by Leah Robbins, Administrative and Marketing Assistant
I grew up in a very traditional Conservative-with-a-capital-C Jewish household: Shabbos every week, day school, Camp Ramah, USY, study abroad in Israel – the whole megillah. All of this exposure, (or immersion as we like to say) into Jewish life had given me what I thought was a full picture of my relationship to the non-Jewish world, and more importantly, my relationship to other Jews.
I must admit, I had some major biases about Jews from different backgrounds and affiliations – not that I was such a perfect Jew. Like many other day-school kids, I talked my way through davening (prayer) and passed notes about boys during Chumash class. I skipped out on a ritual here, a ritual there. I was definitely not one to judge others’ Jewish practices. But I did, however, hold some resentment toward the Jews around me for what seemed like total apathy about the future of Judaism.
From what I could see, in my albeit very small bubble of the South, Jews who did not identify with the Conservative or Orthodox movements were almost completely disengaged from Jewish life. I looked around me and saw patterns of indifference about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going. I was hurt, I felt betrayed. Couldn’t they see how fragile Judaism is? How could they disregard such an enormous obligation to keep our people above water? Outside my home and day school, I saw no evidence that anyone but Orthodox (and some Conservative) Jews were willing to step up and ensure that we not only survived, but triumphed in maintaining tradition, Jewish literacy, and sustaining vibrant communities.
Moving to Boston, and even more so, working at Mayyim Hayyim has taught me a lot about a Jewish world I did not know existed. This community is comprised of folks with an enormous variety of relationships to Judaism. Whatever their practices, whatever their interpretations, however similar or different they may be from my own, Mayyim Hayyim has clearly created both an enormous demand and thirst for Jewish ritual. It has shown me that I need not worry one bit about the continuity of Jewish life because Judaism is alive and well within its walls. Not only do we welcome over 300 new Jews annually, but every day I see an enthusiasm and unwavering commitment to infusing our everyday life with ritual, with a twinge of Godliness. (Even as I write this, I hear a fellow staff member humming Jewish tunes at her desk.)
This place has taken mikveh, a ritual largely abandoned by American Jews and breathed new life into it. It has reclaimed, redefined, renewed, and most importantly, resisted these myths of Jewish fragility, myths I had once held onto very strongly.
Before living here, before working at Mayyim Hayyim, I was in a constant state of existential worry (I am, after-all, a Jewish woman) that we as a people are on the verge of disappearing. But when I walk into Mayyim Hayyim every morning, I sigh with relief that the Jews are doing just fine.
Leah Robbins is a recent graduate of the University of Florida with bachelors in Jewish and Women’s studies. She lives in Cambridge, MA with her partner Madison.