by David Berman
I’ve immersed at Mayyim Hayyim three times: once before my Bar Mitzvah, once before I left for a semester in Israel when I was a sophomore in high school, and once last September before a gap year program in Israel.
Going to Mayyim Hayyim when I was 13 was my mother’s idea. She works at Mayyim Hayyim. It was kind of a family tradition too, since my sister had gone before her Bat Mitzvah. She also encouraged me to do it, so I went with my dad. I felt comfortable there because I’d spent quite a bit of time in the building when I was growing up (my mom has worked there a long time.) It was a nice experience to have with my dad, and it felt as if it brought us closer that day. I think I was too young to really call it a spiritual experience, but it helped me feel more clear-headed going into my Bar Mitzvah.
Immersing before I left for my gap year in Israel was also something that my mom asked me to consider. I went in the hour before we got in the car to drive to JFK for my flight overseas. Taking a gap year was a big step for me – something very different than my friends were doing, and going to live and study in Israel made it feel like a spiritual experience, too. I wanted to start with something to prepare me for that transition.
For me, I wouldn’t immerse for something secular (like a big basketball game), or something that is not a “big deal” to me– I’d only do it for something that represents a personal choice to do something different or move on from something. I wouldn’t take a Jewish/cultural/religious ceremony (like mikveh) and turn it into a ritual for an entirely secular event that has nothing to do with spirituality or deepening a connection to myself. Secular events like big games are important in the moment, but ultimately they don’t matter – they don’t define who I am.
Immersing last September gave me a chance to go into the program with a clear head. Mikveh kind of de-fogs your mind from all the other preparations you’ve been focusing on. The immersion ceremonies I used (“The Beginning of the Journey” and “In Gratitude”) guided me in the right direction in terms of wanting to clear my mind and help me relax. I was happy that I had left plenty of time to be at Mayyim Hayyim. I didn’t have to rush, and I could go at my own pace.
Being in the mikveh was a very introspective experience for me. There’s something about being under the water for a relatively long period of time, not moving around – it makes you feel balanced and centered. The experience helped me look back and look forward at the same time. It was really beautiful. It helped me take a deep breath and see things from a larger perspective. You know, as in, larger than, “Did I pack enough toothpaste for a year in Israel?”
David Berman completed his gap year Hevruta in Jerusalem and will start his freshman year at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University next week. He is a graduate of Newton South High School where he participated in many big games and meets with the enthusiastic support of his parents, Jeff and Lisa Berman.
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