by Rachel Silverman
I walked into Mayyim Hayyim apprehensive and excited. I had read an article and explored the website, but it was not until entering the building that I finally understood what all the fuss was about.
I was welcomed by a gate saying, “Come in Peace,” followed by a beautiful path through a garden leading to the building, perfectly set like a cottage out of a fairytale. I was warmly greeted as I waited for my friend. We had decided to be each other’s witnesses. This experience was tailored to us – from the registration form asking my preferred pronouns, to the check-in call before my arrival to answer questions, to our Mikveh Guide’s educational tour, repeatedly assuring us the entire process would go according to our preferences and comfort levels.
I had chosen to immerse out of curiosity and self-interest. I had just arrived in Boston for a summer internship and was considering writing my senior thesis on mikveh, so I wanted to check out the place I had read so much about. I carefully examined the catalog of Immersion Ceremonies. I was drawn to the healing ritual but felt like a fraud. To me, mikveh has always marked a concrete occasion – whether the end of a menstrual cycle, converting to Judaism, getting married, or even contemporary rituals such as undergoing a name change. I realized there was never going to be the perfect moment to “mark” my recovery from trauma.
I had just survived a difficult mental health period that culminated in a weeklong stay in inpatient care. I considered marking that, but that too felt fake, because my struggles with mental health are still not over.
I panicked. Would I ever be truly ready for this immersion? I imagined a transformed version of myself who was no longer affected by trauma. Although I am in therapy, I know true renewal is not possible; my trauma will forever be part of who I am. Recovery is a cyclical process, and I need to allow myself to celebrate every moment of progress.
I considered switching gears and using the Honoring the Process of Coming Out ceremony, but that didn’t feel right either. I hadn’t come out on social media because I resented that queer people are expected to declare their identities, and frankly, I didn’t want all family members and acquaintances to know about my personal life.
Like my recovery from trauma, coming out is not a static process; I will always have to work through internalized homophobia, and will slowly become more comfortable with sharing bits of myself. I don’t need a big “coming out” post to be a valid queer person. As the waters constantly churn, I will constantly be in a state of improving and growing.
As I went to my preparation room, I read the first of Mayyim Hayyim’s 7 Kavanot (Intentions) for Mikveh Preparation. “Hineini. Here I am.” I took out my notebook for a moment of reflection.
“הנני: Here I am.
Here I am, a trauma survivor.
Here I am, a neurodivergent person.
Here I am, a queer person.
Here I am, loved.
Here I am, a fighter.
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד
(Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad, Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One)
Thank you, Adonai, for granting me acceptance, love, resilience, strength, loved ones, and so much to look forward to and be thankful for. Today, I am immersing to celebrate and mark my survival from trauma, my path toward healing, my strength. This journey will be hard, challenging, cyclical – but I will survive and heal.”
I then reflected on a song I turn to whenever I need motivation and grounding: “If you’re lost and alone or you’re sinking like a stone, carry on.”
Soon it was time to immerse, fighting back giggles from nerves and trying to take it seriously. When it was my turn to enter the water, so warm and comfortable, I tried to clear my mind and have a “divine moment.” This search for genuine moments of spirituality is difficult for me for a variety of reasons. I closed my eyes, trying to rid my head of school and potential thesis material, and tried to just be.
I’d like to say I had a deeply spiritual moment in the water. But my real moment was when I emerged from the water. My best friend and I wrapped a sheet around us and read:
“Blessed is the Eternal One
who gives me the ability
to remember those blessings
which are still mine to affirm
and the strength to arise anew each day.”
My voice cracked and I burst into tears. I’d like to say at that moment, I felt cured, saw God, or whatever spiritual moment I wanted to have. What I felt was my best friend at my side. I thought about how lucky I am to have crossed paths with friends and mentors who make me feel loved and safe and whole. Trauma is very difficult, especially when it has come from family. But chosen family is such an important, sacred thing. And through this chosen family, I feel God’s presence.
Thank you, Mayyim Hayyim, for granting me this moment.
Rachel Silverman is a religion and sociology major at Bryn Mawr College in PA. She loves talking about queer ritual innovation, Jewish social justice, making Jewish spaces more inclusive, and dogs. Rachel hopes to one day turn all these passions into a career as a rabbi and dog-owner.