Since I was very young, I knew that I wanted to be a writer someday. Be it comic books, advertising copy, or a marvelous work of fiction, I had an understanding with myself that I would always be led back to the trusty pen. However, I never thought I'd sit down one day, and write about something so intimate.
Of course, no one is forcing me to sit here and type, but as my fingers fly across the keys, I know that I'm doing this for a purpose. The following is the story of my first true experience at the mikvah. I chose to write about it to challenge myself as an artist, and to challenge others like me - many of whom may not be writers - to not be afraid to be beautiful, confident Jewish women.
I agreed to go through the process out of curiosityI am not an observant Jew. I do not keep kosher and I drive on Shabbat. Growing up in a secular, bi-religious household, I never thought twice about these things. And yet, throughout childhood, college, and now, after marriage and kids, I'm still searching for something more. I never felt that G‑d played a major role in my life, and since I'm a relatively happy person, the years passed by and that void inside of me was never filled. Fast-forward to several months ago when I met my friend Sarah* and her family. Sarah and her husband are religious, but were not brought up that way. They chose their lifestyle on their own accord, and just by hearing that, I was instantly fascinated by their lives and decisions. My mother is Jewish and I remember my grandmother telling me from a very young age that no matter what happens, no matter who my father is, or whom I marry, I will always be Jewish. With that ingrained deep into the folds of my mind, I knew that there was more to Judaism than what I had seen from the outside, and that this would be the perfect opportunity to jump right in. And so I did.
I was graciously invited to Sarah's house for Shabbat numerous times. I asked questions about Judaism and eventually started to study the seminal Chabad text, Tanya. A few months later, I found out I was pregnant with my second child and a few months after that, Sarah asked me if I would like to go to the mikvah. I was truly petrified at the thought, and my fear only grew after we spent a few hours going over the laws and activities related to preparing for, and actually immersing in the mikvah.
I agreed to go through the process out of curiosity, and the fact that for the last two generations women in my family did not follow this important piece of Jewish law was enough to push me on. I reasoned that our ancestors fought long and hard (in fact, we – the descendents – are still fighting) to be able to perform this deep and spiritual ritual, why shouldn't I at least give it a try? At this point, I was enthralled by my newfound knowledge of the role of the Jewish woman and I was honored to be given this gift. To me, this was only the beginning of some wild journey that waited almost thirty years to begin. Better late than never.
I showered and prepared myself for immersion based on Sarah's tireless detailsIt was a long seven days leading up to mikvah night, but everything went as planned. At last, the night arrived (it was a Saturday) and after Shabbat, I showered and prepared myself for immersion based on Sarah's tireless details and many last minute phone calls. I was a barrel of nerves as I made sure my nails were short and that no dirt was trapped underneath. After much detailed preparation, I called Sarah to tell her I was coming to pick her up. It would just be us at the mikvah that night.
On the way there, I told her I was feeling a little jittery. It made me feel better that she was also a little nervous since this was the first time she was going to be someone's mikvah attendant. I think we were relieved that we were both doing this for the first time.
It was a beautiful place. Brand new, all tiled and clean. The preparation room was immaculate and there were fluffy towels and robes to use, as well as slippers so that the bottoms of your feet stayed clean in transit from the shower to the mikvah. There was a whirlpool tub and a shower in the room. There was a sink, and every toiletry item you could think of was there for my use. I was impressed. For a split second, I imagined that I was a queen, because my surroundings reminded me of a regal place where you would see royalty being pampered. How fitting for the many women, all daughters of the King, who make that same trip day after day and night after night.
It was time. I turned around and let my robe down to the middle of my back so that Sarah could check if I had any stray hairs stuck to my body. It was clean. She then took the robe so that I could step out of it and I walked down the stairs into the mikvah while Sarah continued to hold up the robe so that she didn't compromise my privacy. I was in.
It was nice and warm, a welcomed change from the cool air and my shivering up on top of the stairs.
I let my body fall under and deep and the water flowed through everything I had, even my soul. I didn't want to leave the warmth of the mikvah behind, but I knew Sarah was waiting for me at the top. I came up for air and she told me it was a good dunk. It was "kosher."
It was the nourishment that my mind, body, and soul had been waiting forThen she recited the prayer and I repeated after her. I felt a warm feeling inside; it was the nourishment that my mind, body, and soul had been waiting for. I knew more and understood more. I had prepared, just as my ancestors had centuries ago. It was real.
Two more kosher dunks and I was done. I couldn't believe it was over.
I was somewhat relieved, and in other ways, sad to have to leave the safety of the mikvah. I was so happy that I had chosen Sarah to share the experience with me. She held up the robe for me as I came up the stairs.
While I was getting ready, Sarah sat in the waiting area reading one of the books on mikvah. I had the door to the preparation room open and we were gabbing. She ended up opening up to a random page in this book where different women gave accounts of their first mikvah experience.
The story she happened upon was so similar to my own that it was eerie.
I find that these types of things happen often when I'm with Sarah and her family, like someone is trying to tell me that I'm on the right track and to keep up the good work.
We got in the car, me damp and cold. On the way home, we talked a little about our joint experience and at that point, I was so overwhelmed with different emotions that all I could say was thank you. When we arrived at her apartment, she ran inside and told me to wait. When she came back out she gave me a CD of holy melodies to listen to on my way home and I gladly accepted. We said our goodbyes and I pulled out of her apartment complex. It was chilly, but my face was still red from the warmth of the mikvah.
On the way home, the processing began. I popped in the CD and just as I got onto the highway, I began to cry. It could have been the hormones, the stress of the situation, or any number of things. But that music awakened something inside me and made everything that I had done and have been doing over the last few months into something tangible for my soul to grapple with and hold on to. I think those tears in the car that night were for so many things. For Jewish women who were unable to go to the mikvah because of religious persecution; for people who didn't understand the beauty of being a woman; and for my family with whom I could not share my experience, physically or verbally.
Go with the flow and let the water take youI'm definitely on my journey of exploring Judaism. I'm not sure where this leaves me at this point in time, yet, I learned an important lesson from the mikvah. Go with the flow and let the water take you. So, here I am today, still a woman, writer, wife, mom, and a Jew, with the blessed event – G‑d willing – of the birth of my second child quickly approaching.
I know that I'm so far from where I want to be and where I need to be and I have no idea when, or if I'll ever get there. Yet, my mikvah experience enabled me to do many things on this topsy-turvy spiritual journey, one of the most important being that it helped me to finally allow G‑d into my life, my marriage, and my home. Having taken on this challenge, I feel that it's made me a stronger person, and a more self-aware Jewish woman. For the first time, I feel that something meaningful has been added to that lifelong void that I've struggled with for so long. If for nothing else, at least I know now that it's been Judaism that's been missing all this time. It's now up to me to recognize it, embrace it, and put it into practice.
There's a lot to be done and much more to be discovered, but this time, instead of paddling into the unknown, I'm letting the water be my guide.