by Andrew Wofford
When my Rabbi suggested that I immerse in the mikveh to mark my graduation from college, I was rather confused and somewhat hesitant. I had known of the mikveh only as a formality, an obligatory element of the conversion process. As the son of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother, I had always felt somewhat put-off by these more formal, ritualistic practices in Judaism, perhaps because, in one way or another, they had always reminded me of my unalterable “halfness” or “incompleteness” with regard to my Jewish identity and practice. All of this rather weighty baggage inundated my thoughts as I mulled over the notion that I would walk buck naked into a ritual bath to mark my transition into a new chapter of my life.
Fortunately, thanks to the encouragement of my housemates, with whom I live collectively in a Jewish commune we refer to as the Bayit (home), I chose to arrange a visit to Mayyim Hayyim.
What does the mikveh offer us religiously confused, young Jews? After my impactful experience at Mayyim Hayyim, I was left with a wide array of answers. But I believe the most significant and needed gift that it can provide us is a simple, prolonged attentiveness to our condition, our state of being during these particularly transitory moments of our lives.
The mikveh asks us to observe and attend to our condition in the most basic, physical sense of the word. We are prompted to examine ourselves with an attention to our intricacies and details that we rarely afford ourselves in our daily lives, much less in the midst of hectic transition. Indeed, it is precisely this practice of thorough and intentional self-examination that falls by the wayside when we embark on a new chapter of our lives, despite the fact that it is often what we need most in those moments. One can easily become fixated with what lies ahead, rather than the body and the soul that we will bring with us into that exciting or perhaps daunting future.
This, I believe, is why the mikveh is indispensable, particularly for younger Jews who may feel little connection to Jewish ritual practice. My first experience entering a mikveh did not produce in me the feelings of self-alienation and confusion that formal Jewish ceremony often does; in fact, it produced in me the exact opposite feeling: a profound sense of self-awareness, groundedness and presence.
Andrew Wofford is from Malvern, Pennsylvania. He recently graduated from Tufts University where he studied History and Spanish. He is currently working as one of the Outdoors Program Coordinators at Camp Miriam, a part of Habonim Dror North America in British Columbia, Canada.