By Rabbi Jenny Solomon
Shehehiyanu, v’kiyamanu, v’higiyanu lazman ha’zeh! (Thank you, God, for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this day!) It is almost unfathomable to me that just a year ago we opened our doors and our waters to the Jewish community. Living in a relatively small Jewish community in the southeast, I had very modest expectations for our first year of “business.” My hopes and dreams were abundant, for sure, but I tried to keep them in check given the fact that the idea and experience of a mikveh would be totally new to the vast majority of our community. But, I am overjoyed to report that our first year in existence has far exceeded anything I could have imagined. As we approach the Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe), we will soon welcome our 100th guest at Libi Eir, with over 200 immersions having taken place in our waters. We have built a wonderful cohort of 17 guides (14 women and 3 men) who have facilitated immersions with grace, sensitivity, kavannah (heartfelt intention), kavod (dignity and respect), and modesty. We have welcomed guests for both traditional and creative rituals, and men and women of all ages, Jewish affiliations, and sexual orientations have found themselves at home within our walls. So much of our success is due to Mayyim Hayyim’s groundbreaking model, mission, and leadership, which they have so generously shared with us.
As anyone who has had a baby and reached his/her first birthday knows, this milestone is a big one! It is breathtaking to reflect back on our “birth” and all the developmental moments that have transpired in order for us to reach this day. I would love to share with you just a couple of the things that have been the most remarkable.
ALEPH Though this ritual is ancient and not without its halakhic depth and intricacy, it is also spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and physically intuitive. I have been amazed at how natural it has felt for so many people to immerse in the mikveh for the first time and to quickly feel it is a place they could return to and make their own. The oft-quoted: “Build it and they will come,” has rung in my ears quite frequently these days. With relatively little money to spend on advertising and by relying primarily on educational programming and word of mouth, many people have found their way to us and taken the bold steps of immersing. As a result, I am reminded time and time again of how much this ritual is a part of our spiritual DNA. It is more a matter of re-claiming the mikveh, than claiming it for the first time.
BET I have learned that a community mikveh (even one that is housed in and financially supported by a particular synagogue) is a unique and powerful way to build bridges with neighboring synagogues and Jewish communities. Whereas community relations and politics have, at times, divided us, the mikveh has simply and effectively brought us together in a spirit of partnership and unity. The mikveh is a place in which we can all be grateful, create holy moments, and value each other’s individual paths to Jewish tradition. And in this way, Libi Eir truly embodies the spirit of klal yisrael (unity of the Jewish People).
GIMEL Mayyim Hayyim’s wisdom of training mikveh guides has been one of the greatest blessings of our first year. This model enables our mikveh to be open day and night without over-burdening any one guide. It also enables guests to be paired with guides who can best meet their spiritual needs. Having a group of guides offers each of those guides the privilege of being a witness to another person’s spiritual journey and each guide is inevitably enriched by the experience. And most importantly, Mayyim Hayyim’s mikveh guide model allows people to immerse in dignity with the freedom to “lead” their own mikveh experience rather than feel that they are bound by meeting the mikveh attendant’s expectations.
As exciting as it is to reach this moment in time, we are, after all, only one year old! There is much, much more learning to do as we go forward. I pray that God will continue to bless us and this holy work. It is truly a privilege to be Libi Eir’s faithful steward as she grows into the next stage of her life.
Rabbi Jenny Solomon, D. Min. is founder and director of Libi Eir Awakened Heart mikveh in Raleigh, North Carolina. Libi Eir, built on Mayyim Hayyim’s innovative model and mission, now enters its second year serving the Jewish community across the Triangle area and beyond. Jenny also serves Beth Meyer Synagogue and the wider Triangle community through her pastoral and educational work with adult women and as a shelihat tzibur (prayer leader).