by Carrie Bornstein
Someone recently asked me, “Why Mikveh? What’s the point? Why does it matter?”
Here’s the story I told:
My 9-year old daughter just left for a month at sleep-away camp last week for the first time. In preparation for this big change, I asked Ellie if she’d like to go to the mikveh. Without hesitation, she agreed.
Later I wondered whether this was such a good idea after all – maybe the experience would be a helpful way to get ready or maybe it would just become a repository for all of her fears and worries and sadness to burst out all over the place, with no real way to clean it up.
She’d immersed once before, a little more than three years ago, prior to the birth of her youngest brother. Though she doesn’t seem to remember a whole lot about that experience now, her associations with the mikveh are positive, so I went with it.
Just like last time, I let her know that there were some readings Mayyim Hayyim had prepared in case she wanted to say anything specific in the water about her transition. And just like last time, she politely refused. She knew what she wanted to say.
One by one, she followed each step of the Seven Kavanot for Kids carefully to get ready. I tried hard to not be at work and to just be her mom. I tried hard not to rush her.
We got into the water together and I swear that kid must have bobbed up and down at least 57 times. She twirled around, arms lifted in the air, and I tell you – she owned that place while I stood back and watched. She said the blessings and talked about how very excited she was to go to camp, and also how scared, and how thankful she was for her family, naming each one of us. She said she knew that so many people love her. She said she knew she could say things there, to God and to me, that she couldn’t say elsewhere.
So this is the point. This is why it matters. Because my anxious 9-year old kid knows that her Judaism is one where she can find meaning, calm, and peace in her life. And that it’s open for her to reach back into her tradition and become a vital link in carrying it forward. And isn’t that what we all want anyway? That Jewish life should be beautiful and content-rich, bringing deep meaning to our lives in a way that is open and accessible, without watering it down.
On the car ride home, amidst the quiet that surrounded us, Ellie broke the silence and simply said, “Ema? Thanks for bringing me to the mikveh.”
I suspect I’ll get to do it again sometime, too.
Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director.