by Jenna Margolis
I was little when my cousin converted to Judaism, but I distinctly remember watching my aunt hold her own breath as she released her new baby into the water. After several dunks in the Mayyim Hayyim mikveh, the child was Jewish, according to our rabbi. My family rejoiced, my aunt breathed again, and I—being the eldest grandchild—received a JP Licks gift card. I don’t remember from whom, but it meant the mikveh was fun!
When I was twelve, my sixth-grade class at Solomon Schechter was studying mikvaot. We took a trip to Mayyim Hayyim to see our study in action. I had forgotten by then that this was the place of my cousin’s conversion, but walking in, I recognized it. It struck me how beautiful the facility was: the pools were peaceful and the color-scheme soft. I thought to myself: “Immersion here must be so meaningful.”
The day before my Bat Mitzvah, I immersed at Mayyim Hayyim. It was awkward—most things are at that age—but still a pleasant experience. I enjoyed the heated tiles in the bathroom, and as I dunked in the pool, my guide assured me that all my immersions were kosher. The following morning, I made no horrendous mistakes in front of our four hundred guests as I read Torah and led the morning service. I guess something in the purification process really worked…
Sometime in early ninth grade, I auditioned over the phone for a part in a monologue to be performed at a Mayyim Hayyim fundraiser. I was unable to connect to the piece, but I tried to put feeling into the words nevertheless. I imagine I was a tad too theatrical as a result. Suffice it to say I did not get the part.
In March of 2015, through one of the programs run by my school, Gann Academy, I took another class trip to Mayyim Hayyim with a focus on women and the mikveh. Being the angry feminist that I am, the visit solidified my newly formed opinions regarding niddah (you know—that it is Judaism’s way of further making women’s bodies seem impure).
The following summer, my camp (which is out in Palmer) took a trip into Boston, and on the way we stopped at Mayyim Hayyim. As I was given a tour of the place for the third time, I detailed to my friend my frustrations with the practice of niddah. Also lobbying for gender equality, she shared my sentiments. But the next week, we both found out her mother practiced niddah. “I still won’t do it,” my friend clarified, “but my mom explained that it’s not a matter of making menstruation seem impure. For her, it’s just a way to ritually and emotionally shed the exhaustion and discomfort that comes with periods.”
A few weeks ago, a group of Israeli students came to visit my junior class at Gann Academy. We spent several days exposing them to the U.S. and its Jews. Naturally, Mayyim Hayyim was one of our many field trips. I was practically squirming with the right answers to all the questions we were asked about mikvaot. As we rotated through the educational stations, I couldn’t help but admire the serene architecture surrounding the pools. “Whether it’s my thing or not,” I thought to myself, “immersion here must be extremely meaningful.”
Jenna Margolis is an animal-loving student activist at Gann Academy in Waltham. In her minimal free time, she enjoys binge-watching 30 Rock with one of her younger brothers, blasting show tunes, and googling pictures of corgis. She lives in Newton, MA with her family.