There is something very special about being a Jewish woman. Even someone I’ve never met can instantly become a sister. I would never have expected that I would meet a sister in Beijing, but that’s exactly what happened. We’re all in this together—building the future of the Jewish nation in purity.

My husband was offered a great short-term job near Beijing. The job was right up his alley, and he was available to fly, but he was going to be absent right at the time my mikvah night was scheduled. We’re still in our first year of marriage, and the idea of him leaving during that time made the whole idea less appealing. Where am I going to find a mikvah in Beijing?When he asked me if I would join him for part of the trip, I got excited, until I realized: Where am I going to find a mikvah in Beijing?

After only a minute of Googling, the answer was on my screen! Chabad of Beijing! I zipped an e‑mail off to the rebbetzin, making sure that I could use the mikvah at the appropriate time. Dini wrote back right away, a warm and inviting note, letting me know that she would be happy to accompany me to the Beijing mikvah. Wow! We booked the flights!

The Beijing Chabad Center
The Beijing Chabad Center

As the day of the trip drew near, our anticipation built. There was so much to do! We bought lots of packable kosher food, planned an itinerary and made all of the necessary arrangements.

As I packed I wondered about Dini, my mikvah sister in Beijing. What was it like living so far from the conveniences of a Jewish community? If I was packing a suitcase full of food for one week, how did she manage to get kosher food all the time?

I sent Dini another e‑mail asking if there was anything that was hard to get in Beijing that I could bring her from Israel. She said that kosher milk would be greatly appreciated. I got her e‑mail the day before my flight, and I ran around Tzfat to all of the stores looking for milk that comes in a box and has a long shelf life. When I asked the man in the local market if they carried it, he smiled and asked where I was flying. I also picked up some kosher chocolate, gum and cheese for good measure.

When we arrived in Beijing, I was struck by how extraordinarily un-extraordinary it all seemed. We collected our bags and walked towards the exit of the airport, passing Starbucks on the way! (I must have seen at least eight Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants while we were in China. So much for Chinese food.)

We took a taxi to the hotel, which we had picked because it was within walking distance of the Chabad House, where we would be eating our Shabbat meals. Once we were settled, we walked over to Chabad to deliver our care package and get the lay of the land.

Dini wasn’t there, but we met her daughter, a cute and precocious 12-year-old who tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her excitement at seeing the kosher bubble gum.

The Chabad house had beautiful stained glass depictions ofWe had brought enough food for an army the various synagogues in China (I didn’t know that there were so many!) and various interesting historical artifacts, such as letters and prayerbooks that were printed in China. They even had a kosher restaurant downstairs, but we had brought enough food for an army, so we decided to pass. We just needed to find some fruits and vegetables to round out our meals. Plus it was Tu B’Shevat that day, and I was looking forward to trying some new fruits!

We walked around the area until we found “The Purchase of Life Supermarket 24H.” We joked that you could purchase more life there, but only 24 hours of it at a time!

At the store we stocked up on fruits and veggies, bottled water and some eggs, which we later boiled in the electric kettle in the hotel. I found my special fruits: some Asian pears, and something that was green on the outside and bright purple and full of seeds on the inside. It seemed so symbolic to be celebrating the spring, newness and our adventure together with the age-old Tu B’Shevat tradition of eating new fruits.

By the time we finished shopping, it was evening, and we were totally zonked.

The next day I woke up early. We had a lot of exploring to do, and that night was mikvah night! I did most of my mikvah preparations as my husband said his morning prayers. Then we set off on a big adventure exploring the huge city of Beijing (which has a population of 21 million, nearly three times the population of Israel).

We arrived at Tiananmen Square, where we walked around and took pictures. Nearly all of the men in China are clean-shaven, except for some of the Muslims (about 1.5% of the population). When we saw a few bearded men in the square, we definitely noticed them, and they noticed my husband as well. In fact, they walked right over to us and hugged my husband, greeting him like a true brother. If only all Jews and Muslims could get along so well!

Behind the square is the Forbidden City, where the emperors of China used to live. It is a huge compound with many incredibly ornate gates and large stone courtyards. It is magnificent and impressive, and surprisingly similar in layout to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed more than a millennium before the Forbidden City was built. (It’s called the Forbidden City because no one was allowed to enter uninvited, and those who did were immediately executed.) Walking through the large courtyards and seeing theI was a bit awestruck! ornate bronze incense burners and huge brass water basins, I had a small sense of what our ancestors might have experienced as they walked through the courtyard of the Holy Temple. I was a bit awestruck.

The feeling stayed with me as we rushed back to the hotel for my 6 PM meeting with Dini, who would be escorting me to the local mikvah. Dini greeted me warmly and thanked me for the kosher care package. Then we were on our way to the mikvah, which is outside the city and is attached to the Jewish school where Dini is the principal. As we drove, we shmoozed, and Dini told me about her life in Beijing, and about the challenges and perks of raising a Jewish family far off the beaten path.

Having lived in Beijing for over a decade, Dini has seen the Jewish community grow, as many formerly unaffiliated families enjoy the sense of community and the amenities that Chabad offers. She said that there are weeks when she takes women to the mikvah every night—women from the community as well as visitors from abroad—and then there are quieter weeks.

The Beijing Chabad Center
The Beijing Chabad Center

We played Jewish geography, finding our mutual connections, and before we knew it we had reached our destination. Dini showed me to the preparation room, which was gorgeous and had many decorative details that were in a uniquely Chinese style.

I went through my preparations, allowing the warm water to wash away the external focus that had dominated my day. We had had a wonderful adventure in the world at large, but now it was time to focus on my internal world, to strip away externals and focus on the purity, holiness and beauty within. I had seen the power of a majestic building, its exquisite detail and artistry. Now I focused on the exquisite balance and beauty of my life, feeling grateful for my abundant blessings and preparing to pray for the vacant spaces in my life, to draw blessing into them as well.

As Dini and I approached the mikvah, I was struck by how the mitzvahs of the Torah are beyond time and space. Here I was in China, but I was about to enter a mikvah, similar in its power and in its specifications to countless others that Jewish women have been immersing in for generations.

I took a deep breath and relaxed into the waters, allowing them to hold me and support me. I breathed out and released the tight feeling in my ribs, allowing myself to be present in this holy moment. Again, I immersed in the pure waters. And again.

“Kosher,” Dini said, announcing my purity with a clear voice that surely reverberated above.

I asked Dini to give me a few moments alone in the mikvah, which she graciously did. I took this time to clarify my thoughts and compose my prayers—for healing, for livelihood, for wellbeing, for children. Again and again I allowed the water to cover me, feeling my prayers splash overhead. I prayed for the future of the Jewish people. I prayed for my husband, for our relationship and for our future together. I prayed for peace, for a time when we will no longer marvel at a Jew and a Muslim hugging each other as brothers.

There is something about letting the tears flow into the mikvah; the purification from within me meets the purification surrounding and supporting me. In those moments, the stress and anticipation surrounding the trip melted into the waters, and I was filled with the joy of having fulfilled a very precious mitzvah.

On the way out, Dini—in classic Chabad style—offered me a l’chaim, which I gratefully made onIn my heart, I blessed Dini bottled water. And in my heart I blessed Dini, my dear mikvah sister whose vision and efforts to fundraise and build, and to accompany me that evening, had made my experience possible.

As far away as we live from each other, our hopes, struggles and visions are surprisingly similar. We are all Jewish women investing our prayers and efforts, our hearts and souls, in bringing this world a little closer. A little closer . . .