by Rebecca Sher
"Hineini. Here I am. Take a minute and think about the transition mikveh will help you mark today. Immersion in the mikveh represents a spiritual transformation from one state to another."
From Mayyim Hayyim's Seven Kavanot for Mikveh Preparation
My eldest daughter got married in late September a few days after Yom Kippur. She was the one who encouraged me to experience my first mikveh at Mayyim Hayyim the summer of 2005, eleven months after my mother passed away. We had just moved back to the Boston area after living in Pittsburgh so we could be closer to my mom as she battled cancer during an incredibly painful year. This was followed by the nearly unbearable loss, as she was only 69 and my best friend and confidante. But after nearly a year, it was time to mark the end of active mourning and the beginning of my life as a motherless woman, devoted to being there for my children as my mom had been for me.
I called to make an appointment and was impressed with how kind and patient the Mikveh Guide was, and how comfortable she made me feel in planning this quiet ceremony. I remember entering the mikveh and feeling warm and cocooned, soothed by the setting of creamy Jerusalem stone and subdued light. When I emerged from the water, I felt ready, bolstered and strengthened by the experience.
I was so impressed with Mayyim Hayyim and the experience of immersing that I applied to volunteer as a Mikveh Guide. Accepted into the next cohort, I found a kinship with the other Guides and the leaders who educated us. It was an honor to serve the women who came to immerse for a range of reasons. They all had in common the need for this ritual to mark a change, whether it was monthly (for niddah, the practice of abstaining from sexual intimacy around the time of menstruation), seasonal (for the High Holidays), celebratory, therapeutic due to trauma or, like me, to mark a life-changing grieving period. I served for a few years and enjoyed offering the peace, comfort, support and tranquility to our guests until we moved to the Cape in 2010.
When I called to make an appointment for the mikveh a few weeks ago, it was to mark my transition as the mother of the bride. For months, in anticipation of this momentous occasion, I worried. There was so much to do to help everything go smoothly and the changes ahead made me feel uneasy. I had considered setting up the appointment for months knowing on some level that I needed this — that immersing and setting intentions might offer some calm and clarity.
I spoke with Lisa Berman, the Mikveh & Education Director who had trained me over 13 years ago, and she managed to fit me in one evening a couple days before Yom Kippur. When I arrived, Janet Yassen, the Mikveh Guide welcomed me, and I felt like I was home again. I appreciated everything she provided, as I knew that each towel, washcloth, toothbrush, and comb laid out was done so with caring and attention to detail.
I looked at the sheet listing kavanot (intentions) for immersing. It begins with Hineini, meaning, “I am here, fully present. Looking in the mirror, I fully accepted the woman looking back with no criticism or judgement and appreciated the body that created and nurtured my 3 adult children. I was unconditionally present and accepting of all that is human, fallible or imperfect in me, aware of the intention to return to that pure soul brought forth into this world by my mother, of blessed memory.
After my preparations were complete and I called Janet to let her know I was ready, I entered the mikveh, counting each step as I descended into the pool. I released the cool trickle of rain water from the bor, immersed, and recited the prayers, making sure that every hair on my head submerged below the warm, caressing waters.
Janet gave me a reading enclosed in a plastic sheet, created for the mother of the bride which outlined the changes that would likely come with my daughter’s wedding and marriage. I read those poetic words describing how our mother/daughter relationship would evolve as her new husband and family became a priority in her life. Embracing the moment, I felt ready and open to the changes. I thought of my intentions to be there for her at the wedding and beyond. I resolved to absorb every moment with every pore and allow myself to feel all of it. I emerged from the pool slowly ascending the steps, the mother of the bride and soon, mother to my daughter, the married woman, aware of the changing roles we would both embrace.
Rebecca Sher is a portrait photographer, Associate Guide at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and staff member at Kolbo Judaica Gallery in Brookline. She volunteered as a Mikveh Guide at Mayyim Hayyim from 2005-2010.