Angst at the Mikveh

by Leeza Negelev, Associate Director of Education

Just as Abraham ran to greet the three angels in Bereishit (Genesis) 18:2, the volunteer Mikveh Guides at Mayyim Hayyim are always prepared to greet our guests with enthusiasm. They are the ones in the back room quietly folding laundry while, in the preparation room next door, someone is cautiously removing a stray hair or a sock, one mundane step towards marking the end of mourning, or the beginning of a new life.

The Mikveh Guides try to mirror God in Creation, by drawing themselves in so that the finite can unfold around them. In the beginning, or so one version of the story goes, God retracted its infinite self to allow for the separation of the skies and water, and in order to breathe life into living things. For a Mikveh Guide, this act of tzimtzum (withdrawal) often means leaving space for the unknown.

Two weeks ago, Mayyim Hayyim offered a Mikveh Guide Appreciation Night: an evening with copious amounts of dessert and prosecco, and a facilitated discussion, during which we gave Mikveh Guides a chance to share guiding moments that felt powerful in some way.

That night, sitting in a circle of couches and chairs in Anita Diamant and Jim Ball’s living room, Mikveh Guides shared proud moments of reassuring nervous parents before the immersion of their child for conversion, and navigating extremely busy afternoons at the mikveh.

One Mikveh Guide answered the question: What happens when the unknown is uncomfortable? What happens when you retract yourself, and the person at the door is someone you have a really hard relationship with? The Guide hesitated before offering her story, “I feel a little vulnerable sharing this, but I’d like to…”

What followed was a candid description of her experience of showing up to guide, and unbeknownst to her, the person who arrived for an immersion was someone with whom she had a fraught relationship. For a moment, she panicked, unsure how to proceed. However, as soon as their interaction began, this Mikveh Guide described, “I realized that I had power in the situation, and a responsibility to make this go well.” She said she was surprised by her own capacity to temporarily let go of the baggage between them, and simply be a presence for this person. Perhaps the guest noticed; the Mikveh Guide reported that the guest seemed at ease, too, even though their last meeting had been a really difficult one.

This story has sat with me ever since. How many times have I gone through my day, satisfied with a knee-jerk reaction, or content with feeling powerless in a difficult situation? I am struck by the way the context of being a volunteer, and in a way, a leader within a ritual space, allowed this Guide to access something beyond her hurt feelings.
I am grateful to our Mikveh Guides for all that they do, but especially for teaching me that making space or others can be a singularly powerful act.

Interested in joining the fold of Mayyim Hayyim Mikveh Guides? Apply for Cohort 11 today!

Leeza Negelev is the Associate Director of Education at Mayyim Hayyim.

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About mayyimhayyim

Mayyim Hayyim is a 21st century creation, a mikveh rooted in ancient tradition, reinvented to serve the Jewish community of today
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