This coming May marks my 10th anniversary as the executive director of Mayyim Hayyim. Last Sunday, we held our annual spring benefit, and along with showing films and honoring extraordinary people, Dr. Ellen and Dr. Ernie Kornmehl and Carol and Dr. Steve Targum, I received the Nachshon Award – the one designed to honor those who helped envision and build Mayyim Hayyim. It’s based on the midrashic character, Nachshon, who was the first to step into the Sea of Reeds before the waters parted.
Diane Black, Mayyim Hayyim’s Board Vice President, presented me with the award. Mayyim Hayyim staff and volunteers had carefully schemed to make sure that I would never see the script or the accompanying slides for the presentation of the award. They wanted me to enjoy the moment, to stop planning, to step out of my role as executive director, and just be present.
Forgive the cliché, but standing there on stage, listening to Diane compare me to this midrashic hero was really an out of body experience. I felt like I was floating above the stage, and could see myself standing there, fighting back tears, trying to stand up straight, in front of the hundreds of people in the audience. I flashed back to Mayyim Hayyim’s earliest stages, to those meetings and solicitations and design sessions and loan negotiations, and recruiting the first group of volunteer mikveh guides and hiring the first staff members… My mind went from there to reflecting on the stories told by my fellow honorees – of coming to Mayyim Hayyim to celebrate the immersion of a baby, of healing from prostate cancer, of immersing for the sake of reconnecting with God to prepare for life’s unknown and never ending challenges. For a moment I thought, “We did it. My work here is done.”
That moment was fleeting. Because while I am so very proud of all that we do, I am still energized by the potential to do more. For every person whose life has been transformed by his or her experience at Mayyim Hayyim there are thousands more who don’t know that we are here for them. And that’s just in the Boston area. I spend at least a day a week focusing on communities outside of Boston interested in adapting Mayyim Hayyim’s principles and resources for their own mikvaot. Talking with leaders from these communities reminds me of the old days, when Mayyim Hayyim was just getting off the ground, when everyone needed to tap into their inner Nachshon and take a leap of faith to believe that a mikveh and education center could really be a welcoming, sacred, inclusive gateway into Jewish life.
Thank you to everyone who joined in last Sunday’s celebration and thank you to those who are on this journey with me. There’s so much to be proud of and so much to look forward to.
Aliza Kline, Mayyim Hayyim Founding Executive Director, has led Mayyim Hayyim from its initial stages, overseeing fund raising, publicity, design, construction, staffing, recruiting volunteers, and board development. In May, 2009, Aliza was awarded an AVI CHAI Fellowship (best described as the “Jewish MacArthur Genius Grant) in recognition of her accomplishments, creativity and commitment to the Jewish people.