by Leeza Negelev, Associate Director of Education
Every year, Mayyim Hayyim offers our hard-working Mikveh Guides a small token of our gratitude by hosting an evening of Mikveh Guide Appreciation. The event is often held at a board member’s home and the night is always filled with shmoozing, champagne, dessert, and some kind of learning (we are a teaching mikveh, after all).
I’ve been sitting on a new idea for our Mikveh Guide Appreciation for a while, but, nervous that it would inspire a revolt, I kept it to myself. This year, I finally gathered the chutzpah to organize our first ever Mikveh Guide Talent Show.
If you’ve never met a Mayyim Hayyim Mikveh Guide, then I need to give you a little context for why this is big. Our Guides are kind, compassionate, warm individuals of all genders and Jewish backgrounds. They are literally the face of our organization, greeting hundreds of guests each year. But they are decidedly not the center of attention when they are here. They focus on the needs and wishes of our guests and their own stories, perspectives, and interests take a backseat.
We have a name for this, we call it “holding your soup,” and it’s something Guides learn during their seven-week training. It’s that moment when a guest is sharing about how stressful it’s been to organize their daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah and you suddenly feel an urge to share your own experience with your daughter’s stressful bat mitzvah. Our Guides are trained to hold back that very normal urge to share because that urge moves the focus away from the guest. Instead, our Guides focus on showing their guests interest, appreciation, and warmth as they navigate what can often be a vulnerable process.
You can see why at first glance a talent show might seem like a strange fit for this crowd. And yet, this is precisely why I wanted it. After all those hours paying attention to our guests, wouldn’t it be great if we could turn around and offer that to the Guides?
As expected, the initial response to my offer was mixed. Self-doubt and reticence floated into my inbox freely. Yet I knew that just underneath the self-doubt there was a delightful human being we would want to appreciate publicly.
When the big day came, we witnessed reason-defying bubbles blown with ease at sunset; the Mikveh Guide theme song, “Guide My Steps,” sung entirely in American Sign Language; “Ring the Bells” rewritten to be about the joys of guiding; “My Guy” sung about “Mayy Hayy,” accompanied skillfully on a keyboard. We saw gorgeous photographs of yiddishkeit (Jewish ways of life) from around the world, heard fateful stories, and sang more than one sing-along.
I was grateful to each of the Guides that offered a little piece of themselves on our makeshift stage; they were poignant, hilarious, and brilliant. Equally powerful, for me, were the moments of appreciation and attention that we offered each Guide who got up. There are many aspects of immersion that are understandably vulnerable. Arriving in a new place, performing a ritual, in water, naked… the list goes on. Guides often offer guests encouragement, appreciation, and support at those vulnerable moments, enabling them to experience something meaningful. While belting out a song is not quite the same as immersing naked in front of a stranger, I think any performer will say the comparison is apt. At the end of the day, people left our Mikveh Guide Appreciation glowing a little. I think it was the glow of appreciation.
Learn more and apply here for the training that will begin this November.
Leeza Negelev is the Associate Director of Education at Mayyim Hayyim.