Six women — colleagues in a chaplaincy program — arrive separately and congregate in the lobby of the mikveh. The women share their hopes and intentions for their immersion, and then they scatter to separate preparation rooms, each with her own personal reflection in her heart.
The women emerge from their preparation rooms in robes and walk slowly to the edge of the mikveh. They turn around, backs to the pool, and one by one, they remove their robes and immerse themselves in the womb-like waters, while their colleagues, present but not watching, sing prayers in Hebrew that reverberate off the tiled walls and floor. Each woman is both alone and accompanied as she enters the water; the ritual is both private and shared. The woman who is immersing may experience quiet solitude and, conversely, the sense of being held and supported by the waters, the mikveh guide, her community, the generations of those who have immersed before, and God.
Afterward, one of the women reflected: “As a first-timer, I was surprised by my own emotional response. It is not just going to the mikveh, but the way in which we did so. Joining together first for a meaningful discussion, having a superb and compassionate mikveh guide to shepherd this exquisitely personal endeavor, gathering all together at the end… The confluence of all these elements made this a deeply human, personal, and yet profoundly communal experience.”
Twelve women who have never met before arrive separately and congregate around the cheese and crackers in the living room of their “Mikveh Salon” facilitator. When the session begins, each woman shares her struggles, joys, and fears around her monthly mikveh practice. Most of the women, whether they have been immersing for years or they have just begun, preface their comments with, “I have never told anyone this…” The conversation flows easily; there are many shared experiences for the women to discover. Each woman realizes that, in her mikveh practice, she is both alone and in good company; the ritual is both private and shared. Even when she is experiencing immersion by herself, she is part of a community of women who are spiritually and emotionally by her side.
After one session, a participant wrote: “It was a very meaningful and healing experience to be in a room of people who understood and provided support, love, and advice for someone they had just met. [Much] came up during our conversation that I had previously felt was uncommon or unusual, and that I had assumed I would have to cope with alone. Now I realize that isn’t the case.”
A woman’s monthly mikveh immersion has almost always been considered a private ritual. The taboos around the ritual mean that, often, those who immerse do not share when or where their immersions take place and, certainly, not how the immersions impact them on a deep, personal level.
Community mikveot (plural of “mikveh”) around the country are beginning to reclaim and reimagine mikveh immersions as powerful, spiritually-enlivening rituals that honor transitional moments for Jews of all genders, denominations, affiliations, and ages, such as a boy before his bar mitzvah, an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) person as she comes out to her community, or a woman experiencing menopause. We are hoping to “muddy the pure waters” so that what was once completely private and hushed can be opened as a shared experience — whether through telling personal stories or, when appropriate, going to the mikveh with others.
I wonder if, when we strip away our clothes, we also might strip away our pretenses, our fears, and our judgments of ourselves and of each other. What if we emerged from the mikveh stronger and more confident in our deep, often unrevealed, selves? Can we form and strengthen community by being metaphorically and literally naked together?email print