by Terri Ash
In one of his seminal works, The Lonely Man of Faith, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soleveitchik speaks of a Covenantal Man. This is the Adam of the second creation story in Genesis. As a Jew, that phrasing has always struck me. We are are a people of a covenant. When our boys are born, we welcome them into that covenant with a Brit Milah, or covenantal circumcision. But what of our daughters?
When I found out that I was pregnant, I didn’t want to know what I was having. That announcement in the delivery room was going to be one of the best surprises of my life and I didn’t want to miss it. Also, as a feminist and practical mom, I didn’t want to be flooded with gendered clothing that could only be used with one kind of child. But it meant that I had to proto-plan a life cycle event for either a girl or a boy.
A boy was easy. We’d call our friends (having only recently moved to the Boston area), find a mohel, call a caterer and plan a brit. A girl was a little trickier. My husband and I agreed that we wanted some sort of ceremony surrounding her naming, with food. But I wanted something more. I wanted something covenantal for our potential daughter.
I remembered that friends of ours had planned to take their daughter to the mikveh on her eighth day of life, using a ceremony that friends of theirs had written. I asked them to send me the information and the ceremony, thinking I might want to use it. As my belly got bigger and we started to plan more, I knew that this mikveh thing was something I wanted to do. After all, I had used the mikveh every month since my marriage until I got pregnant. Why not begin my daughter’s Jewish life in those same warm waters? Especially after reading the ceremony, whose language was so similar to that of a Brit Milah.
Thoughts in place, all that remained was for the baby to come. After 3 and 1/2 days of prodromal labor, our beautiful baby girl was born on her due date. So the phone calls started. We called the synagogue where we planned to hold the Simchat Bat that Sunday, called the caterer to arrange for the food. And I called Mayyim Hayyim to arrange to immerse our daughter on her eighth day in this world.
After a bit of phone tag, I was able to speak with Leah Hart Tennen, then Mikveh Center Director. I explained what I wanted to do, and she expressed some concerns. They’d never immersed a baby that young – normally they wait until an infant is 12 weeks old. Would her pediatrician be OK with the bromine in the water and the fact that her cord stump might not have fallen off yet? And what was this Brit Tevilah/Brit Mikveh ceremony anyway? Wouldn’t I rather use the foot washing ceremony with mikveh waters?
After some back and forth emailing with lots of explanations (and the pediatrician’s OK), Leah was totally on board. In fact, she was very excited. When we arrived at the mikveh on a sunny Monday morning, she was there to greet us and act as our guide. I had never been to Mayyim Hayyim before, so I was surprised to see a house. The place had a very homey feeling, and Leah was as welcoming as any host. She directed us into a preparation room complete with a changing pad on the counter and a baby bath in the tub.
My husband and I bathed our daughter, taking special care to clean her up after an accident with her diaper. Then he wrapped her in a towel and I changed into the clothes I had brought to wear into the mikveh. The friends we had asked to be there as kvetterin (godparents) and reader, as well as my mother in law who was the sandeket (companion) all gathered in the central atrium and the doors to the mikveh were opened. I went into the waters and turned the bright orange handle, making the pool into a proper mikveh. The ceremony itself was short and simple. I blew into my daughter’s face and dipped her in the water. Then, dripping wet, the two of us exited the water. My daughter was now a member of the covenant of her mothers.
Terri Ash is a new mom and new Brookline resident. A born suburbanite but former resident of the greater New York area, she is enjoying the many trees her daughter will grow up with. When not figuring out how to get sufficient rest with an infant in the house, she cooks, knits and pretends not to kill potted basil. She is also the expert on where to get Jewish geeky artwork (unfortunately the business isn’t up and running yet – check back next year). By virtue of the fact that cloth diapers are a fixture on the laundry rack and she can be seen shopping at the Brookline farmer’s market, one could charitably call her crunchy. She is a big fan of creating halakhic feminist spaces and can often be found sitting on panels at various science fiction conventions in the northeast.