Inching our way down Commonwealth Ave, all I could think was, “We’re going to be late.” As I pulled into the parking lot just minutes before our scheduled arrival at 2:00 pm, my cell phone rang. One of the other vans had taken a different Washington Street and was still 15 – 20 minutes away. Oy – we were really going to be late.
We entered Mayyim Hayyim to Lisa Berman’s warm smile. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I have another group coming after you, but we can go as late as 4:15.” I let go a little of my anxiety as the leader of this field trip from Beit Ahavah in Northampton, MA.
For two years, I had been working on getting a group from my congregation to visit Mayyim Hayyim. Finally, we had organized nearly 25 people, mostly sixth and seventh grade students and their parents. We started the day with a walking tour of Brookline and lunch in an authentic Jewish deli (hard to believe but we don’t have one in beautiful Northampton).
The morning had been a great success, and by 2:30, when we were finally assembled at Mayyim Hayyim, the kids were already tired. Some of the parents had questioned me along the way: Is this going to be worth a whole day in Boston? What does a mikveh have to do with Reform Judaism? I held my breath; I wanted them to love Mayyim Hayyim as much as I did.
Lisa Berman, Mayyim Hayyim’s Educational Director, was masterful. She drew the kids out with questions about what they already knew. She wrote their answers on a whiteboard and established the basics – a mikveh is a Jewish ritual bath used to mark transitions. Then, she took them deeper into the technical issues. Yes, a lake can be a mikveh. No, a swimming pool cannot. Yes, both men and women can use a mikveh. No, you don’t wear clothes in the mikveh.
Next, she set them loose on a scavenger hunt. She told them to open every door and cabinet; nothing was secret. When they were done, we sat near one of the pools and talked about what helps the mikveh ritual becomes a spiritual experience.
Finally, when we sat back around the conference table, Lisa reviewed when and why Jewish law commands using a mikveh. She also listed other traditional times that people immerse. Lastly, she turned to the kids and asked them to brainstorm new and modern ways a person could use a mikveh
One by one, the kids came up with every single contemporary mikveh ritual that I am familiar with. They said birthdays, divorce, and after an illness. They said parents could come when their kids left for college. Someone said, “It could be on your bucket list,” meaning you’d come when you knew your life was almost over. Moving. Graduation. Marriage. They went on and on.
I let out my breath. They may or may not end up loving Mayyim Hayyim as much as I do, but they definitely got it.
Lisa Oram serves on the Board of Directors for Beit Ahavah and is the owner of Words for the Wise, a writing, editing, and communications business. She has long believed that all ritual is personal and deeply admires the way that Mayyim Hayyim makes that belief real. Since turning 45 years old, Lisa has immersed at Mayyim Hayyim once a year on her birthday.