The Mikveh Monologues (© 2005 Mayyim Hayyim) was created in 2004-2005 by internationally acclaimed author Anita Diamant and director Janet Buchwald. The play is based on interviews with men, women and children who marked a personal life transition by immersing in a mikveh.
I had decided to immerse as part of my cleaning for Passover, as a way of getting rid of the chametz, both body and soul. A lot of my friends had told me what a beautiful experience it was, so I should have been excited at the prospect of going to Mayyim Hayyim. But that morning, all I could think about was my hair.
My hair has been an issue all my life. I was born with a wild, wiry Jewish mane. Most newborns get at least a few weeks before they have a bad hair day. Not me. In my first baby picture, there’s a huge poof of black fluff exploding out of my head. When I was little, my mother was always coming at me with vile-smelling pomades or thinning shears.
So on the morning of my first immersion, all I could think about was what to do with my hair. It takes forever to wash and then to rinse. I knew I could do all that at home before going to the mikveh, but I wanted to experience the total cleansing process in those great bathrooms everyone talks about. Still, I kept imagining the mikveh guide pounding on the changing room door, yelling, “Is everything all right in there?”
But my main worry was the immersion itself. I knew you’re supposed to get every part of your body under the water, and I’d heard people say it was hard to get your arms or legs to stay under. Terrific. I imagined my hair floating defiantly on top of the water, like some kind of weird sea creature or a huge tangle of kelp. And me having to wrestle it down again and again. I’d probably be the first person in history to come home from the mikveh with whiplash.
Once I got into the changing room, I barely glanced at the Seven Kavanot. I would have liked to go through them slowly, but I couldn’t risk it. I washed and shampooed as fast as I could, wound myself in the sheet, and hurried to the door. The mikveh guide didn’t seem impatient or annoyed at how long I’d taken. So far so good.
Resolutely, I walked down the steps, waded into the pool, took a breath, and plunged in, tucking my head as far down toward my knees as I could. Then I came up, sweeping hair and water out of my eyes. I was ready to hear the guide say, “Sorry.” But she smiled and said, “Good.”
I passed the test! So I said the blessing and dunked again, and again it was good. I dunked once more, confidently. By then, I was a pro. As I walked back up the steps, my hair cascaded over my shoulders, down my back. And it felt great.
I don’t remember if I toweled off or used the blow-dryer. I only remember feeling clean and relieved. I thanked my hair for having behaved for once. The face in the mirror smiled back.
I was ready for Passover.