I Took the Mikveh for Granted

by Rachel Eisen, Director of Annual Giving

This is a story about silver linings.

This story begins two years ago, immersing at Mayyim Hayyim for Rosh Hashanah – my first ever immersion. It was wondrous, and my heart felt open. Chapter Two continues with my second immersion, one year ago, also for Rosh Hashanah. I remember the feeling of walking down the path back to my car afterward, my step a little lighter, my smile a little bigger.

Fast forward to six weeks ago. I got a call that my zayde, my grandfather, was in the hospital. A few days later, he went into congestive heart failure. One week before Rosh Hashanah, he passed away.

That next week, I found myself standing heavy as a stone in the mikveh, heart constricted. This was not what I had planned.

I thought I could use my already-scheduled, third Rosh Hashanah immersion to help wash away my grief, but I just wasn’t prepared to let go. I cried in the shower as I washed myself before immersing, questioning whether it was the right thing to do. My heart told me what my head tried to ignore: that I wasn’t ready for this, that I hadn’t yet processed my zayde’s death fully enough.

I went in anyway, and felt the water wash over me. It wasn’t right. Sometimes the mikveh can be a powerful healer, but I think you have to be open to it – and I wasn’t.

Later that afternoon, as I took my dissatisfaction out on the poor vegetables I was preparing to cook for Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner, my fiancé asked me what was wrong.

“I had a bad immersion,” I confessed. “It didn’t go the way I wanted.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, then paused for a beat. “But you know the mikveh will always be there. It’s frustrating that it wasn’t what you wanted, but you can go back any time you want.”

I nodded, still processing that statement. It was true, and I realized that I had taken the mikveh – I had taken Mayyim Hayyim – for granted.

How many people get to say they have an open, accessible, pluralistic mikveh that they can go to any time they want, for any reason they want? Although the number of people who have access to experience this ritual in their own way is growing, especially now that we’ve launched a national network, it still isn’t universal.

Indeed, my “bad” immersion turned into a blessing, because it made me realize how incredibly lucky we are here in Boston, to have the luxury of so many ways to engage our senses and our minds in Jewish life and ritual.

That realization opened my heart just enough to go into the New Year in the right place. I decided I didn’t want to immerse again just yet, that I would wait until after the holidays. This week, I will return with my mother and sister for my pre-wedding immersion. I hope that when I do, I can hold that “bad” immersion in my heart, knowing it was an important part of my still-ongoing healing.

Rachel Eisen is Mayyim Hayyim’s Director of Annual Giving.

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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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