A Field Trip

On August 9, 2012, Mayyim Hayyim hosted a group of social workers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to learn more about Mayyim Hayyim’s mission, operations, and how the ritual of mikveh can be of use to both caregivers and those challenged by health issues. Thanks to Jane Matlaw, Director of Community Relations at BIDMC and Mayyim Hayyim Board member for initiating new outreach efforts by our organization into the health care arena.
by Hester Hill Schnipper

Recently, I took an unexpectedly wonderful field trip to Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh in Newton. I had heard about this place for years, contributed to their book, Blessings for the Journey, and know a number of women who have been quite involved. Although it had always sounded very special, I had never felt a particular urge to visit, but was encouraged (strongly!) to do so by a colleague, and I am so very glad that I went. Their mission is “to reclaim and reinvent one of our most ancient Jewish rituals – immersion in the mikveh – for  contemporary spiritual uses…”

Important to know: I am not Jewish. Also important: by the time we left, I was sorry that I am not able to partake in the blessing of an immersion at Mayyim Hayyim.

It is an absolutely beautiful and peaceful spot – quite an accomplishment to produce such lovely space on busy Washington Street, just down the road from Newton-Wellesley Hospital. With apologies for this comparison, it feels like a sacred Four Seasons with its taste, comfort, and beauty and a heavy overlay of serenity and sense of welcome. It is that welcoming feeling that is immediately apparent and made even me – a curious non-Jew – feel comfortable. An unusual decision, this mikveh is open to all Jews, not just those of a single denomination. It is very clear that everything is about the guest and his or her wishes and needs. The staff is very knowledgeable, gracious, warm and supportive of any choices made by the guest.

One thing I especially loved was how in the privacy of the dressing room, after preparing physically and spiritually, the suggestion is to look at your naked body in the mirror, and recognize that despite any imperfections, you are made in God’s image, and should smile with that knowledge.

Through the years, I have known a number of women who have been to Mayyim Hayyim for an immersion. In addition to the traditional baths before the Sabbath or holidays, a mikveh is often visited to mark an important transition or to help healing of body and soul. It is an obvious and wonderful choice for men and women who have completed cancer treatment and are looking for an important way to mark and honor the experience, and to move forward with life. One part from the suggested prayers for an immersion towards healing reads, “I come here today in hope of finding healing for my body, my heart, and my soul. As I prepare my body to enter the mikveh, I also prepare my mind and spirit to release the past and allow pain to dissolve….May God heal me, body and soul. May my pain cease. May my strength increase. May my fears be released. May blessings, love, and joy surround me.”

During our conversation, our guide told us that many natural outdoor water sources are kosher and can be used as a mikveh. This might include ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans. I have been thinking a lot about the tidal pond just outside our cottage in Maine, thinking about the tides that are so symbolic, and about the availability of those waters for my own healing.

To learn more and see beautiful pictures of Mayyim Hayyim, visit their website.

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, BCD, OSW-C is the Chief of Oncology Social Work at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, an adjunct professor at Simmons College School of Social Work, and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’s first Hatcher Professor of Survivorship. She has authored two books: Woman to Woman: A Handbook for Women Newly Diagnosed with Breast Cancer and After Breast Cancer: A Commonsense Guide to Life After Treatment. In 1993 and, again in 2005, Ms Schnipper was diagnosed with breast cancer and treated with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy.  These diagnoses transformed her life’s work into her life. She has two young adult daughters and lives, gratefully, with her husband in Concord, Massachusetts. 


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