Creating the World We Want to See

by Carrie Bornstein

Last week, Carrie shared these words as she was honored at Mayyim Hayyim’s spring benefit, Soul/Life/Cycle:

My first job interview at Mayyim Hayyim was exactly ten years ago this Thursday; less than 48 hours before Eliana was born. At the time I couldn’t decide how I felt about doing a 9th month immersion. I kept going back and forth, but it turned out not to be my decision at all: she arrived two and a half weeks early. I can’t imagine what I would have thought at that time if one of my interviewers told me that a decade later my daughter would be standing up on this stage, telling her immersion story.

Founding Director, Aliza Kline, with Carrie Bornstein

When I considered taking that job, I was seven years out of college and self-conscious about the fact that my longest tenure in any position was only two years. And here I am, ten years and three job titles later, knowing that decision was one of the best I’ve ever made. Thank you, Aliza Kline, for setting me up to succeed.

I’m still here because the work we’re accomplishing makes the Jewish world more beautiful, more welcoming, more respectful of our differences, more meaningful, more joyous. In my job, I hear from people who tell us they feel alienated in every other Jewish space, and yet feel at home at Mayyim Hayyim. My job includes the pleasure of interacting with the most wonderful board, staff, volunteer Mikveh Guides, and each of you who gives financially to keep Mayyim Hayyim strong and help us.

Elisha and Sam Gechter, Recipients of the Nachshon Leadership Award

These ten years, I’ve seen a lot of joy and a lot of heartache. I’ve seen couples like Elisha and Sam, with whom I’m so proud to share the stage tonight, mourning in the grief of a miscarriage. I’ve seen the pain after stillbirth, failed IVF cycles, and women coming to immerse, month after month, trying to conceive a child.

One of them, Beth, shared the following with me:

My Mikveh Guide, Renee, was gentle and compassionate and let me cry all over myself when I needed to. Your immersion ceremony touched something deep inside me and it helped me forgive myself for the anger and jealousy I had been experiencing.

I’m a member of a complicated group; broken and sad at the happiness of friends, crying a little every time someone asks “When are you having kids?” It’s tempting to just harden yourself against the world of “fertiles” and withdraw.

Your infertility ceremony broke down a wall I had unknowingly erected around myself. When I read the words for the first time, I sat in my office and cried. Finally, someone understood what I was feeling and gave me permission to feel that way – to acknowledge my jealousy and my shame and to let it go. As I read the words, surrounded by the warm water, I felt the softening and the release of my cynicism. I emerged from this experience centered and peaceful…and for the first time in over a year, hopeful.

Sometimes these women and couples come back months or even years after their fertility struggles, this time full with pregnant bellies, to immerse in their 9th month of pregnancy. They come for a post-partum immersion with newborn in tow, and to celebrate the adoption and conversion of their child. Theirs are some of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen.

With all of these images in my head, three children of my own and no desire to bring home any more, I looked at my empty uterus and said, “Hey – so, I’ve been thinking…”

ultrasound-6w5dI’m now 19 weeks pregnant, carrying a baby for a Jewish couple in London. They were one of those heartbroken pairs for more than seven years, and they entrusted me to nurture their precious embryo for nine months so they can become one of the joyous ones when I return it to them in the form of a newborn baby girl. It never would have occurred to me to do this were it not for Mayyim Hayyim. You all have stood with me throughout this journey, you’ve cheered me on; your support has meant the world to me.

Our world is in rough shape in so many ways. I end up feeling helpless about it more often than I’d like to admit. And yet, all of you, through your support of Mayyim Hayyim, have helped to create a microcosm of otherworldliness. You’ve helped make sure that the Jewish community has a place where everyone can feel safe enough to be vulnerable, where we can pause to mourn our losses, and where we celebrate joy at every possible occasion.

I need your help to continue on this path into the future because the stakes only seem to be getting higher, and there’s still so much more we need to accomplish. We need to build our capacity to welcome the growing number of people wanting to immerse – well over 1,500 immersions this year. We need to publish a Jewish healing guide for people on a fertility journey. We need to create more immersion ceremonies. And we need to fully launch a national network to connect dozens of other mikva’ot that share our values, so no one needs to buy plane tickets for a Mayyim Hayyim-like experience.

When the board first said they wanted to honor me at tonight’s event, I thought, oh gosh that’s lovely, but I’m still the Executive Director and this is our biggest event of the year; putting on this shindig is a whole lot of work. I couldn’t imagine it in the midst of everything that needed to be done. But the co-chairs for this event – Meggan Levene, Sheri and Eli Gurock, and Jamie Bornstein: Oh my God, you guys. You worked so hard to prove me wrong. Everyone here is helping me celebrate and people even came in from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York, California, Chicago, Montreal, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida – just for this event. Tonight’s program book is filled to the brim with beautiful blessings and I’m going to enjoy reading it again and again.

Rachel Eisen, our Director of Annual Giving, you have remained shockingly unflappable as you made tonight happen. I’m so grateful you chose to bring your talent and skill to Mayyim Hayyim.

On her tenth birthday my daughter will recall the most positive Jewish memories of her life, and she’ll be able to count her experience at the mikveh as one of them. This isn’t just a cute story about a kid getting in the water. This is about how a positive Jewish identity gets formed. This is what we’re accomplishing here in Boston. This is what we’re accomplishing around the country. Imagine her world, our world, ten years from now, because of Mayyim Hayyim.

So thank you. Thank you for this honor tonight. Not only because it feels good – it really does – but because every dollar you’ve given in my honor and in honor of Sam and Elisha, will help create the world I know we all want to see.

Carrie Bornstein is the Executive Director of Mayyim Hayyim.

Posted in Accessibility, Adoption, Celebrations, Children, Conversion, Education Programs, Fertility, gestational surrogate, GLBTQ, Grief, Healing, Immersion, Inclusiveness, Infertility, Inspiration, Leadership, Marriage, Mikveh Guides, Parenting, Philanthropy, Religion, Special Events | 1 Comment

Water Wonders: Family Fun at the Mikveh

by Shira Cohen-Goldberg, Board Member

Where are we going, Momma?

To a special program, just you and me.

What is the program?

We are going to learn about water and a special place in our community called Mayyim Hayyim.

What does Mayyim Hayyim mean? Is that Hebrew? What are we going to do there? Can we stop for ice cream too?

My little guy is 5 and a half, just lost his first tooth, and is learning to read and write. To go along with all of this, his favorite question, unsurprisingly, is: Why?

And, so, on a Sunday afternoon after Passover, we attended Water Wonders, a program which provided him age-appropriate things to wonder about with regard to ritual and water, cosponsored by one of my favorite community institutions, Mayyim Hayyim and by my most dependable source for age-appropriate Jewish books, PJ Library.

But mikveh is very complex, you might say. How do we introduce this to children in a way that is direct and also meaningful? I, personally, never even knew about mikveh until I was in my early 20s. How do we build upon the traditional conception of mikveh, making it expansive, interesting, and wonderful for kids?

At Water Wonders, we learned about the power of water through science, art, and dance. I had never thought about it in this way, but water is powerful, and a tangible way to bring meaning to celebrations and milestones. When kids reach a new stage of growth, a water ritual through mikveh may provide a sensory opportunity to celebrate the change in routine. In our adult lives, we also celebrate changes in routine and milestones through mikveh.

At a Passover seder, we do unusual things (e.g., eat only matzah, lean to the right, take drops of our glass of wine) so the children will ask us about them. Children notice changes in routine and view the world as full of wonder. Let’s give them opportunities to ask.

Mayyim Hayyim is hosting a brand new Water Wonders this Sunday, May 21st from 10AM-12PM. There will be a giant water-themed art project, scavenger hunts to explore all the fascinating water sources, snacks, and schmoozing! We hope you’ll join us by registering here.

shira cohen goldbergShira M. Cohen-Goldberg serves on the board at Mayyim Hayyim. She works as a literacy specialist at an educational non-profit focused on organizational change. She spends most of her time working and rearing her children Hallel and Ya’ara, in partnership with her husband, Ari.

Posted in Children, Education Programs, for children, Immersion, Inspiration, Interfaith, Parenting, Religion | Leave a comment

No Time to Blog – Soul/Life/Cycle is Tonight!

by Lori Kramer, Office Manager

It has been a crazy few weeks leading up to our Soul/Life/Cycle event tonight! We are so excited to present the Nachshon award to Elisha and Sam Gechter whose story of healing and immersion has touched us all, and we are so proud to honor our very own Executive Director, Carrie Bornstein, whose commitment to this work is awe-inspiring.

We have been so busy in the office, gathering supplies, printing name tags, processing your generous donations, and prepping for a fantastic show. The staff at Mayyim Hayyim all rallied together to make this an incredible evening for everyone who attends. We hope to see you at the Back Bay Events Center tonight at 6PM for the cocktail reception and our program with Jewish musical sensation, Neshama Carlebach beginning at 7PM.

If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, no worries: register here and we look forward to seeing you there!

Lori Kramer is the Office Manager at Mayyim Hayyim.

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From the Ghetto to the Mikveh

by Rabbi Mara Young

“I didn’t expect this experience to move me as much as it did.”

This was the refrain from my fellow travelers as they boarded our bus back to New York. Just a month ago, I had the pleasure of spending 48 hours in Boston with members of my congregation. Mayyim Hayyim was our final stop and the perfect end to our adventure.

Truth be told, we traveled to Boston  for Mayyim Hayyim. As a rabbi and feminist, I have heard legends of this revolutionary mikveh and always wanted to see it for myself. One of our Adult Education Committee chairs felt the same. Because we couldn’t do Boston-and-back in a day, we consulted Google to cull together whatever Jewish experiences we could find. In the end, the trip developed into something better than we could have ever dreamed – its narrative weaving the scars of the Holocaust with the redemptive, creative message of the mikveh.

Detail of Henryk Ross's photograph of ghetto police escorting residents for deportationWe began at Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). Acting as official photographer of the ghetto, Ross worked for the Jewish council, yet he also risked his life to take secret photographs, documenting the true tribulations of ghetto life. As the ghetto was liquidated late in WWII, he hastily buried the negatives in order to one day serve as witness of the martyrdom of the Jewish people.

Miraculously, Ross survived and recovered his film. Water had damaged many of the strips. The MFA exhibit displays them unaltered. It’s no surprise why: the developed photographs have a pearly haze from the chemicals’ deterioration – an unintended, ghostly effect that invokes the souls of the people who died. The water was the conduit by which the photographs became art and transformed their story from simple testimony to painful, tender memory.

We honored these haunting souls with a visit to the New England Holocaust Memorial. As we walked the memorial’s path, the dampness of Boston’s springtime mixed with the memorial’s rising smoke. We moved from the ashes of the Holocaust to the rebirth and rebuilding of our people in the decades after, evidenced by our ability to stand there as free Jews and pay tribute.

The next morning we visited Mayyim Hayyim, where we learned about the mikveh’s ancient history and transformative powers. But it’s not that the pool itself acts as a magical change agent. Rather, it moves us to a state of readiness; readiness for ritual, a relationship, or a new stage in life. Experiencing the mikveh has the ability to turn us into art.

Ending our weekend at Mayyim Hayyim meant ending our weekend with assurance. Just like the Jewish people have transitioned from difficult times to positive ones, the re-imagined mikveh takes us from one phase to another. It facilitates movement: from grief to recovery, from insecurity to confidence, from one identity to another.

On our weekend, we learned that tremendous creativity and beauty can come out of the darkest days and the most vulnerable feelings. Water is a change agent – a come-to-life symbol that we use to move ahead, both as a community and as individuals.

Rabbi Mara Young is the Associate Rabbi/Educator of Woodlands Community Temple in Greenburgh, NY. She is passionate about feminist issues, as well as her husband Mark and young children: Noah Sadie and Asher.

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Moppa’s Day is Coming

by Faith Soloway, Writer and Producer of Amazon’s “Transparent”

I’m so excited for Mother’s Day this year. Not only is May 14, 2017, Mother’s Day and Mayyim Hayyim’s 13th birthday, it’s also a few days before my Moppa’s birthday, which is a big one.

To honor my Moppa, my parent who came out as trans at the age of 72, I will be sending a donation to Mayyim Hayyim, an organization that enthusiastically welcomes and supports people of all genders.

I’m proud to support Mayyim Hayyim because of its dedication to inclusion and access for all Jews, no matter how they identify, and because Mayyim Hayyim never stops working to become more inclusive—like debuting a brand new immersion ceremony to help people who are transitioning genders mark the moment with a beautiful and meaningful ritual.

Please join me in making a gift to Mayyim Hayyim to honor a special woman in your life – your Moppa, your mother, maybe an aunt, or a best friend. For all donations made by May 8, Mayyim Hayyim will send her a special card in time for Mother’s Day.

Together, our support will help Mayyim Hayyim in its ongoing efforts to welcome and empower people of all genders to take part in Jewish life.

Faith Soloway is a writer and producer for Amazon’s Transparent, an Emmy award-winning series about a late-in-life transition and its impact on a Jewish family — including an episode that features a mikveh immersion.

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Uniting Heaven and Earth: Embodying the Goddess

by Judy Tsafrir MD

I came to Mayyim Hayyim to consecrate, by ritual immersion, the ending and beginning of a 30-year astrological cycle, the Progressed New Moon. My wish for this upcoming cycle is to embody the Goddess, to remember and honor my Feminine Divinity as well as the Sacredness of all of Creation. I set an intention to relate to my embodied self as a Goddess, deserving of reverence and celebration, and to formally pledge myself to tikkun olam (repairing the world).

It is a most extraordinary and unprecedented time of crisis and polarities on our planet. There is a palpable sense of urgency, uncertainty, and fragility in the air. It becomes clearer with each passing day that we are either going to find a new way of living together sustainably and peacefully, or our very survival as a species is threatened.

Yet simultaneously, evidence of a new paradigm is beginning to emerge, one that remembers our essential Oneness with each other and the Earth. For many there is an increased appreciation of the value and need for ritual, to consecrate human experience through symbolic actions and setting intentions that create a bridge between the mundane and the Divine.

I was surprised to discover that the ancient mikveh ritual, with its Seven Kavanot for Mikveh Preparation, perfectly resonated with my private intention to embody my Divinity and to dedicate myself to planetary healing.

1. Hineni. Here I am. At the beginning of the last Progressed New Moon I was 30 and now I am 60. What a different season! 30 was early summer and 60 is late fall. At 30 I had just moved to Boston for residency training and my three children were not yet born. Now I have lived here for 30 years, am a seasoned psychiatrist, and my children are young adults. I stand at the threshold of my years as an Elder, with all of its joys, losses, and responsibilities. The immersion in the mikveh represents spiritual transformation from one state to another. I recognize that I am not simply an aging woman, but also a powerful Goddess living in a human body.

2. Hiddur Mitzvah. The unadorned body is beautiful. Under the Patriarchy, so many women hate, abuse, and neglect their bodies. I am a Goddess, and I love and honor my body. I do not think I am too fat, or that I look old. I am beautiful and deserving of reverence and impeccable self care.

3. Nekavim nekavim. You fashioned the human being intricate in design. I intend to live with a constant gratitude and appreciation of the miracle of embodiment, to celebrate my senses and the pleasures and wonder of living in a body.

4. B’tzelem Elohim. I am made in the image of God. I am a simple, naked human being who will die one day, but I am also a Goddess living in a Sacred World. This is the central Mystery and Paradox. I intend to devote myself in the coming 30-year cycle to raising consciousness about the inextricability of Spirit and Matter, which is at the heart of healing our planet.

5. Elohai neshama shenatata bi tehorah hi. The soul in me is pure. I mindfully wash every part of my body with reverence. Every bit of me is vital to my wholeness and functionality. I could not survive without my lungs, my liver, or my kidneys. Similarly, every part of the planet is vital for its survival. The destruction of the wetlands and rainforests, the pollution of the air, and the extraction and burning of fossil fuels will render our beloved planet uninhabitable. Not to mention the daily heartbreak as species go extinct en masse. It’s a precious, holistic, living, breathing, self-regulating system that must be honored and protected.

6. Kol haneshama t’halel yah. The breath of every living thing praises You. Praises you and praises me. I plan to live this next 30 years with blessing consciousness, with gratitude for all the daily small miracles. Nothing must be taken for granted. It’s all profoundly amazing in its beauty and brokenness.

7. Tikkun Olam. We can stand for justice; we can build a world of peace and justice. I focus upon my hands and feet and dedicate them to planetary healing. There is not a moment to lose and I cannot wait for someone else to do it.

Mayyim Hayyim is a treasure and resource for our community. We are so fortunate to have this gorgeous mikveh readily available, not only for traditional, prescribed use, but also for creative, personal ceremonies of healing and transition. I felt deeply moved and transformed by the personal ceremony I created. I encourage all of you reading this to do the same. Live in the Beauty and Mystery by sanctifying the meaningful milestones in your life with this ancient, powerful ritual. Dedicate yourselves to your Divinity and tikkun olam and you will be blessed.

Judy Tsafrir MD is a holistic adult and child psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, artist and writer, with a private practice on the third floor of her Victorian home in Newton Center, MA. She believes that the way conventional psychiatry is practiced today, with its almost exclusive focus on pharmaceuticals, is misguided and harmful. She advocates a radical paradigm shift from treatment of a patient as a collection of symptoms to be suppressed with chemicals, to healing the whole person through integration of heart, mind, body and soul. She writes about a holistic approach to psychiatry on her blog

Posted in Healing, Immersion, Inspiration, Religion | Leave a comment

Can you feel the love?

by Rachel Eisen, Director of Annual Giving

I wish you could see my inbox right now.

Actually, my inbox is totally nuts, so I shouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, but I wish you could feel what my inbox is feeling right now, because it’s feeling a whole lotta love.
Love for three really extraordinary people – Carrie Bornstein and Elisha and Sam Gechter – who Mayyim Hayyim is honoring on May 15, at our annual benefit event.

In case you didn’t already know, Mayyim Hayyim is throwing a party on Monday, May 15  to raise money for our work by honoring Carrie, Elisha, and Sam, for their dedication to Mayyim Hayyim’s mission and for raising their voices to spread the word about us. And it should come as no surprise that people are really excited. Really, really excited. I’ve got donations in their honor pouring in from people around the country, even people who can’t attend the event. I’ve got groups of people coming together to raise money for bigger blessings in the program book. I’ve got a fabulous host committee whose members are eager to help me think of fun, creative ideas for the event.

It’s all because of the honorees and people’s love for them, and for Mayyim Hayyim. You see, Carrie, Elisha, and Sam, they’ve got fans. And if you don’t know them yet, I guarantee you’ll be a fan once you hear their stories.

I invite you to read a little about them, and then join us on May 15 to hear, in person, their stories of why Mayyim Hayyim has been so meaningful in their lives. Come out on May 15, sing and dance with Neshama Carlebach, hear why everyone loves Carrie, Elisha, and Sam – and why they love Mayyim Hayyim – and I promise you’ll be feeling just as much love for them as my inbox.

Rachel Eisen is Mayyim Hayyim’s Director of Annual Giving. While her inbox may be out of control, she’s thrilled to be working on an event that honors three of the most deserving and amazing people she knows—people who live the lives she aspires to.

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