Written by Madeline Mayer
Last month I visited Israel with my graduate program. As a candidate for a Master’s degree in Jewish Professional Leadership, the goal of this trip was for the students, as future leaders within the Jewish community, to grapple with the different issues and elements occurring within the Israeli Jewish community. While I assumed that mikveh wouldn’t enter my mind or our discussions while in Israel, it turned out that it was one of the most interesting aspects of my time there. I was reminded twice of the fact that the mikveh that I know so well at Mayyim Hayyim is not the mikveh that many think of when the topic arises.
At the beginning of the trip we met with an organization focused on the Russian speaking community. While there, we spoke with several women who made Aliyah to Israel from the Former Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Now in their late 20s and mid-30s, they spoke about their struggles when getting married in Israel, a place in which a religious wedding is the only option. As part of the wedding process all of these women were required to immerse in the mikveh. At the thought of this experience, all of the women’s facial expressions changed instantly to a disgusted, unpleasant expression. Having only heard indirect stories of unwelcoming mikveh experiences, this was an interesting observation, especially from women who all had these experiences within the past few years. I was reminded that not everyone is welcomed by a friendly mikveh guide, there to guide and do anything possible to make the mikveh experience as pleasurable and meaningful as possible, as is the case at Mayyim Hayyim.
I had a similar “run-in” with mikveh at the end of my trip. While having dinner with an Israeli friend I mentioned that I work at a mikveh. The comment elicited a confused response: “a mikveh?!” he asked. Again I was somewhat shocked. I first learned about mikveh when I was 16 years old at Mayyim Hayyim. I often forget that not all mikvehs are the same. When I think mikveh, I think beyond the religious ritual. I think of immersions, educational events, mikveh guides, and special events as a complete package. For most Israelis, this is a practice solely connected with ancient ritual. Once again, I was reminded how Mayyim Hayyim is truly unique.
Mikveh comes up in the least expected places. Mayyim Hayyim is a place that I frequently speak about with people in daily conversation. Usually I explain mikveh to people who have never heard of it and have no biases. In Israel, I ran into situations where everyone came with preconceived notions about mikveh. This really got me thinking…
Madeline Mayer hails from Leawood, KS. This May, she will complete her master’s degree with the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University. She has been at Mayyim Hayyim since June and is working in development.