by Amy Fleming
I’m doing okay during this COVID-19 shutdown. My geographically scattered family members are healthy. We’re aware that we are very fortunate. But like everyone else, I long for life to return “back to normal.”
I miss the structure and routine of volunteering every Wednesday at Mayyim Hayyim, which I’ve been doing for years. I realize, in addition to the rituals for which our guests come to the mikveh, my routines at Mayyim Hayyim are actually rituals themselves. We Mikveh Guides know our contribution is sacred work. We joke about doing loads of holy laundry, but it’s not a joke.
When I arrive, I put on my Mikveh Guide name tag, then uncover the pool. I check each preparation room to ensure all is in order exactly the way I like it. I take pride that our guests should find everything just right: the towels folded just so, comb, toothbrush, and emory board tucked into each washcloth.
There is ritual in the way I greet our guests. I get up from the reception desk and open the door to welcome them, introducing myself. I always ask, “Have you been here before?” If the answer is no, I offer them a tour. And I have my rituals that I would never skip while giving my tour. I show them the variety of our immersion ceremonies, and the many reasons people come to immerse at Mayyim Hayyim. I tell them they can choose as many of our water-proof, laminated ceremonies to take in with them as they want, and craft their own immersion that is most meaningful to them. I bring them all around the first floor, so there is nothing mysterious, especially if the concept of a mikveh is new to them. I take them into the kitchen, and offer them a cup of tea, cookie, or pretzel. I explain how our meeting rooms are reconfigured depending on what’s on the schedule – education program, artist reception, meetings or celebrations. I bring them into and explain the Beit Din room – the cozy little room with the round table where a candidate for conversion meets with three clergy members, who will have the privilege and honor of hearing about that person’s journey to becoming a Jew.
I save the best for last – “the wet side.” I show them our two pools and how we ensure their privacy during their immersion. I point out the handle in the mikveh pool that when turned, lets in a flow of “living waters” – the Mayyim Hayyim from rainfall that makes an immersion kosher. I show them the preparation room that is wheelchair accessible. I explain that we have a lift should a guest not be able to walk down the steps into the pool. I show the preparation room with the changing table, baby bathtub, extra diapers, children’s toothbrush, and cute animal-hooded towel, and the Seven Kavanot (intentions to prepare for immersion) written in simplified form for young children, to make the experience as meaningful as possible for them and their parents. I show them the pictorial preparation guide for guests with cognitive disabilities. I don’t skip any part of the ritual of my routines and explanations, as it’s all part of what makes my time at Mayyim Hayyim special and sacred. And whether guests come to celebrate or mourn, their rituals never fail to move me.
To help Guides like Amy continue supporting those who come to immerse, please consider making a gift to help Mayyim Hayyim survive the COVID-19 pandemic, and thrive in the future.
Amy Fleming is a devoted Mikveh Guide, Mayyim Hayyim board member, wife, and mother of three grown children.