by Leeza Negelev, Associate Director of Education

Several weeks ago I walked into work, dropped my bag at the side of my desk, and settled into my chair.

leezaMy mind was calm, before the clutter of a to-do list had touched it, when the phone rang. On the other line was Jeanne, a mother of twin girls who are soon-to-be B’not Mitzvah and recent participants of Beneath the Surface.

Jeanne told me she recently experienced something that she was deeply moved by, and indeed, her voice shook with the feeling of whatever she was about to tell me. She said, “I started to write an email to you, but as soon as I did I realized this wasn’t an email; it was a phone call.”

I pressed my ear into the phone, as she continued:

“The other night, I walked in Leah and Becca’s room and they were on their knees by their beds. They told me they were praying. First of all, I was in shock. I’ve never seen them do this before. Then they asked me to join them. They led me through a whole ritual that they had created together. It began with saying things they were grateful for; then we said Mishaberach (a prayer for healing) for friends of ours who have recently been struggling with serious illness. Then we said the Shema. They created this whole thing completely on their own, and I know it was because of their experience at Beneath the Surface. 

After that first time, they said they wanted me to do this ritual with them every night. I’m just completely blown away.

They’ve never done anything like this before, and I know it was because of our time in such a sacred space at Mayyim Hayyim. You had so much acceptance and respect in the way you spoke to us and in the way you designed the program.

I remember right after the program, my daughters and I were talking and they said they wanted to come to Mayyim Hayyim to immerse before their Bat Mitzvah. They were so sure they wanted to come the night before. They knew exactly who they wanted to invite, and they knew they wanted it to be a small and intimate experience. It was incredible to me how much ownership they felt over their decision.

You created the space they needed to take that inspiration home with them. I know that was possible because you really made us feel that whatever we had to say and wherever we were at was exactly right. Out there in the world, it’s rare to find that. Thank you so much.”


Jeanne had taken me, as a guest, into a very fresh and private moment she had shared with her daughters. I thanked her for sharing her story with me. Moments later, I was off the phone, sitting very still on my swivel chair and feeling the cool air greet my ear where the receiver had been.

I sat there remembering how one of the first activities we did at Beneath the Surface was sharing a family ritual, both Jewish and secular. It was sweet to hear about a favorite bedtime tradition from five years ago, or how eating M&Ms had become an integral part of making havdalah. The best part: we were learning from each other and getting inspired by what each family had come up with.

Leah and Becca, Jeanne’s daughters, were listening too, and they took it home with them.  It might have helped that the final project of Beneath the Surface is a ritual creation activity for each family. We helped give them the tools, but the inspiration and creativity was Leah and Becca’s. What struck me most was that now these sisters were connected not only to their mother and each other in this new, yet very old practice, they also had a link to this group of women and girls that had shared their family wisdom with each other.

After the phone call and the stream of after-thoughts subsided for a moment, I found myself back in my swivel chair, at my computer. It was Monday. The week had just begun, but my heart was already full.

Leeza Negelev is the Associate Director of Education at Mayyim Hayyim. She loves hearing stories and thinking about new rituals.