I wrote this on my last day – for this summer at least – as a volunteer at Mayyim Hayyim. In two weeks, I return to my “real life” and “real job” as a high school English teacher.
This whole summer has been marvelously relaxing and rewarding for me. I attended a poetry institute, walked a few neighborhood dogs, visited Sonoma County, and enjoyed several day trips with friends.
My time here, however, has been an incredible blessing, no less than poetry, dogs, and California. I wanted to volunteer here because I felt, upon my first visit, that Mayyim Hayyim was a sacred and special place, and a place I would deepen my Jewish experience.
Why did I feel this so strongly upon my first visit? Why do others who enter our doors experience such joy and gratitude, such a sense of peace?
I have had some time to consider this on my D-Line train rides to Woodland. I am always surprised by how eager and excited I am to come in and work in the office here for a few hours.
A first, most obvious perspective is that Mayyim Hayyim is in its very essence a sacred place: it is a site for the sacred ritual of immersion in a mikveh. Further, those who come to immerse make it all the more sacred by bringing their hopes and dreams about what their immersion will signify, whether that is conversion, an upcoming marriage, a new child on the way, healing, or some other significant life moment.
Neither of those perspectives do I discount, but it is a third I have begun to consider more deeply: Hiddur Mitzvah (beautifying the mitzvah) is the Sixth of Mayyim Hayyim’s Seven Principles. Our website elaborates: “The rabbinic admonition to beautify religious life is central to our vision. From tiles to roof lines to our art gallery, Mayyim Hayyim is a place that pleases the eye and uplifts the spirit.”
Making the sacred beautiful is not always easy or economical, but at Mayyim Hayyim this is a dream realized. So much love, effort, and thought has gone into designing and maintaining our building, our mikveh, and our surrounding gardens. I am inclined to allege that this love, effort, and thought is precisely what I felt and what others intuit when they come through our doors. It is as if the building whispers, “Our sacred space is beautiful because we acknowledge, honor, and uphold the sacred and beautiful purpose for which you’ve come.”
This summer for me has been both sacred and beautiful. I have been grateful for the opportunities and the people who have made it so. As I now let go of the summer months and approach new school year and the Jewish New Year, I recognize that I have incredible power to make the time and space I inhabit beautiful. We all do.
Caroline Potter is an English teacher at an International Baccalaureate high school in the Back Bay. She is volunteering at Mayyim Hayyim for the summer and looks forward to her immersion and conversion in Spring 2014.