Written by Aliza Kline
Reposted from Aliza and her husband Bradley’s Israel blog.
It was not easy, there is no online listing in English, or apparently in Hebrew, of area mikvaot. Many of the people I’ve met here are not mikveh goers – and are definitely not aware of the tucked away mikvaot in the neighborhoods. A couple of women I met warned me about the main mikveh in town, and suggested I consider the ocean. When two women both encouraged me to drive to Reut, the neighboring town because the mikveh attendant there, Ilana, is a “mami” (sweetheart) then I knew I’d need to figure it out. Turns out there is a little mikveh symbol on Israeli maps! The symbol was tiny but it was enough to figure out the cross streets and thanks to google maps I made my way – at least to the right street.
I walked a bit in each direction, wondering if the mikveh was in a private house, like in Boston, or behind a synagogue. I came close to knocking on a few doors and practiced how to say “Sorry to bother you. I am looking for the mikveh” in my head a few times. Then I turned up the street and heard women singing “Siman Siman Tov! Mazal Mazal Tov!” I smiled. The familiar tune meant I had come on a night when a bride was celebrating too. I found the modest building. I instinctively buzzed but the door was slightly ajar.
Ilana, the aforementioned “mami” warmly greeted me. There were five women singing and throwing candies over the door to their friend the bride. They were all ages, teenagers to older women, dressed in modern-Orthodox garb, long jean skirts, married women with hats or scarves.
I told Ilana I was new here, and she showed me into the prep room. I rinsed off and then cracked the door open to let her know I was ready. The other women were chatting happily and munching on candy while their friend presumably dressed.
Ilana went through a separate hallway and met me on the mikveh side. I felt incredibly comfortable with her. She asked if I’d remembered to brush my teeth and I assured her that I had prepared at home. She asked to check my back for lose hairs. I obliged, I did not feel invaded. She did not check my hands, my feet or any other parts of my body. Then she held up an extra towel in front of her face as I walked down the steps into the small mikveh. The water was warm and clean. She sang out “Kasher!” and “Amen” after my immersions and blessing. I was thinking about immersing a fourth time with a kavanah (intention) for Rosh Hashana, but before I could ask for time she began offering me blessings, that I should have a shana tovah, a healthy year, a healthy family, luck and blessings this year in Israel.
I smiled again. Part of me longed for a little quiet for reflection but she was so well intentioned that I went with it. I emerged, wrapped in my towel, schmoozed with her a bit about Boston and told her that I came to Reut because of her reputation. Then she smiled.
Chick Chock. The whole experience was maybe 20 minutes. On the way out I paid my 20 shekalim (about $6.50) and scooped up an extra piece of candy with “mazal tov” written on it.
Success. My first immersion in an Israeli mikveh was lovely enough to make me want to come back. At Mayyim Hayyim we measure our success by asking our visitors if they’d recommend us to a friend. I don’t expect to receive a survey from Ilana, but I would recommend that others come as I did.
Next week I am meeting with two women connected to The New Israel Fund who are coordinating a Mikveh Roundtable. They are mostly modern-Orthodox women who want to address their concerns about abusive mikveh attendants, about the lack of training and the poor pay and the often rotten conditions of the mikvaot themselves. I am eager to learn more and offer what I can (like maybe an online listing with addresses and phone numbers).
Aliza Kline, Founding Executive Director, has led Mayyim Hayyim from its initial stages, overseeing fund raising, publicity, design, construction, staffing, recruiting volunteers, and board development. In May, 2009, Aliza was awarded an AVI CHAI Fellowship (best described as the “Jewish MacArthur Genius Grant) in recognition of her accomplishments, creativity and commitment to the Jewish people