The Gift That Keeps on Giving: A Family Tradition of Philanthropy (Repost)

As Hannukah approaches, we are reminded of this amazing story by former Board Member Jane Matlaw, and we want to share it with you.

Image result for hanukkah“When my children were young, they got something small each night of Hanukkah. Growing up, my parents had demonstrated the importance of giving back and I wanted to pass this value onto my children, as well. I wanted not just to talk about, but actually engage in philanthropy.

We began a tradition of foregoing gifts on one night and giving to a nonprofit organization whose work promoted our values and what we believed in. I wanted to demonstrate to my children that giving back is part of our Jewish and family tradition, and that financial philanthropy was one of many ways to do so.”

(Read the original post here)

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It’s Time for Mayyim Hayyim’s Top Ten List

by Lisa Berman, Mikveh & Education Director

It’s that time of year when we’re surrounded by lists – top ten best movies of the year, books, songs, the like. Here at Mayyim Hayyim, we judge ourselves by our impact on our guests. Did they have a positive experience? Were they made to feel welcome? Did we do all we could to allow them the opportunity for a spiritual experience?

We are blessed to have a form of instant feedback. Our guest book shows us each day exactly how we are doing.

Here are my Top Ten Favorite Guest Book Quotes of the last six months, with a little commentary from your editor.

“Mayyim Hayyim makes me feel safe. Thank you for providing me with a judgement-free zone to immerse and become pure again.” — Ricki

Nothing we do is more important than making people feel safe. Without that assurance, it is impossible to open up, to allow oneself to feel vulnerable. It is in that place of vulnerability that powerful emotions are unlocked.

“I emerged the person I always wanted to be.” –L. A. C.

Those are my personal favorite nine words in our guest book all year. It made me want to get in the water right that minute, in the hopes that I, too, would emerge the person I always wanted to be. At the very least, this person’s powerful words should cause us all to stop and think about who it is we want to be, how we can become that person, and if an immersion experience could help.

“Thank you for providing a safe space for me to let go of weight I don’t want anymore [before Rosh Hashanah].” –S.

Can’t you just feel the weight of a year’s worth of challenges, disappointments, hurt, stress, hard work, difficult conversations… all sliding effortlessly into the warm water and dissolving away forever, allowing us to emerge light and free and new?

“13 (the big 13)”.

Remember The Big 13? I love that The Big 13 now includes a visit to the mikveh… and The Big 25, 40, 60, 75…

“I felt like my body was opening up to me. This was the best first experience I could ask for.”

In a time so fraught with messages of body image disunity, I loved this person’s depiction of his/her/their body. I wish more teens knew this power of the mikveh.

“I feel so appreciative of the warm welcome as part of preparation for my queer interfaith wedding.”

As American Judaism races forward in its diversity, we want to be at the forefront of embracing it; I’m so proud we were for this person.

“It’s amazing how one small act can make you feel so different inside.” –Courtney

Be it an act of service to others or service to oneself, remember not to imagine the bar so high; it is within our reach with “one small act” to effect change.

“Thank you for the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors. I feel renewed and integrated.”

Let’s remember that mikveh is not a new idea (albeit one Mayyim Hayyim has definitely re-envisioned), but rather an opportunity to connect with a thousands-year old ritual enacted by our foremothers and fathers. That fact alone can deepen the experience as we imagine ourselves taking the same steps down into the water as they did.

“Thank you for such a special time for us to come, bless, meditate, and be in the moment before our daughter is born. It truly feels as if time stands still as the waters embrace you.” –Randi & Daniel

Can’t you just see this radiant couple, she blooming in her late pregnancy, he beaming with pride and affection? What a beautiful moment of peace and possibility.

“All I felt was nervous and scared, but after I felt very accomplished and happy!! :)” –Gregory, 10

Mikveh is definitely an intimidating and alien idea for a ten year-old boy. Our extraordinary Mikveh Guides relish the opportunity to help guests such as Gregory feel comfortable, confident, safe, and enthusiastic — and it works!

It’s been a remarkable year at Mayyim Hayyim. I can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring.

If you are inspired by any of these guests’ words of encouragement, we’d love to hear from you and help you imagine your own immersion experience. Call, email, stop by, or request an immersion here.

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.

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A Treasured Memory at the Mikveh

by Sophie Hyman

I was a little apprehensive about coming to the mikveh. My sister’s girlfriend, Leah (Mayyim Hayyim staff and mikveh enthusiast), encouraged me to explore this area of Judaism that I had very minimal exposure to. I was afraid that I would enter into this beautiful, Jewish experience and feel indifferent, like it wouldn’t be the experience she envisioned for me, that it wouldn’t be the right time in my life to engage with ritual, that I wouldn’t be received, that my prayers for healing would not be answered. I was afraid of feeling like I wasn’t right for something like this, and thinking ahead, that I would forever feel a seed of disappointment for not having gotten out of it what I had intended.

Leah said to me, “Sophie, I know you better than most. I would never steer you wrong. The mikveh has your name all over it. What’s the worst that can happen? A hot shower with someone else’s fancy shampoo?” I couldn’t argue with that, so I put my trust in her, and quite literally jumped right in.

My apprehension was left at the door when I entered the mikveh waters. The atmosphere of the whole building embraced me. My Mikveh Guide was kind and welcoming, and I started getting excited when she explained to me the nuances of the architecture and the details of immersion. It was different than anything I had ever seen. The building was homey and the mikveh room was filled with natural light from high windows. The smell of holy water was reassuring and gave me a much needed lightness that allowed me to breathe deeply and meditate on my purpose there. I felt ready as soon as I was left to myself, and every word of each step of the preparation process weighed heavily for me.

Time stopped, and though I was alone in the room, I felt surrounded, my heart open and my words heard. I felt like I belonged on that Jerusalem tile. The whole experience was unforgettable. The healing ceremony gave me a sense of wholeness I had been needing. Every step of the way, the intention of my words, my grooming, my immersing, I was absorbing and welcoming this fresher state of being. Something was replenished in me, and I know I will always hold this memory close to my heart.

sophie-hymanSophie Hyman is a Psychology and English major at the University of Florida. She has a minor obsession with makeup, enjoys writing poetry, and volunteering with her service fraternity on campus.

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Teaching is Unpredictable

by Leeza Negelev, Associate Director of Education

Last week I taught a group of 7th graders and parents from Congregation Shalom in Chelmsford. It was our standard, 90-minute education program where students learned about the biblical origins of mikveh immersion, the halachic (Jewish legal) construction of a mikveh, and the many reasons why people immerse, among many other things.

The morning program started off somewhat slow. That can happen. It’s a Sunday, students are in a new place…and did I mention it’s a Sunday? Why weren’t we all still in bed?
About 5-10 minutes into the program, and faced with the sleepy eyes of my 7th grade audience, I made a decision I’m not always able to make, and one that educators everywhere are faced with:

“Will I do the thing I thought I was going to do right now, or will I do what the moment demands of me?” I realized, felt, and possibly witnessed in a series of psychic visions, that if we sat in our chairs any longer, I would lose them. We needed to get up and start learning in the space. It turned out I was right. As soon as we got moving, we started to really enjoy learning together. We ended the program with a powerful (and unplanned) discussion about whether mikveh immersion, or any mitzvah (commandment) or Jewish ritual, can be performed without a reason, or kavannah (intention).

Let me take a few steps back: As educators, we are in the business of planning. What are the objectives of our time together? How will we achieve those objectives? How will we measure if we’ve succeeded? We plan, refine, and plan some more.

Personally, I like the safety of knowing what’s going to happen. I think students like to know too, so I make a point to share the plan right away. I also plan for the unknowable. I tell them: “What makes this program what it is, is what you (the student) brings to it.”
Seeing this written out, I’m reminded of an often-discussed, riddle-like response God gives to Moshe when he is presented with a daunting mission to free the Israelites from slavery.

Moshe asks God: “When I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13). Here, Moshe is preempting a situation in which the enslaved Israelites will need to know the plan. Who is this God who will save us? What is this God all about?
God famously replies: “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.” He continued, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites, ‘Ehyeh (I am) sent me to you'” (Exodus 3:14).

Though this has been translated many ways, one literal translation is “I am who I am.”
I believe God is alluding to the unknowable. Moreover, the message seems to be that God is beyond time and expectation; throw away what you think I will be, I am who I am, without beginning and without end. In Hellenistic Greek, this understanding comes through even more clearly. The Hebrew was translated into Greek, “Ego eimi ho on” understood to mean “I am the Being.”

Moshe had the right idea. He was planning ahead, thinking about the Israelites who would need more than a magic show to convince them to risk their lives to flee from Pharaoh. In asking for a name to share with the Israelites, Moshe wanted to be prepared, and he wanted to be able to manage expectations. Unfortunately for him, God said, “Sorry, you might have to wing it some of the time, there really isn’t a way to wrap me up in a neat package.”

I can’t help but feel that there is some (slight) parallel between the skeptical Israelites and a group of 7th graders on a Sunday morning. Like Moshe, who eventually shows up with wondrous signs to convince the Israelites of God’s powers, I have my choice activities that I know the students will enjoy. I know how to get them engaged. But to create an environment where new ideas can be shared, and new understandings are possible, we have to be willing to change course, pause in an uncomfortable silence, and go into the fray without knowing all of the answers.

I’m not always able to ask myself (while in the middle of a class), “Will I do the thing I thought I was going to do right now, or will I do what the moment demands of me?”
So I’ve set up a reminder for myself, and everyone else. At the beginning of every class, I tell the students, “Your questions, your comments, and your curiosity are what make this program awesome.” It’s a statement that establishes a scary truth: not everything in the next 90 minutes can be planned, and the unplanned parts are sometimes the most important.

I’d like to call this the unpredictable joy of learning. The moment where the right answer isn’t on the tip of my tongue is one that terrifies me, but it’s one that leads to some of the most powerful learning moments I’ve ever had. Whether inside or outside the classroom, I hope all of us have the opportunity to venture into the terrain of the unknown, and see what happens.

leezaphotoLeeza Negelev is the Associate Director of Education at Mayyim Hayyim, where she enjoys planning education programs.

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Blessings and Decoupage – Creating Together

by Tammi Levy-Cantor

tammiIt’s been a busy year for our family. Our child will be invited to and attending almost 60 Bar and Bat Mitzvahs from her classmates at the Rashi School, her camp family, our actual family, and long time friends. My husband, son, and I have also been incredibly fortunate to share in many of these celebrations. Beneath the Surface at Mayyim Hayyim for Bat Mitzvah age girls and their moms provided a welcome respite for a few evenings from this happy, but frenetic pace. It allowed us to refocus on the Bat Mitzvah year. We’ve been able to create blessings, crafts, and most importantly time together.

Tammi: What was the most memorable part of the class we took together, besides learning that we are not good at decoupage?

Lily: I liked learning the meaning of my name, and how I’m connected to the people who came before me.

Tammi: I liked the moment that we were in front of the water, we hugged, and we told each other what we wished for each other from this experience. It was a blessing of sorts. I thought it was powerful to define that out loud. What is something that you will take away from Beneath the Surface?

deco-journalLily: Getting to share a meaningful moment with my mom. We created a notebook cover with decoupage that was meaningful to both us. Even though it wasn’t pretty, it still had many aspects that were important to us.

Tammi: I loved that too. We laughed the whole time. It was so much fun to do this. We may not have done it otherwise because the weekends are so busy. It was great to create that together. Did you enjoy learning with the other girls and moms?

Lily: Yes, It was great to hear their stories about their upcoming Bat Mitzvahs and talk about that on a deeper level.

Tammi: I agree. Our group came with different backgrounds and experiences and it was nice to hear the different perspectives of what a Bat Mitzvah meant for them and their families. Will this change how you are looking at your upcoming Bat Mitzvah?

Lily: Yes, I feel much calmer about it now. I also feel excited to take part in these traditions that have been practiced for so many years.

Tammi: For me, I have always looked at the Bat Mitzvah as only one “stop” on your long Jewish journey towards solidifying a strong Jewish identity. My hope is that you, and your brother, will not only identify as Jewish – you will simply “be” Jewish, in whatever way is meaningful to you.

Beneath the Surface at Mayyim Hayyim gave us the gift of time. It allowed us to create yet another stop on this journey – another space for Jewish learning to happen. I am so incredibly grateful for this blessing.

The next session for Beneath the Surface will be offered in fall of 2017, but it’s not too early to sign up. Immersion ceremonies for Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids may be emailed upon request. Contact info@mayyimhayyim.org for more information.

Tammi Levy-Cantor is taking a very, very extended break from her Health Policy career to stay at home with her daughter Lily, and older son Samson. She lives in Newton with her husband Michael where she volunteers and enjoys cooking, reading, spinning, and walking her Cockapoo, Kibble.

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A Gift that Never Stops Giving

by Leah Robbins, Administrative and Marketing Assistant

Thanksgiving 2016 is over, but Hannukah is approaching, and I am still riding the thankful-train for all that Hashem has gifted me this year.

Let us review my timeline: In April I completed my undergraduate thesis at the University of Florida about Jewish feminism, during which time I became enamored with the mikveh. My research about niddah observance and feminist interpretations of the mikveh became a sport – I couldn’t get enough. The words of my learned Jewish sisters would jump off the pages, sparking a fire in me that would soon take over my life. They’d write: “Under the waters of the mikveh the shackles of our mortality can be dissolved – we regain the pristine spiritual connection with God that existed in the Garden of Eden.” “The potent force of the mikveh reunites our bodies with the primordial forces of Creation.” Have you ever heard something so beautiful? I hadn’t!

Fast forward to some rapid, major life transitions: In June I moved from the deep South to Boston where I would encounter an extraordinary Jewish community made up of as many Jews and Judaisms as letters of the Aleph-Bet. During this time I was lucky enough to be welcomed to into the fold of the Mayyim Hayyim staff, an experience that would forever change how I relate to my own Judaism and other Jews. One Jewish institution where Jews across generations, gender identities, sexual orientations, ethnic identities, and spectrum of Halacha observance find refuge within its walls?… where I’m from that’s a miracle of biblical proportions.

Somewhere along this wild ride, my brand new home suffered a devastating fire that displaced myself, my friends, and my partner. Without question, without hesitation, the entire Mayyim Hayyim community ran to my rescue, raising funds, securing generous housing, gathering replacement clothes and creature-comforts. I did not even have time to panic that my new life had quite literally gone up in flames because Mayyim Hayyim was unconditionally there for me in a desperate time, as I know it has been for many of you.

It is now December and as Hannukah peeks over the horizon, I am reminded that I don’t necessarily need the overpriced stand mixer I have been eyeing for years. I don’t need an array of HomeGoods tchotchkes to dot the walls of my newly settled home. Everything I really need is already at Mayyim Hayyim – heart, holiness, and haimish hospitality.

As I look around and count my many blessings, I am proud to say that my adventure at Mayyim Hayyim is on the top of the list. I invite you to enjoy the many gifts that Mayyim Hayyim has to offer this coming Hannukah. Give an immersion gift certificate to a loved one, treat yourself to an immersion, or give a gift today.

leahLeah Robbins joined the Mayyim Hayyim team in June 2016. She is enjoying her first ever snowfall and warmly welcomes survival tips for the bitter Boston winter ahead.

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Tears of Joy and Despair

by Tamar Duke-Cohan

cassieI happened into a public bathroom a few evenings ago. As I entered, a woman flew out of the first stall, ran into another and banged the door shut. I could hear her muttering and sobbing over the phone. Although I could not understand the words because she was speaking in another language, it was clear what had happened; she had left the door of the first stall open, and it was evident that the hope for a pregnancy – the prayers for a child – were over. I stood there for a just second listening to those awful sobs – tears of despair and the loss of hope, of disappointment and grief. After I left, those desperate, whispered sobs stayed with me for many hours.

That evening I was guiding a bride through her first immersion in preparation for her wedding (I volunteer at Mayyim Hayyim). After the ceremony, she came out of the mikveh room, dripping in a white bathrobe, to where her female relatives were waiting. Three generations of women jumped and hugged and laughed and cried. These were very different tears – ones of hope, and satisfaction, and unutterable joy. These were tears from the other side of the crevasse of the human experience. It was a wondrous thing.

As I drove home it occurred to me how much these tears actually had in common – there was someone on the other side of that phone in that bathroom; maybe a mother or sister who was supporting and loving that poor woman in her moment of despair. This person was just like the bride’s relatives – someone who cares.

I also thought about how lucky I am because there are so many people in my life who care about me and would carry me across any crevasse – my husband and sons, my mother, sister, and nieces, my closest friends, my god-daughters, and many other friends – all amazing people. I know it’s a truism and a cliché, but I think it’s worth remembering that it’s the people in our life who give it meaning, and it is they who carry us across the crevasse.

Newton resident Tamar Duke-Cohan has been a Mikveh Guide since since 2005 when she participated in the second class of training. She is a member of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline and is an avid Torah reader.

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