I first came to Mayyim Hayyim on a Thursday night in May along with fellow classmates in my Introduction to Judaism class. It was our next to last class, and seeing that many of us were planning or considering converting to Judaism, it was a timely opportunity to visit the mikveh, to recognize the extensive preparation one takes on prior to immersion, and to learn quite a bit about the history and tradition of mikvot from Mayyim Hayyim’s own Lisa Berman.
Entering the “dry side” of the building, I was filled with a sense of peace and of the sacred. I felt a twofold sense of community: first, sitting among my classmates, many of whom I had grown quite close to during our sixteen week class, and also I felt sincerely and warmly welcomed by Lisa and the space itself.
I had long been drawn to Judaism. When I was in college, I spent three summers as an arts and crafts instructor, partnered with a woman who converted to Judaism before marrying her husband. She was eager to share many aspects of Jewish life with me, from the laws of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), to the celebration of holidays and raising her children. If I wanted to learn more, she told me, the first book I should buy was To Be A Jew by Hayim Halevy Donin. That book became the first of a dozen or so books about Judaism I have read in the past decade.
This idea of a “change of state” — which immersing in a mikveh signifies and celebrates – has certainly been the theme of my past year. At the end of September 2012, I became engaged to a Jewish man. As I envisioned our life together, I finally felt justified in beginning the conversion process. And while my commitment to my conversion remains, it is my engagement that ended after six months. It is just as much a state change to become un-engaged – of course, the news of it is harder and less pleasant to share with people who not long ago wished me “mazel tov,” or good luck. I have no sadness or regret, though, only relief. I have been amazed to learn how many friends have been engaged to the wrong person, having discovered it just in time. Because my own discovery took place during Passover, I have a powerful sense of being quite literally “passed over” and saved from what would have been a real mistake.
After six months of attending Shabbat services, celebrating holidays, studying Hebrew, and experiencing as much as I could of living a Jewish life, I was single again, and grateful for that fact. Of course, those close to me immediately asked, “So you aren’t still going through with the conversion now, are you?”
“Of course I am. Why would I give that up?”
Without the added impetus of marriage, I could not justify embarking on the state change from non-Jew to Jew, despite my strong and enduring attraction to the wisdom, ethics, community and powerful traditions of Judaism. I had too strong a sense of “other-ness,” too great trepidations about the impracticality of such a change. I no longer feel those trepidations. Admittedly, I have quite a new perspective on the ups and downs of human life, the mistakes and missteps each of us make as we walk our uncharted paths. But I have an even stronger sense of being watched over, guarded, and cared for on my path. I hold close the words Rav Huna said in the name of Rav who said in the name of R’Meir: “A person should always be accustomed to saying: ‘Whatever the merciful one does, he does for the best’” -Talmud (Brachot 60b).Caroline Potter is an English teacher at an International Baccalaureate high school in the Back Bay. She is volunteering at Mayyim Hayyim for the summer and looks forward to her immersion and conversion in Spring 2014.