Great Questions I’ve Been Asked While Working As an Intern at Mayyim Hayyim

by Jordan Braunig, Hebrew College InternJordan

Last September I began an internship at Mayyim Hayyim working on a Men’s Initiative.  I’ve had the opportunity to be trained as a Mikveh Guide along with a cohort of nine other guys. I was an attendee at an amazing event, Men, Mikveh and Malt, that took place at the Waterworks Museum in Chestnut Hill. I also had the chance to lead a Men’s Think Tank to discuss strategies for opening up Mayyim Hayyim more fully to the male-identified demographic.  During this time I’ve been asked a lot of questions about Mayyim Hayyim, in general, and, more specifically, about my role here.

“Who’s the dude?”

I was coming out of a staff meeting during my early days at Mayyim Hayyim when a volunteer asked this question.  Though the question wasn’t directed specifically towards me, it was about me, and the fact that my gender is different than that of the rest of the Mayyim Hayyim staff.  Being the “guy” in the office has been a really meaningful learning experience, and has exposed me to models of leadership and collaboration in the office that I hadn’t encountered previously.  I like to think that after a year of having a presence at Mayyim Hayyim, people would be less likely to ask, “who’s the dude?”

“Do men traditionally use the mikveh?”

This question, which I’ve gotten in a number of different settings, speaks to the pre-conceived notions that a number of people have about mikveh as a specifically feminine space.  Though men are traditionally not required to immerse as part of the niddah (monthly immersion) cycle, there were requirements in ancient days for immersions relating to their sex lives.  Also, men have long immersed in the mikveh in reference to the year cycle whether it is before the High Holy Days or other festivals or even on a weekly basis before Shabbat.  I would also argue that for many men, particularly those in proximity to Mayyim Hayyim or other community mikvehs, it is becoming “traditional” to immerse around life-transitions whether that be pre-wedding or upon healing from a sickness or after mourning a loss.

“Is Anita Diamant your favorite author now?”

I can’t remember the smart-aleck who asked me this, but I almost certainly let him know that this is not a(n official) requirement for working at Mayyim Hayyim.  That being said, I’m a big fan of The New Jewish Wedding, and I imagine I’ll be one of the countless rabbis who recommend her works to those approaching major life milestones.  Can I admit on the Mayyim Hayyim Blog that I’ve never read The Red Tent?  Think I just did.

“What would success look like for your Men’s Initiative?”

This question was raised in our Men’s Think Tank, and I think that during the course of our meetings we may have come to a pretty respectable answer.  There was general agreement that increasing the number of men immersing in the mikveh would be a sign of having achieved our goals.  It would not, however, be satisfying to understand success as merely reaching a metric.  Rather, success would include a more active and engaged group of men who volunteer at the mikveh (like our new cadre of mikveh guides).  Success would be seen in a concerted effort to reach out to more men’s groups in the area and invite them to visit the mikveh.  Success would also be measured in the increased development opportunities, like those that we saw realized at our men’s event in April where nearly a hundred men pledged their support to Mayyim Hayyim’s mission.

“Is there any information targeted towards men on the MH website?”

Not yet.  But expect to see it soon.

“What kind of person is going to put “mikveh intern” on his resume?”

At Men, Mikveh and Malt, the comedian Joel Chasnoff entertained us with his comedy stylings.  A good five minutes of his time on stage was centered on making fun of “Jordan, the mikveh intern.”  As a youngest brother, and someone who sees being picked on as a sign of love, I enjoyed the ribbing.  I found particularly entertaining this question about what type of person is looking to beef up his resume with mikveh experience.  It only took him a few minutes to answer his own question—half way through his bit he paused on the stage and asked me “wait, are you studying to be a rabbi?”

“How has Mayyim Hayyim managed to get so many things right?”

This is a great question.  It is a question I’ve been asked by many people who have had the opportunity to experience an immersion, and it’s a question I’ve been asked by people with a great deal of experience in the non-profit world.  The answer I give usually alludes to the seven principles that help guide the organization’s mission, but to put it more simply I usually speak about the idea of intentionality, in general.  Mayyim Hayyim feels like such a warm, calming, holy space because it takes seriously the idea that our kavanah, our intention, matters.  So much thought goes into all of the work at Mayyim Hayyim from aesthetics, to mikveh-guide training, to the creation of new immersion ceremonies.  Mayyim Hayyim has set the intention of not being “a beautiful mikveh” (there are now plenty of fancy mikvehs around the country), but of being “a community mikveh.”   Having set this intention, it has succeeded in being a welcoming place for Jews of all denominational backgrounds, Jews of all colors and genders and economic-backgrounds, and, in so doing it has placed itself on the forefront of organizations considering how ritual can positively affect our lives.

Did people immerse in scotch at the Men, Mikveh and Malt event?”

No.  Even as a whiskey-drinker, that sounds to me like it would be more painful than desirable.

Jordan Braunig is a rabbinical school student at Hebrew College in Boston who enjoys both ritual-creation and mock-ritual-creation.  He is currently an intern at Mayyim Hayyim focused on men’s involvement at the mikveh, as well as serving as the rabbinic intern at Ahavas Achim in Newburyport, MA.  This year for Purim he will be dressing up as pickled egg. 


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