"Dear mikveh, thank you so much for letting us go into the warm pool and letting us take showers and letting us have our own bathrooms and the hebrew names and the celebration and stuff like that. You are very nice people. Love, Olyvia" (age 6)
Many thanks to the Grossmann family for generously sharing their story and to Rabbi Andy Vogel of Temple Sinai in Brookline for his warm and sensitive ritual facilitation.
The conversion of children - either adopted by Jewish parents or born to non-Jewish mothers - is a common and joyful occurrence. When a baby becomes Jewish through conversion, it is the parent(s) making a choice and a promise to do everything necessary to raise the child as a Jew. At the mikveh, parents assist with the immersion and recite the blessings on behalf of their child.
Infants and Toddlers
Depending on the rabbi's custom and parental preference, either one or both parents will, wearing bathing suits, accompany the child into the water during the immersion ceremony. As in all immersions, the water is supposed to touch every part of the baby without any barrier or impediment. The parent will blow a puff of air into the baby's face, thus activating the "diving reflex": the child closes his / her eyes and holds her / his breath for the brief moment the child is underwater.
Rabbis handle the challenge of immersion without barriers differently. Often, a parent will be instructed to release their hands (for an instant), allowing water to touch all areas of the baby at once, and then to quickly lift the baby out of the water. Other rabbis do not require that the parent(s) let go, because of the thinking that since the mother or father's hands are coated with the water of the mikveh, there is no barrier at all.
How and how much parents participate in immersions for older children depends on the age, temperament, and modesty concerns of each individual child. In consultation with their rabbi, parents (and children, if appropriate) should discuss whether mothers and/or fathers are to accompany or even be present when a son or daughter immerses.
At Mayyim Hayyim
The conversion of children at Mayyim Hayyim is often a festive, crowded celebration, with grandparents, silblings, and friends as well as parents and clergy present. With infants, the guests can gather at the side of the mikveh to witness the baby's immersion and then have a party in our celebration space.
If at all possible, parents are encouraged to visit Mayyim Hayyim prior to the the day of a child's conversion -- with the child if appropriate. Taking a tour of the mikveh will not only ease anxiety, once you experience the beauty and safety of the mikveh, you can look forward to the big day with joy. Older children who tour in advance of their immersions are given the chance to test the water with their hands, to see how warm it is. They can even select the color of the lights that shine beneath the surface under the water and glimpse the special child-size toothbrush waiting for them, too.
Mayyim Hayyim has developed a special set of Seven Kavanot to read with or to a child as you prepare for the immersion; these "intentions" are intended as a way to help you slow down and reflect upon this important choice in your family's life.