Among the Trees and Grasses

by Lisa Berman, Mikveh and Education Director

I feel bombarded… by the news, the noise, the anger, the anxiety. I know we are all lisa-b-4struggling to adjust the volume of our interface with our world. Sometimes we need it to be loud and in our face, to wrestle with it, move our bodies with it, react to it with passion and intensity. But this weekend I needed to turn that volume down – turn it off even. I needed to open up new spaces in my soul and turn my face and my thoughts to something quiet, pure, intimate – to peace.

lisa-b-2Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a Hassidic master from the Ukraine around the turn of the 19th century, spoke of the power of simply being in nature: “Grant me the ability to be alone. May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grasses, among all growing things and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer to talk with the one that I belong to.”

lisa-b-5I went outdoors this weekend as my antidote to the cacophony. To focus my thoughts, I took my camera (just an iPhone), and I looked. I looked at the vistas, the horizon, the sky, the light. I looked at the tiny canvases of beauty: the grasses, the moss, the pine cones, the lichen – and the water, of course. There was so much to marvel at, and the closer I looked, the more I immersed myself in the experience, the more I saw. On a mostly gray, chilly day in the dead of a New England winter, I saw amazing things.
Just as our weeks need Shabbat, our consciences need a rest, and a recharge too. And that rest is right outside our door – at home, maybe even at work, on Shabbat and the weekend – it is all there waiting to help us connect to our world in a different way, and to give us back that most precious gift, the gift of peace.

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Nachman reminds us: “Find a day for yourself, better yet, late at night. Go to the forest or to the field, or lock yourself in a room… You will meet solitude there. There you will be able to listen attentively to the noise of the wind first, to birds singing, to see wonderful nature and to notice yourself in it… and to come back to harmonic connection with the world and its Creator.”

lisa-b-1You can find such refuge in the warm waters of Mayyim Hayyim. Our mikvaot were designed to combine a sense of nature-found beauty with the marvelous advantages of indoors – privacy and warm, clean water. Come find the serenity you seek here, too.

We would love to welcome you to Mayyim Hayyim. You can schedule a visit here or call 617-244-1836 x205.

lisa-blog-photoLisa Berman is the Mikveh and Education Director at Mayyim Hayyim, ensuring that all immersions are facilitated with dignity, respect, and modesty, and supervising the Paula Brody & Family Education Center.

Posted in Healing, Lisa Berman, Religion | 1 Comment

A Chance Encounter with the Mikveh

by David Schatz

I only encountered Mayyim Hayyim totally by chance. On a morning jog through Auburndale, I found a Mikveh Guide name tag from Mayyim Hayyim. I emailed the office to find out what to do with the card, and Lori, the Office Manager, invited me to come by and return it. Once there, Lisa, the Mikveh and Education Director, offered to show me around. At first I felt uncomfortable, since I always figured that Mayyim Hayyim was purely a women’s realm. Apparently not!

Mayyim Hayyim is gorgeous inside and reminds me of a Swiss spa. It’s not quite the same as the 2,000 year old mikva’ot in archaeological digs in Israel. Clearly it is very much at home in Newton. But Lisa showed me the mikveh itself and then the preparation rooms, and explained how kids come to find out what a mikveh is. I had no idea that so many people came to learn or to convert to Judaism at Mayyim Hayyim specifically because it is such a welcoming place. Lisa also explained that in addition to the predominantly female clientele, many men actually come for various life events, or before holidays or Shabbat. Surprise, surprise.

Full disclosure: I’m a complete atheist, notwithstanding my periodic appearances at the Newton Centre Minyan. But something happened there in the middle of Mayyim Hayyim. I felt something for which I have no words. It was just a sense of belonging, of warmth, and of being Jewish. Powerful feelings, which were hidden way down inside me for years, both happy and sad, started rising to the surface. I can’t be more specific, but I knew that I had to come back and “take the plunge.”

So I did. I’m not sure what other people feel when they actually walk down those seven steps and get into the water. But I know what I felt, and it was totally out of the realm of a software engineer. So, even if it’s not a life event, a conversion, the end of your period, or a holiday, you really need to check it out at least once in your life. And you don’t even need to go to Switzerland!

dsDavid is a short term West Newton resident who hails originally from Lexington, but spent enough time living on Kibbutz Tzuba in Israel to raise four kids. These kids, incidentally, graduated from Solomon Schechter Day School after their return to the States. David works in Boston as a security software engineer.

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“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”…and Other Challenges

by Leeza Negelev, Associate Director of Education

Last spring, I sat in the Mayyim Hayyim Education Center with a group of people who had at some point made the decision to become Jewish. It was the very first session of “Now What? Questions and Answers for Those Who Have Chosen Judaism,” a program Mayyim Hayyim created in partnership with the Jewish Discovery Institute after noticing that after conversion, many new-Jews are looking for a way to continue learning.

That evening, we sat around the large wooden table with Rabbi Leslie Gordon at the head, with her characteristic expression of warmth and gentle curiosity. Soft light illuminated the faces of individuals who had traveled from all over to be there. They were from Arlington, Roslindale, Framingham, Brookline, Andover, Needham, Somerville, and even as far as Rhode Island.

The mood in the room was as you might imagine: expectant, nervous, with a tempered excitement that we adults have been known to exhibit. Once everyone arrived and we were settled in, Rabbi Gordon asked us to all introduce ourselves, and answer three questions:

1) How long have you been Jewish?
2) What are you hoping to get from this class?
3) What’s been hard?

These three simple questions set the tone for our program in a profound way. I remember very well that as the go-around began, I was completely taken aback by the honest, inspiring, and truthfully, challenging responses.

“My conversion was lovely, but since then what feels hard is being in services and not feeling like it’s part of me. I’m feeling disconnected. I’m hoping this course will help.”

“It’s ramp-up to when you convert, and then there’s a drop-off after. I’m trying to decide where I go from here to keep my Jewish experience active and organized.”

“What’s hard? It’s definitely hard explaining things to my fundamentalist Christian sister.”

“Conversion is a lot like becoming a citizen; I found them to be very parallel experiences. Both have brought me a lot of joy. What’s hard is that my husband’s relationship is different than mine. I want to go to services. I’m the one telling him when Rosh Hashanah is.”

“It’s definitely been hard to explain this to my uber-Catholic father. It’s kind of a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ situation.”

“As an adult, I’m reconnecting with my family, which includes my grandmother’s annual family clam bake. But I made this promise, I can’t break this promise. Still, it’s hard.”

Mid-way through our go-around, one participant cut through the rapt silence: “Wow.” She sighed. “How amazing to hear you guys sharing. It’s so important to hear all of this. It makes me feel better just knowing all of your experiences.”

Heads nodded vigorously in agreement, and Rabbi Gordon and I beamed. We created this program for moments like this. It is hard enough to take on a new religion and culture; doing so with the feeling that you are alone or at odds with those close to you will make it so much harder. Although this wasn’t my first rodeo (I’d sat in on Session One of “Now What?” before), I found that I was totally blown away by what I heard. Once more, my heart filled up with respect for the people in the room, for all they had done to embrace this new adventure despite the many challenges. And in many ways, it was just another evening at Mayyim Hayyim – a group of people gathered to study Jewish texts, rituals, and ideas, and all the while finding a place for themselves in this long-standing experiment that is Jewish civilization.

Like what you read? Forward this blog post to someone who might appreciate our upcoming “Now What?” program, starting March 2nd. Our 4th cohort will run five consecutive Thursday evenings this March. Click here to learn more and register.

leezaphotoLeeza Negelev is the Associate Director of Education at Mayyim Hayyim, where she helps to facilitate fabulous Jewish learning experiences for over 2,500 of people every year.

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Lessons from Beyond the Huppah: An In-Depth Review

by Sarah Bolts and Michael Chernicoff, Beyond the Huppah Participants fall 2015 

Nir Landau Photography

Nir Landau Photography

Sarah: I honestly didn’t know what to expect from a pre-marriage class. I grew up in the Orthodox community, where pre-marriage classes came in the form of “kallah (bride) classes” in which a bride would learn about the laws of niddah (regular separation of partners) as well as some basic sex education. Somehow I predicted this class would be different, but I still expected some sort of instruction about “how to do marriage.” I was also somewhat apprehensive about several of the sessions, particularly the sexuality session, and wondered how much detail about our private relationship we’d be expected to share. This fear, for the record, ended up being totally unfounded; we were never asked to share more than we’d be comfortable sharing, and in fact, much of the sexuality session involved each couple going into a room by themselves to discuss the topic privately.

Michael: I was definitely expecting something that was more focused on the components of a specifically Jewish marriage, rather than advice on marriage in general. It ended up being more of a balance between the two. I was also expecting to be bored at least some of the time, but it ended up being more interesting and a lot more participatory than I thought it would be. As an educator, I really appreciated that.

Sarah: One of the things I liked most about the class was that everything was totally open-ended. There were no assumptions made about what our marriage might look like, what our beliefs and values were, or even what Jewish rituals we might (or might not) want to participate in together. This left plenty of room for each couple to discuss the topic of the week in the context of their specific relationship, rather than just talking in general about what marriage “should” look like. While we did learn some specific relationship-building tools (such as strategies for navigating conflict and for discussing finances), the class was far more about starting these important conversations between each set of partners. We always found ourselves continuing the conversation on the car-ride home after each class.

Michael: I liked the fact that the class wasn’t trying to teach us a specific way of doing things. Instead, it was about finding the way to do things that worked best for our particular relationship. The class pointed us in the direction of discussions that we needed to have, but might not have thought to have before we took the class – especially when it came to communication and money issues. I especially appreciated how the class about ritual ended up being not only about specifically Jewish rituals, but also about all of the rituals that are part of being in a relationship. Sarah and I had already talked plenty about Jewish ritual (it is part of her job as a cantor, after all), so it was nice to be able to talk about some of the other rituals that we were already doing as a couple but might not have thought of as “rituals” before.

I came out of the class with a some concrete tools for navigating the complexities of our relationship and some new ways of thinking about how and why our relationship was already working really well.

Sarah: The class also gave us some great book recommendations! We ended up using Meeting at the Well, one of the books that was handed out at Beyond the Huppah, as inspiration for the contemporary English t’nai’im (engagement contract) that we wrote together and signed at our wedding tisch (table). Our t’nai’im outlined our intentions for our marriage, some of which were based on conversations that started at Beyond the Huppah. So in a way, you could say that a piece of Beyond the Huppah will be hanging on our bedroom wall for the rest of our married lives.

Are you engaged or recently married? Beyond the Huppah spring registration is now open! Click here to learn more and register.

Cantor Sarah Bolts is a recent graduate of the Hebrew College cantorial school and is currently working as a cantor in the Boston area. Michael Chernicoff is a high school physics teacher in Framingham. Six months in, they are still very much enjoying being married.

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When the Water Calls

by Leah Robbins, Administrative and Marketing Assistant

banner1886Every morning, I am first to arrive at Mayyim Hayyim. I am here when the building is silent and the pools still. Sometimes on my way to my desk, I peek into the atrium near the water and peer into the mikveh room. It’s quiet, the water is undisturbed. It’s during these moments that I can’t help but laugh to myself. Before moving here, I was on a never-ending, painstaking search for Jewish life that was rich with meaning, that challenged and enhanced my Judaism… and here I am. Somehow I ended up on the payroll of the poster-child of fulfilling and embodied Jewish practice.

Still, despite the enormous blessing that was my journey to Mayyim Hayyim, I’ve never immersed in the mikveh. I’ve been enamored with the magic of this ritual for a few years now. I’ve heard hundreds of stories of its powers of transformation, of healing, of renewal. I’ve watched as it has carried loved ones through life’s most profound joys and wearisome struggles. I’ve studied its origins, its holiness, and its sacred place in the landscape of our ancient tradition. But I’ve never felt the waters embrace me. I’ve never been enveloped by the enormous, spiritual power found in the water.

I’m trying my hardest to save this experience for a bridal immersion someday. God only knows when that will be (I’m taking suggestions for shidduchs [matchmaking])! I’ll admit, holding out to experience the mystical charm of the ritual is one of the biggest tests of discipline in my life. Between my morning moments of solace in the mikveh rooms, the ecstatic celebrations of those jumping out of the water as new Jews, and the innumerable heart-warming stories of those who have found refuge in the water, it’s nearly impossible not to answer the earsplitting call to the water.

In the meantime, I feel lucky to share in your mikveh moments of healing and renewal, to play a role, however small, in your stories of transition and change.

That being said, keep your eyes peeled for what will hopefully be the immersion story of the decade…my own!

leahLeah Robbins comes to Mayyim Hayyim from Florida. She is begrudgingly surviving her first-ever Boston winter.

Posted in Celebrations, Conversion, Healing, Immersion, Inclusiveness, Inspiration, Religion | 1 Comment

Taking a Deep Breath at Mayyim Hayyim

by Rose A. Lewis

The weeks and days before a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a wedding, or any major life event can be filled with lists, errands, and let’s face it, a bit of anxiety for the entire family. As much as I tried not to embrace the tumult before my daughter Ming’s Bat Mitzvah eight years ago, it was difficult to avoid. Somehow I was clear-headed enough to realize it was important that we find a moment before her Bat Mitzvah to take a collective breath, and truly enjoy this time of preparation.

I remembered there was a new mikveh just a few miles from our home. I had not been there but read descriptions about this extraordinary treasure in the Boston community and decided this would be the perfect place to find some uninterrupted mother-daughter time. I booked our appointment for late Thursday afternoon, just about 48 hours before Ming’s Bat Mitzvah. A busy time, but the perfect time and place to be together.

13179385_10208784222779652_658274521608682851_nThis would not be our first experience at a mikveh. I had adopted Ming from China in 1996, and two years later we immersed ourselves at an older, darker mikveh, surrounded by a rabbi and my parents, for Ming’s conversion.

While that immersion was a bit chaotic given the audience and Ming’s young age, I had a good feeling that Mayyim Hayyim, set back from the road and nestled among the trees, would provide us with just the right space to find the real meaning in what was to come in the next two days.

When we arrived at Mayyim Hayyim we were greeted warmly and led to the changing area, which had a door leading directly into the mikveh; a large private area with a small, warm pool that immediately enveloped us. Ming and I were quiet for a bit, each exploring the water and our surroundings, and yes, taking those deep breaths we both needed. Around the pool were prayers on little stands. We held hands under water and said a few prayers together in Hebrew and English. We both tilted our heads back into the water and looked up at the early spring sky through the magnificent skylights. We could see the bare trees just starting to bud. New life I thought, and a new chapter for my daughter and me.

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From the Mayyim Hayyim Guest Book, 2009: “Thank you for providing such a warm and welcoming environment. It was a lovely moment in time just two days before my daughter Ming’s Bat Mitzvah. I recommend it for all as a way to [sic] enjoy some time alone with your daughter before the big day!”

We moved around in the water a bit longer, neither of us wanting to leave the beauty and peace of this extraordinary spot, and as the sun set we left the mikvah to prepare to go home. I remember thanking the woman at the desk and writing in the book how much this moment had meant to us and what a wonderful way for people to connect before a major life event, or just because.

Walking to our car, Ming and I talked about the calmness we felt and the thrill of experiencing Mayyim Hayyim. We promised to tell others about this wonderful place, and we have! Thank you Mayyim Hayyim for being part of our Bat Mitzvah story.

Learn more about Mayyim Hayyim’s Beneath the Surface program for Bat Mitzvah girls and their mothers.

1d431d7Rose A. Lewis is a marketing and communications professional and the author of four children’s books, including The New York Times bestseller, I Love You Like Crazy Cakes. She lives in Massachusetts with her daughter and their lovable Sealyham Terrier, Oliver.

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We’re Shakin’ Things Up in 2017

by Carrie Bornstein, Executive Director

One year ago I wrote a post, Six Reasons I’m Psyched for 2016. It’s gratifying to reflect on it, and to see the things I imagined then right in front of me now.

A Simple, Pictorial Version of Mayyim Hayyim's 7 Kavanot for Mikveh Preparation

Published 2016: A Simple, Pictorial Version of Mayyim Hayyim’s 7 Kavanot for Mikveh Preparation

The Mayyim Hayyim team of staff, volunteers, and supporters has done an outstanding job of making it possible this past year.

I’m continuing the tradition now with a preview of 2017 – here’s a bit about what’s to come:

Fertility Healing Guide

Thanks to support from The Miriam Fund, we’re working on creating a Jewish healing guide for those on a fertility journey. Approximately one in five Jewish couples face challenges with fertility (not to mention individuals who embark on single parenthood by choice). These individuals and couples face fear, anxiety, and isolation and Mayyim Hayyim has resources to help provide comfort and support. See this recent article in AltFem Magazine featuring our work, and stay tuned for more about our latest publication.

Second Edition of Immersion Ceremonies

In 2010 Mayyim Hayyim published A New Beginning: Ceremonies for the Mikveh, a compilation of more than 50 immersion ceremonies to mark moments of healing, celebration, and transition. Later this year we’ll publish a new set to complement our original resource, including ceremonies to celebrate a 30th birthday, 70th birthday, conversion, mark gender transition, and becoming a parent (for non-birthing parents like fathers, women whose female partner is pregnant, and those becoming parents through adoption and surrogacy).

Enhanced Menu of Education Programs

The Paula Brody & Family Education Center offers 110 programs each year for kids and adults, to help learners understand not only what a mikveh is, but that it belongs to them. In 2017 we’ll launch an enhanced menu of programs for newcomers, leadership groups, and more seasoned mikveh enthusiasts.

Starting a National Network

Excited by our vision to bring together other like-minded community mikvehs from around the country, the Natan Fund is supporting our taking the first steps in creating a national network this spring. We’re starting small and hope to expand from there, with deep gratitude to the MBA team consulting project students from Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management who completed a feasibility study last year that outlined a clear and compelling path forward.

A New Logo and Website

It’s time. Our logo and website need updating and we’re working behind the scenes to give them a clean, fresh new look. We’re grateful to all those who filled out our branding survey last year and can’t wait to share our pretty new face with you.

It kinda all makes you want to stick around and be a part of it all, no? I know I do.

carrie-headshotCarrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director.

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