It felt strange to be ringing Mrs. Markovic’s doorbell in broad daylight. For years, I had come to her house at night; she lived above the mikvah in Pittsburgh and served as its attendant. But this time, I was coming in response to an article in the newspaper about her retirement as the “92-year-old mikvah lady.” The article also referred to the mikvah as an “ancient Orthodox Jewish ritual,” and I wanted to write about this mitzvah in a way thatWhen I first learned about this mitzvah, it seemed daunting might bring it up to the current millennium.

It also felt strange to talk to Mrs. Markovic openly in the mikvah’s waiting area; I was used to speaking to her in a whisper as I slipped into one of the bathrooms to prepare. Since it’s a private matter, women are discreet about going to the mikvah. So discreet, in fact, that for much of the Jewish nation, mikvah observance remains shrouded in mystery. Unfortunately, it’s also erroneously associated with being “dirty,” although nothing could be further from the truth.

In a nutshell, during menstruation and for a week afterwards, a woman is in a state of ritual impurity. During this time, she doesn’t have any physical contact with her husband. After physically examining herself for seven days, she immerses in the mikvah, a ritual bath. The mikvah is like a womb; as the woman emerges, she is reborn in a pure state, and intimacy can resume. It’s a beautiful, sacred ritual that ensures the sanctity of the Jewish home and the Jewish souls born into that home. As if that’s not enough, it really enhances marriage, too, since husband and wife look forward with anticipation to each mikvah night.

When I first learned about this mitzvah, it seemed daunting. Two weeks out of the month without any physical contact with my husband?! But, thankfully, G‑d eased me into this mitzvah; I was expecting my third child when I was becoming observant. By the time mikvah became relevant, I was already committed to Torah life.

And once I became committed to mikvah observance, the details became very important to me. To prepare for the mikvah, it’s necessary to bathe, trim and clean nails, remove makeup, comb hair, and check to ensure that nothing remains as an impediment between one’s body and the mikvah waters. Another mikvah lady might have gotten annoyed that I took so long to prepare and that I often second-guessed my scrupulousness, but Mrs. Markovic never got rattled by my mishegas. In fact, as we were reminiscing, she laughed about it.

It may have helped that she lived upstairs from the mikvah, which meant she never had to leave home to go to work. On the other hand, she was never able to leave either. Her commitment to the job was especially apparent when I came to the mikvah on Friday nights; instead of preparing or enjoying her Shabbat dinner, she was sitting with me waiting so I could immerse after nightfall. Friday-night mikvah visits weren’t exactly easy for me either. As soon as I lit my candles, I quickly walked to the other side of town, trying to avoid seeing anyone I knew, praying that I hadn’t forgotten anything in my mikvah preparations because I couldn’t do anything that would violate Shabbat. But seeing Mrs. Markovic immediately put me at ease.

It was on those quiet Friday nights waiting together that Mrs. Markovic and I inevitably discussed her life. She was matter-of-fact as she recounted the line-up when she arrived at the concentration camp; she described seeing women go crazy when their babies were pulled from their arms and shot before their eyes. These could have been unsettling images in the moments before my immersion, when I was supposed to connect to G‑d as the source of all life and all goodness. But Mrs. Markovic was living proof that, at least in her case, that’s exactly what He was. The miracle was not only that she survived, but the way she chose to live her life because she survived. It wasn’t just that she remained Torah-observant. It wasn’t just that nothing was too much to ask. She cared even when I asked her not to—when my earring back fell down the drain, she insisted on taking apart the sink pipe to find it.

TheThe hour I recently wpent with her brought back joyful memories hour I recently spent with her on that sunny afternoon brought back joyful memories of the mitzvah connected to the most sacred parts of my life. My heart swelled as I thanked her one last time for everything she did for our family. I then began to write, hoping that maybe one person could see beyond the “ancient Orthodox Jewish ritual,” and consider the mikvah’s timeless benefits for one’s home and for the entire Jewish nation. (And it’s never too late to immerse; a post-menopausal woman need only immerse one time to sanctify her entire marriage retroactively.)

I was fortunate to have Mrs. Markovic as my mikvah attendant for all those years. But, of course, the mitzvah of mikvah isn’t about meeting inspiring people. It’s about bringing G‑d into marriage and reaffirming that everything in life emanates from Him. All-encompassing as that may sound, I couldn’t describe it as anything less.