by Dalia Wassner
On a chilly, fall morning, my 3 kids and I headed out to Brandeis, excited to participate in our first Water Wonders, a Mayyim Hayyim family program for children in grades K-2. Mayyim Hayyim has been a special place for me since the day before my own wedding, just over 10 years ago; it has continued to be special as I’ve immersed in the 9th month of pregnancy before the births of my children.
I had known since I was a child that a Jewish community needed only two institutions to be viable: a cemetery and a mikveh. However, until I experienced my own immersions, I had no idea what a personally meaningful experience immersing could be. I realized that a mikveh was as much a community institution as a personal space, one that connected me to generations upon generations of Jewish people who had marked their own life cycles. This, I realized, illustrates a foundational concept of Judaism: We are here as a people because of the community, but the community needs the participation of each individual who is authentically immersed and invested in that community.
Grateful for my own positive experiences at Mayyim Hayyim as an adult woman, I knew that I did not want my own children’s first experiences with mikveh to be as adults, preparing perhaps for some of the more momentous occasions in their lives. I also knew that while they can learn rituals of other kinds: the Alef-Bet, lighting Shabbat candles, morning tefilot (prayers), or the Passover seder at school, synagogue, and home, the mikveh—such an integral part of Jewish survival—would be something I would have to seek out for them with specific intent.
So, when I came upon the announcement for Water Wonders, I was excited—a fun Sunday morning of books, snacks, science, and art. And in fact, my 3 kids—ages 7 to 2—each loved the event. They talked about other aspects of Jewish life that they felt connected to already. They saw pictures of the mikveh, while hearing about the importance of water not only to the earth, and life, but also to Jews, and they got to express their own personalities in science projects (see the colored water seep through the sugar!) and art projects (let’s make water/glitter bracelets!); and what 2-year old can say no to sensory play (water table anyone)?
The best part was that afterward, my eldest was curious to learn more about the mikveh and I was able to tell him: It is where Jewish people go to prepare their minds, bodies, and souls to live important moments in life. And he had a context, at his age, for starting the conversation.
Registration is now open for Water Wonders at the JCC of Greater Boston in Arlington located at Ready, Set, Kids! (April 23, 30) and Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham (April 9, May 7).
Dalia Wassner is a scholar and teacher of Latin American Jewish History. Dr. Wassner teaches Women’s Studies, Latin American Studies, and Jewish Studies, most recently at Emerson College, Boston University, and Brandeis University, and she is a Research Associate at the Hadassah Brandeis Institute of Brandeis University. Dr. Wassner’s book Harbinger of Modernity: Marcos Aguinis and the Democratization of Argentina (Boston: Brill, 2014), illuminates the intersecting roles of Jews and public intellectuals in bringing democracy to post-dictatorship Argentina. She lives with her three kids and husband in Newton, MA.