Conversion and Affirmation, Healing, Life Transitions, Marriage and Relationships, Niddah, Parenting

by Nina B. Lichtenstein

As a convert to Judaism, I have always said that “doing Jewish” is how my chosen identity anchored and deepened itself, and it has helped explain (to myself) why I embraced so fervently (relatively speaking) the laws of Shabbat, kashrut, and taharat ha-mishpacha (the laws of family purity). These three pillars of traditional Jewish life gave me the predictable rhythm (of mind and body) I had craved since my childhood in Norway, where in the ‘70s, I was a latchkey kid raised without any traditions and often left to my own whims. While this made me a fiercely independent young woman, it also made me a seeker who yearned to belong to something firmer; a way of life where the framework would ground and guide me.

But I don’t remember my last immersion in the mikveh during my former marriage because they both ended badly. My relationship to the tradition of taharat ha-mishpacha didn’t come to a natural end because I reached menopause, and my marriage didn’t end because I wanted it to.

I wrote about this surreal and difficult moment that caused me to abandon our usually beautiful and ancient ritual on this blog nine years ago. Now, almost 25 years after, I look back to that moment in time, and I think my mikveh-abandonment had to do with overwhelm as much as the challenge of my neurodivergent self (ADHD, not diagnosed at the time) to deal with unexpected events that require rapid shifting of gears.

But I’ve missed the monthly embrace of the warm waters of the mikveh, the gentle kindness of the shomeret (Mikveh Guide), even the meticulous counting, bedikot, and preparations. Not to mention the prescribed time off from sex. Especially now that I no longer menstruate (and have remarried) my libido is no longer the primary driving force of my life energies.

During my first marriage when I did observe taharat ha-mishpacha, I immersed in mikva’ot in Paris (fancy, lots of marble), Oslo (dingy, in the shul basement), New York (busy, conveyor belt), and Connecticut (familiar, comforting). I even immersed in a lake on a camping vacation, but I recall my (older, male, Modern Orthodox) rabbi chastising me for using my husband as the shomer. At the time, it felt particularly meaningful, holy even, to share that moment with him, in the dark of the warm summer night under a full moon and star-filled sky, our tent pitched a few yards away.

Time passed, my sons grew, and by then their father and I were divorced. As the boys—now young men—flew the nest, I, a divorced woman with a penchant for all things northern, met a man from Maine and followed him there. It was a big change leaving my beloved Jewish community in West Hartford, Connecticut, with its many synagogues within walking distance, two day schools, vibrant JCC, lovely Judaica store, and well-stocked kosher grocery store. But when I landed in Maine, among the tall, stoic Norway pines, rugged seashore, and long winters, I felt uncannily at home, and would catch myself walking around town with a grin on my face. I relished life with my new love, my new writing path, my kayak and biking, and had to admit it was a welcome change to feel free from everything that came to signify “before.”

It has been particularly meaningful that my new partner is also a convert to Judaism who knows what it is like not to take our Jewish identities for granted. He, like me, lived a whole life before “us” in a Modern Orthodox community in a different state. In Maine, “doing Jewish” has taken on a different form, and I have been opened to the notion of an evolving Jewish identity, that there is not just one way to live a Jewish life. I have discovered different ways to connect with other Jews in small-town Jewish life; new ways of engaging Jewishly and creating Jewish meaning, despite not living walking distance from a shul, or having a kosher market nearby. We often invite fellow Maine Jews and non-Jews to our Shabbat table, seders, and our trademark “Viking Sukkah,” and for High Holidays we have stayed in AirBnBs close to synagogues of various denominations to daven (pray) in community. I bake challah most weeks, and our home is pescatarian/dairy, a delightful reduction in kitchen confusion and utensils. Best of all, my true connection to Israel was born and continues to deepen as my husband has children and grandchildren there, and we visit often. It has been delightful to grow in this Jewish way, together.

I last wrote for this blog after my divorce, when I was still living in between my old life in Connecticut and the new one in Maine, and I smile when I recall what I wrote then: “I know in my heart that I am not done with the mikveh. As life goes on, I have learned that time heals many, if not most wounds, and I have thought about immersing again to mark the changes in my life. Perhaps I may even be making an appointment again one day as a kallah, a bride.”

Last July, Tony and I celebrated our wedding with the chuppah ceremony in our lush, blooming garden, surrounded by family and friends. A few weeks before, I began thinking about immersing in the mikveh to mark this life transition, and reached out to a brand new mikveh in Portland. After a few back-and-forths, it became clear there were too many “we can’t to that” and “you will need to do this,” and I noticed that unsettling feeling I experienced almost twenty-five years ago. I was about to say, “forget it” to myself, when I remembered Mayyim Hayyim. I did not need to go to an exclusively Orthodox mikveh anymore, because my Jewish identity and choices had changed into a more pluralistic, less stringent way of Jewish life. And I liked it this way. I felt freer and more self-assured, confident in my mature, Jewish self.

On the day of my immersion, I drove down the 2 hours and 40 minutes from Maine. From the moment I had called to make my appointment, to the moment I emerged from the welcoming, living waters in Mayyim Hayyim’s beautiful facility, I was carried on a cloud of love, compassion, and respect. It was one of the most meaningful, profound Jewish experiences I have had in my life, and felt like another step in the process of my ever-evolving Jewish identity. I was overwhelmed this time, too, but in the best of ways: the inclusivity of Mayyim Hayyim’s mission statement made me weepy, and the mindful ways in which they offer help and guidance with preparations before immersion made me sob with joy and what I can only imagine as a sense of kedusha, holiness.

Hineini, here I am again, I whispered to the waters, as I stood at the edge of the pool. I’m ready to embark on a new chapter and I am full of gratitude for this moment.


Nina B. Lichtenstein is a writer, teacher, editor, and the founder & director of Maine Writers Studio. She is a native of Oslo, Norway, and also a citizen of Israel and the U.S, and lives in mid-coast Maine. She is the author of Out of North Africa: Sephardic Women’s Voices (Gaon Books, 2017) and her memoir, Body: My Life in Parts is forthcoming from Vine Leaves Press in May 2025. You can find out more about her work here.