out of the faucet. We’ve all seen those movies when the character is covered in soap and the water just stops coming out. It turns out that being that character is not actually that entertaining. I turned to Penina, who was reading Tehilim, Psalms, in the corner of the mikveh. She was completely wrapped up in her prayer and it took her a minute to see me covered in shampoo and some brown liquid. She told me to ‘hang in there’ and ran to the home of the owner of the house. After a few minutes of contemplating whether to cry in despair or laugh at my ridiculous situation, two women emerged with pots of warm water to wash away the soap from my body. I felt rather vulnerable, thinking of biblical times as two women poured water over my body. The whole experience was absolutely surreal.
After a few more trips to fill the buckets with water, I was finally ready for the mikveh. As I walked down the steps, I saw Penina’s face completely transformed. She prayed and wept as I was saying the blessing. These words have been recited by millions of holy Jewish women of the past and the present after they immersed in mikvehs around the world.
I was moved by her reaction. I never saw anyone so genuinely happy to see another Jew perform a mitzvah. When I walked out and dried myself, I felt so overwhelmed by my emotions that I started to engage in small talk. I asked how long ago this mikveh was built. Penina informed me that this mikveh was built 23 years ago, and that it was absolutely vital that Tasmania should have a mikveh of its own in case any visitors would need to use it. Penina herself was far beyond the age when a woman needs to immerse on a monthly basis. The ‘community’ of the whole island of Tasmania has only 102 Jews, scattered all over. There are no religious Jewish women in the whole island and thus the mikveh remains empty, waiting for the chance to serve its purpose.
After learning this I asked Penina, “How many visitors have used the mikveh since it was built?”
Penina smiled and said “You see Sofya, you are the first one.”
Who could have thought that in a faraway place like Tasmania, literally half-way around the world, a Jewish woman was taking care of the mikveh for 23 years so that I could one day enter its waters and recite that eternal prayer?
Sofya Tamarkin is an inspirational speaker. Her family emigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1989. In her late teenage years, she started seeking knowledge of her Jewish heritage. Throughout many years of searching for meaning and clarity, she traveled the word and visited 70 countries, meeting people from many walks of life.