by Leeza Negelev, Associate Director of Education
I’ve been engaged to be married since November, 2015. That’s a long time to ruminate, dread, panic, romanticize, and (sometimes) plan a wedding. I’ve done a lot of wondering “what it will be like to…” well, you name it. I’ve done some thinking on the oppressive past and present of the institution of marriage and weighed it with my desire for a tax-break. I’ve thought about why I want my relationship blessed by the loving attention of family friends. I’ve also done some online dress shopping. Maybe a lot.
I didn’t know how to imagine my bridal immersion. I just knew it would happen. As someone who teaches about the mikveh, I often spend hours thinking and learning about all of the different ways people have made this ritual their own. Yet when it came to my immersion, my head was swimming (water pun intended).
Every time I imagined it, I walked into a familiar wall. I wanted three generations of women present: my mother, grandmother, and sister. As someone who is very connected to my family, I wanted this transition to be witnessed by the weightiness of generations, the many struggles and successes that brought me to this moment. I wanted my grandmother, the matriarch, my mother, my rock, and my sister, my life-long friend and sometimes sparring partner.
So why didn’t I plan this mikveh party months before? Because the matriarch, the rock, and the friend are also the kvetcher (complainer), the chutzpenik (someone who doesn’t give a hoot), and the sometimes no-show. Yes, just like your family, mine is meshugene, too. (Can you tell I’m practicing my Yiddish?)
I was stuck between two worlds: I wanted to experience a powerful, ritual moment that would transcend time and space… and I wanted my family to be there. I knew that with all of the positive associations of a Jewish wedding, the day of would be full of these profound ritual moments (and it was). But the mikveh invoked my grandmother’s bridal immersion in a dirty pool in the remote woods of Uzbekistan, and for my mother, it was another potential indicator that her daughter would soon become a religious fanatic.
Eventually, I settled on the fact that it would be whatever it was, and I just wanted them to show up. At one point in the planning process, getting everyone to Newton felt like it would be its own miracle. I did eventually let go of the expectations, but I decided that I really cared that we were together and that I had a pastrami sandwich afterwards. Although my sister’s flight didn’t work out, on the day of my immersion, Bab (babushka, grandma) and Mam were there.
When we arrived, we were greeted by Lisa Berman’s smiling face. I heartily toured my Bab and Mam as they “oo-ed” and “ah-ed” over the art, the Jerusalem tile, and the peace of mind they didn’t expect to feel. When it came to immersion, I had Lisa as my witness, and I told my family I wanted them to stand outside the closed sliding doors. I planned to immerse three times, and before the third, I asked them to share a blessing for me.
I went under the first time and “kasher!” Lisa’s voice boomed beautifully. I heard my Bab and Mam chatting behind the door. I took another breath and went under. “Kasher!” I said the Shehecheyanu blessing for my first (and hopefully last) bridal immersion.
Waiting for my family to chime in with words of hope and wishes for my happy future, I chuckled to myself as I heard them arguing about something from behind the closed doors. Lisa called out: “You can share a blessing now…” They did not hear.
Some moments passed.
I took matters into my own hands and yelled: “Bab! Mam! Stop chatting! Can you share a blessing?” And they did.
No, I didn’t feel the heavens open up. I was slightly irritated, chuckling to myself, and also wildly grateful for both of them. My family made it there, and they came as themselves. After all, these are the two women who taught me the art of showing up as I am.
I left the mikveh feeling accomplished: I had let go of previous expectations, I’d articulated what I wanted directly in the moment, and best of all, we made it. I dried off, gave Lisa a big hug, and we headed off for that pastrami sandwich.
Leeza Negelev is the Associate Director of Education at Mayyim Hayyim and she loves her family, meshugas and all.