by Rafi Spitzer
Each person who comes to Mayyim Hayyim is offered a guide, a person trained to facilitate their immersion and to serve as a witness. The Mikveh guide is a representative of the community who acknowledges that a transition has taken place. As a Mikveh Guide, I have witnessed the immersions of grooms, Bar Mitzvah boys, graduates, and Jews-by-choice. Standing behind a sheet in the mikveh area, I have been moved by the power of the living waters to enact actual changes in status and to help individuals realize changes that have occurred within themselves. The mikveh represents the possibility of change for individuals who come to immerse and for their communities.
When I stand behind the white sheet, present only to be a witness to someone else’s moment, I feel the presence of God. A God who creates the possibility for change. A God who witnesses our lives, who loves us, and who is there for us in times of transition and transformation. God is the representative of the community, in relationship with each individual, and yearning for each of us to be the best possible reflection of God’s goodness within the world.
I believe that God acts in this world through our actions. As we clothe the naked, God is clothing the naked; as we feed the hungry, God feeds the hungry; as we bury the dead, God buries the dead. Through our actions we create the truth of our description of God. God calls us to enter into a deeper relationship with God, the community, and the world. God’s presence in our lives, though sometimes hidden, as if behind a sheet, is both loving, desiring relationship with us, and commanding, guiding us toward holiness.
I believe that halacha (Jewish law) is a path toward holiness designed to enable people to live in relationship with God and in a constant process of self-improvement. I believe that observance of the mitzvot (commandments) helps us to become our best selves: compassionate, kind, understanding, and open to the possibility of teshuva (change/repentance) within ourselves and within others. As we find ways to be in relationship with God, life is more meaningful, and we are able to respond to the challenges of life with resilience.
For me, being a Mikveh Guide is an act of imitating God. Just as God is a witness, the Mikveh Guide is a witness. The Mikveh Guide sets aside the needs of the self in service to a stranger. This act of service and witnessing is an expression of the love of the community and the love of God. Perhaps it is this love that helps to make the living waters powerful. Perhaps this is why I have felt the presence of God most strongly while serving as a Mikveh Guide.
Rafi Spitzer is studying to be a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. After graduating from Boston University with a degree in Anthropology, Rafi worked for two years as the Community Projects Specialist at Temple Beth Elohim of Wellesley, MA. Rafi was trained as a Mikveh Guide at Mayyim Hayyim, and currently works at the Atria, a senior living residence in Manhattan. Rafi loves to cook and to travel, especially with his wife, Rachael Besser, who teaches second grade in Harlem.