by Jim Ball, Mikveh Guide, Cohort 6a
I’ve been a mikveh guide for about a year. Because I work from my house and can make my own hours, I’ve been called on often for the many men who have used Mayyim Hayyim for a variety of reasons: upcoming weddings, conversions, bar mitzvahs, and marking special lifecycle events.
I’ve been a guide for older men, younger men, middle aged men, budding teens, young kids and even babies; men and boys of all shapes and sizes, every denomination and non-affiliated, the learned and neophytes on a path. Some of the moments I’ve witnessed have been deeply spiritual, others have been just quiet, or a little more formal. But all seem to have meaning for the men and boys. I don’t believe that anyone has ever walked out the doors feeling the same as when they entered. Something happens as they immerse. And for me, helping them find that “something that happens” has been a particular joy and deeply satisfying.
After an immersion, I clean up the preparation room, wipe the counters and water from the floor, carry the towels to the laundry in the back room and empty the garbage. Then I replace towels, washcloths, bath mats, toothbrushes and combs. As I do the “housework,” I reflect on what just happened. The room is empty, but the peace and spirit remain.
Most often the men come with family and friends. There are shouts of “mazel tov.” Hugs and kisses between the betrothed, or the parents and child about to be bar mitzvah, the grandparents, the rabbis and cantors and anyone assembled. There’s noise and there’s absolute joy…and I am part of it.
So it was, on my 65th birthday this year, I immersed to mark the occasion. I made my appointment for early in the morning, knowing I would be the first one to immerse. I didn’t need a witness. I decided I wanted to be alone because it was a personal milestone; there would be time for celebration with others, but this was my time.
Members of the staff were upstairs in the offices, but there was no one on the main floor. I let myself in, uncovered one of the pools, prepared myself, and immersed. The walls echoed with the blessings I chose for my time in the water, which felt totally, fully mine and so special. I lingered in the warm water for several minutes. I emerged from the mikveh feeling peaceful and happy. I’d made it to 65, and immersing marked that passage. Then, I cleaned up so the room was ready for the next immersion. The total experience!
As I left that day, I realized that this holy place, this Mayyim Hayyim, was truly mine in a way it hadn’t been before. And every time I’ve guided since, it’s meant a bit more. Thank you, God, for the opportunity to serve others, for giving me the gift of this holy work, and a way to renew my own soul.
Jim Ball is Co-founder and Communications Director for the Boston Jewish Music Festival. A PR and marketing consultant, he has practiced public relations, marketing and strategic communications in the public and private sector for nearly 30 years, serving in positions in state and local government, educational institutions, private firms and non-profits. Long active in the Boston Jewish community, Jim is a member of the North American Board of the Union for Reform Judaism, and proudly serves as a mikveh guide at Mayyim Hayyim.