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Dipping in Aruba

Dipping in Aruba

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We had amazing food, luxurious accommodations, exciting water sports, enchanted evenings, tropical breezes, and technicolor days surrounded by turquoise, crystal waters.

We snorkeled. We water cycled. We climbed rock cliffs. We toured the ocean floor in a submarine.

It was a fantasy-come-true family get-together. My parents had treated us to this dream vacation at the Americana in Aruba, a five-star hotel. There was my brother, a sister, their spouses, and my nieces and nephews. This was a big departure from our usual journey to the Catskill Mountains in New York State.

We had everything – but a mikvah We had everything – but a mikvah. Owing to a glitch in my menstrual cycle, the absence of a mikvah presented a challenge.

What to do? To me it seemed obvious. My husband was incredulous – no, astonished – when I told him that I would turn the Caribbean into a mikvah.

“Helene,” he said, “I think you’re nuts! Do you want to risk a shark attack or pneumonia, just so we can make love?! Wait a few days until we get home and use our community mikvah!”

I know my husband. There is no way he would want me to take any risks just so that we could resume marital relations. But here we were in a romantic setting out of a travel brochure, enjoying an almost perfect vacation surrounded by water!

My husband, a logical M.D., Ph.D. scientist, tried to discourage me, but my older sister conspired in my plot. She was to be my willing accomplice. My sister would watch as I dipped three times under the cover of darkness. My husband finally agreed to my wild plans and offered to keep a sharp eye out for “peeping Toms” from his post 250 feet up the dry side of the beach.

Way back there, past the darkness of the wide beach, my husband would stand in ear shot – someone to hear our screams if disaster struck.

It was late in the evening when my sister and I slunk through the hotel’s public rooms. Wearing fluffy white robes and carrying towels, we could have been headed for the hotel pool. But we crossed the patio and made straight for the sea.

Couples strolled the beaches. Their paths were lit only by a sliver of moon and the fuzzy lights of the hotel setback on the beach. We waited until the coast was clear, literally. After half an hour, at 11 P.M., the last of the strollers faded into the hotels.

My husband was in place, and my sister and I made our move.

As we approached the water, we tried to calm our fears and convince each other that this was a well-tended resort beach that was cleared of debris each day; that the walk into the sea was smooth and graded; that the water was clean and clear’ and that sharks were unlikely in the area – especially at night.

But no matter how logical we tried to be, darkness was not our friend, and every scary thought surfaced in our minds. We wondered if there would be broken sea shells or glass underfoot, sharks and other sea creatures, sudden drops in the ocean floor, and murky waters bearing globs of algae – or worse yet, a night swimmer!

My husband, a logical M.D., Ph.D. scientist, tried to discourage me, but my older sister conspired in my plot

Sparking white, hot sand had turned grey and damp. Clear water was now black, hiding who knew what. And without the Caribbean sun, the water was cold – really cold. And I hate cold. My body is averse to cold. I wear thermal underwear all winter long and sleep with three blankets.

And I had undressed, my sister screened my dash for the water with my robe and I paddled through the breakers. My goal was to reach chest-high water about a city block out; my sister, in the water, trailed behind. She had to go into the water to see me fulfill the halachic requirement of submerging three times.

Once in the water, I tried to think of G-d and the mitzvah. But it took all I could muster just to fight the discomfort and fear. I said my blessing in record time. You could call is speed dunking or express mikvah. And I dashed out of the water as fast as my flailing limbs could carry me. But I did it.

As the soles of my feet hit dry land, it dawned on me that my mikvah experience could have been worse. What if we had been vacationing at a desert resort or an arctic lodge?

Walking up the beach, the first sounds I heard were the strains of calypso music from the hotel patio where a midnight make-your-own ice cream sundae party was under way. The thought of ice cream had a chilling effect on our already half-frozen, soggy bodies.

Looking like two drowned rats with purple lips, we dripped our triumphant way through the lobby. Bypassing the ice cream kegs, the maraschino cherries and hot fudge, we headed straight for our rooms.

The following evening, good, warm feelings flowed through me. I was dolled up and strolling with my husband in the promenade, looking out at the beach that been so fearsome the night before.

“My dear,” he said, “you are a brave woman.”

Under his loving gaze and the starlit sky, I didn’t feel like the same wife anymore.

Helene Storch was raised in Woodmere, Long Island. She has a master's degree in gerontological nursing and lives in Hillside, NJ, with her husband and children.
Reprinted with permission from Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology (2nd edition, Urim Publications, 2006), edited by Rivkah Slonim, an internationally known lecturer and author of the forthcoming Bread and Fire: Jewish Women Find G-d in the Everyday ( Urim Publications, 2007).
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Discussion (4)
March 18, 2014
Helene Storch
I'm a highly experienced Carribean scuba diver. Too bad someone was not there to tell you that sharks are NOT attracted to human blood. Not at all. they don't even like the taste of humans. You could have calmly done your niddah.
Nachshon
Delray beach, Florida
November 6, 2011
No rabbi?
Very nice article- but isn't this situation more complex, where one would have to consult a rabbi regarding a mikvah in an exotic place?
Can one just dip in the ocean if there is other option?
CT
October 12, 2011
Just wondering how you ate kosher food in Aruba sinnce we are planning a trip there.
shiela
great neck, ny
October 31, 2006
Mikveh in moonlight
Thank you for my laughter and your illuminating images of Mikveh in moon light, in Dipping in Aruba.
Dry hotel guests were dipping into cholesterol ice cream, and soaking--you were immersed, dipping into Spirit.

I do understand the seduction of natural waters. Now past menstruation, I continue to use natural healing mikvehs for personal meaning and transformation. Aruba, here I come.

Joy Krauthammer
Northridge, CA