Back to the Mikveh

by Amber Caulkins, Director of Ride Tide

I was recently asked by my alma mater to participate in a panel discussion on working in the nonprofit field as part of their annual career day. For the last week I have been thinking about what pearls of wisdom I can try to impart in ten to twelve minutes.

As someone who has just made a big transition in their own career—moving from the world of public policy and higher education to the field of Jewish education and the ritual of mikveh—there are two questions that I have been asked a lot over the last few months that I am using to guide my talking points: “Why did you decide to change fields?” and “What is a mikveh?”

I liken the way I could answer these questions to the way people often answer, “How are you?” As in, instead of saying, “Well, I was up all night with a sick toddler, I’m pretty sure I have vomit on my shirt and it appears I am wearing two different shoes,” you just say, “Fine, how are you?”

To answer questions about my career path I could say, “Oh, it was just time for a change,” and “Well, see, mikveh is this Jewish thing,” but for me, being able to authentically respond to those questions is part of the answer.

My first visit to the mikveh was to convert four years ago and from the moment I walked in the doors at Mayyim Hayyim, the questioning that had lead me there, questions of who I was, what meant the most to me, and where I fit in, melted away. In that moment I felt deeply that I belonged, just as I was. When I left the mikveh that day, I took that feeling of belonging with me, not just to the synagogue, or to my home, but to my workplace and to my relationships, shaping how I interacted with the world around me.

As my knowledge and love of Judaism have grown over the years and as I started to question where I belonged professionally, I was drawn back to the mikveh—a place that profoundly impacted both the way I connect with being Jewish and the way I think about the importance of belonging in the world.

When I talk to a group of college students about how I got to where I am today, and my journey from public policy to the mikveh, I will speak about the skills I’ve developed over the years, the value of internships, and the importance of good communication. But I will also tell them to pay attention to the things that happen to them outside of work: what they care about, what inspires them, what empowers them to be their most authentic selves, and to be open to opportunities where you can connect what you do well with what you care about the most.

Amber Caulkins joined Mayyim Hayyim in August 2017 as the director of Rising Tide, a newly formed national mikveh network. She feels very fortunate that she is able to align her professional work with something that is so important to her personally–ensuring that open-minded mikva’ot exist for all Jewish people, wherever they live.


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