Written by Madeline Mayer
As I peered for the first time at the glistening waters of the mikveh at Mayyim Hayyim, I felt as if I was truly seeing inside my own soul—this time with a renewed, lucid state of mind. With its beautiful blue stones and tranquil waters, the mikveh enveloped me with spirit and put me at peace with myself. I would consider the mikveh to be my most influential Jewish teacher. Though not an actual person this object taught me something that I will never forget. During the summer of 2006, I had the opportunity to spend what so far has been the best and most inspiring month of my life. I attended Genesis at Brandeis University. Genesis brings together teens who share a commonality—Judaism. Yet, because of differing levels of Judaic observance and practices, the teens seem different. Through various exercises and interaction with one another, we learn—despite our differences in religious background—to build a cohesive religious and secular community.
During our first Shabbat together, it became glaringly apparent to me that I lacked the Judaic knowledge of my peers. I was frustrated. But most of all, I felt short changed by my lacking religious education. “Why bother trying to fill the vacuous gaps in my Jewish knowledge base?” I asked myself. I was already 17 years behind in my learning. But as the weeks went by and I grew to thoroughly enjoy my Shabbats at Brandeis, I had an epiphany. I realized that what I lacked in Jewish knowledge was overshadowed by what truly makes me Jewish—my spirituality.
My faith, in its entire beauty, was recaptured when I visited the mikveh for the very first time. Although I did not submerge myself in the mikveh that day, just seeing it was one of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had. While there, I grew in touch with my Jewish self and realized that I was ready to become a Jew for me—not just because I was told to be one. I was no longer frustrated or disappointed by the void in my Jewish education. Rather, I viewed these gaps as opportunities to learn more about my religion and myself. Since that spiritual transformation, I now eagerly attend Shabbat services. I listen to the liturgy with my heart, rather than just my ears. And when I leave services, I feel engulfed in spirituality and know that I have been there for me.
Although my experience at Genesis is now but a happy remembrance, the knowledge that I gained there seems ever present. As I left the mikveh, my ignorance and insecurities about myself as a Jew seemed to flow away. I felt transformed and ready to begin my Judaic exploration. This one-hour spent at the mikveh gave me an entirely new lifestyle—one filled with the love for learning Judaism and living as a Jew—this time as a choice and not just by birth.
Madeline Mayer hails from Leawood, KS. This fall, she will begin the second year of her masters degree with the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership program at Brandeis University. This summer, she is completing her Hornstein fieldwork at Mayyim Hayyim and working with the Director of Development. The above essay was written by Madeline in 2006 after the Genesis at Brandeis University program and used as her college entrance essay to Brandeis University, where she also completed her BA.