by Leah Hart Tennen
My very basic introduction to mikveh was: “this is something that Orthodox Jews do, mostly women after their periods.” The first person I ever knew who went to the mikveh was an Orthodox Jew who went after her period. Fast forward many, many years and one of my closest friends asked me to accompany her to the mikveh before her wedding. Mayyim Hayyim was still a brand new organization, but I was enthralled the moment I walked in. I immediately decided that I needed to immerse before my wedding a few months later. My friend says I told her about Mayyim Hayyim, but I know she is the one who told me. It just proves that mikveh is for everyone and that we were both destined to end up at Mayyim Hayyim in some capacity!
I became a Mikveh Guide and educator in 2010 and have been involved in some capacity ever since. I love helping people bring their immersion visions to life, even if that’s outside of Mayyim Hayyim. I have been fortunate to work at URJ Jacobs Camp as the Community Care Director for the past three summers where there is a big lake. In 2021, my friend had just finished studying and had her beit din for her conversion to Judaism, and all that was missing was the mikveh. It hadn’t necessarily felt important that she immerse, but when I told her I was trained as a Mikveh Guide, we met with the rabbi and made it happen. She wrote a blog post on the camp website about her experience.
This past summer, a new staff member casually mentioned that they were going through their own conversion process, with the same rabbi. I again proudly mentioned my Mikveh Guide status and encouraged them to decide if an immersion felt like the right thing to do. Over the course of the summer, we talked about what could happen, how it could happen, who would be included—all of the things we ask someone coming to immerse at Mayyim Hayyim, regardless of kavanah (intention). By the time the last week of camp rolled around (too quickly!), they picked a date and time and invited some other camp folks. In the meantime, I reached out to the rabbi, who sent a beautiful letter and prayer for me to read beside the water. Most of the folks in attendance had little to no knowledge of mikveh, so I also got to put on my educator hat and teach about the history and relevance of mikveh. Even though the idea of mikveh was new to most, the joy of officially welcoming a brand new Jew into our camp community was felt by everyone.
I am filled with gratitude that I can merge two of my favorite and holiest of places—Jacobs Camp & Mayyim Hayyim. It’s a blessing to know that wherever I am, I can rely on my ongoing knowledge and experience. Plus, water is everywhere!
Leah (she/hers) has been a Mikveh Guide & Educator at Mayyim Hayyim since 2010 (shout out to Cohort 6!). When not at Mayyim Hayyim, Leah is a Professor and Director of Student Support at Simmons University School of Social Work. She lives in Winthrop with her partner and two (sometimes 3 or 4!) kids.