Leeann Simons, Mikveh Guide
From the Mayyim Hayyim vaults, written almost 9 years ago.
Last night I had the privilege of being part of one woman’s healing ritual. She had been sexually assaulted by a former “good” friend, and was coming to us as part of her moving forward with her life.
What I want to first say about this experience, though, is that I did not do anything different for her than I was trained to do for all our immersees. Since the domestic violence workshop for Mikveh Guides at Mayyim Hayyim, though, I have been closing the blinds for evening appointments, because we don’t know many women’s situations when they come, and privacy is of the utmost importance.
She was with another woman when I welcomed her in. I offered to make tea and asked her what I could do for her while she was at the mikveh. After we did the paperwork, and the tea was ready, we sat down in the reception area. She told me she came from hundreds of miles away, and it was actually her mother who, in an “off handed way” suggested she go to a mikveh to help her. She went online and found us. The woman she was with had been her rabbi a few years ago, and had since moved to the Boston area. So she decided she would be able to visit her rabbi and come to the mikveh in one trip.
She had reached out to us in advance and our then Mikveh Director, and now Executive Director, Carrie Bornstein, sent her an immersion ceremony for healing. She wanted to see the facility, so I gave her a tour. When we were in the mikveh area, I explained we value modesty and privacy above all else, explaining I would only see the top of her head when she immersed.
While she prepared, the rabbi and I chatted a bit, I did the holy work of the laundry and responded to some calls. When the phone rang, I went through the bath, and opened the door. After her immersion, I asked if she’d like a few moments alone. She said yes, and I left.
When she came back to the reception area, she sat on the couch. She looked at us and said, “I didn’t think it would happen, but it worked.” When we asked how she felt, she said “clean.” She thanked me, and I told her how honored I felt that she came to us to be part of her healing.
After a short while, she signed the guest book and they left.
What is unusual about witnessing a sexual assault survival immersion? That it is not unusual at all. I did nothing we have not been trained to do. I welcomed her, offered her tea, asked what else we could offer, listened, and witnessed. I’m not sure we need to act differently for different types of immersions, as long as we listen. I think our immersees bring to us what they need, and we give it to them. We may not always feel comfortable, or confident, we may be nervous and scared. But we are the only ones who know that. Our immersees see a mikveh guide who is present; a guide to bear witness to whatever they want us to see and hear. And that is what we can do, all of us.
Leeann Simons is a registered dietitian and adjunct professor at two local business colleges. She has been a guide (and member) of Mayyim Hayyim for over 11 years. She is married and has two grown sons who live out of state.