by Jennifer Slifka Vidal, President of the Board of Directors
- Eat more plant-based foods.
- Try yoga…….again
- Revel in my new role as President of the Board Directors of Mayyim Hayyim
Seven years ago, my husband Luis and I brought our three children, who were adopted as infants, and were then 5 months, 7, and 9 years old, to immerse at Mayyim Hayyim for a conversion and affirmation ceremony of their Judaism. When we adopted our oldest son, our rabbi suggested that we formally convert him by bringing him to a mikveh. My husband and I balked at the idea, as we felt that we did not need some abstract, ancient rule telling us whether our family was Jewish enough. It seemed to be a ritual that had no bearing on our contemporary, busy lives. Two more kids, a total of 20 years of combined Jewish day school education later (another concept I never would have imagined embracing), and here I am about to be installed as the second President of the Board of Mayyim Hayyim.
Who would’ve thunk? Not me! I’m not sure that the concept of mikveh had even registered in my Jewish brain until the rabbi spoke to us about it 16 years ago. I grew up in a minimally religious Jewish life; major holidays and Jewish overnight camp. We were strongly identified as cultural Jews, not much more. But just before my family was “celebrated” at one of Mayyim Hayyim’s one-of-a-kind fundraising events several years ago, I read an article about a centuries old mikveh discovered in Spain. The article spoke about the existence of mikvaot (plural for mikveh) as proof of the vibrancy of Jewish life at the time. That article struck me deeply. Here we have, in or own local community, a mikveh and education and art center like no other. We read many panicky articles about the decline of Judaism and Jewish life, yet our little, big mikveh is thriving. And further, we are the model and consultant for many other mikveh centers arising all over the country, and even the world.
My Jewish journey has brought me to a point in life where my passion lies in finding ways to make Jewish life relevant to modern life. Rituals are important, even in contemporary life. They are ways for us to connect to each other and to our past. Whether it is lighting the Shabbat candles with your family on Friday night, celebrating Havdalah on Saturday night, immersing for niddah (monthly post-menstrual immersion for women), or immersing to celebrate your son becoming a bar mitzvah as I did, we can find ways to meet different people wherever they are in their Jewish, contemporary lives, and find ways for them to find meaning. And though immersion may not be for everyone, Anita Diamant, our visionary founder and first board president, has found a way for many more Jews and Jews by choice to mark and celebrate their Jewish lives.
So while I start this new year only hoping to eat healthier and stretch my limbs in ways that a middle age woman shouldn’t be able to, I do know that working with the truly amazing professional and lay leadership at Mayyim Hayyim, I will have a fulfilling, productive, meaningful year ahead, working to implement the vision of our founding leaders, and move this jewel of an institution forward to connect ever more jews to ritual and our rich traditions.
As of January 1st, Jennifer Slifka Vidal is the new president of the Board of Directors of Mayyim Hayyim. Jennifer practiced law for 15 years before leaving to raise her three children and engage in more volunteer work. She is currently on the Boards of the Rashi School and CJP, where she chairs the Committee on Jewish Camping. Jennifer and her husband Luis Vidal live in Needham with their three children Sam, Lilia, and Monica, and their cockapoo Finn.