by Rabbi Lev Baesh
Twice now, I have had the pleasure of celebrating weddings at Mayyim Hayyim, immediately following conversion with a Beit Din and immersion. The first couple came from Canada with parents and a brother. I had worked with her toward conversion via Skype and they wanted to complete her conversion at the mikveh and follow it with a wedding.
Her fiance came from an Ultra-Orthodox family, although he had become less engaged over time. Her family lives in China, is Buddhist, and the couple would head there for a wedding celebration later in the year. They would return to Canada and celebrate Jewish life with his family and in their own home. They met at work and studied with me via Skype for a year prior to her conversion and their wedding. His parents served as hosts for the holidays and by the end of our time working together, the couple was hosting celebrations in their home as well.
This couple had an outdoor ceremony in the courtyard of the mikveh surrounded by family and the staff of Mayyim Hayyim. They had the staff as a chuppah (wedding canopy) and the garden flowers bore witness to their commitment. She wore a white dress and veil. Her in-laws looked like a couple out of Fiddler on the Roof. They were of Russian decent and spoke very little English. The groom’s brother was also present. He flew to New York City to celebrate Shabbat, and then took the train to Boston for the celebration. He and I had spoken a week before so he would know what to expect and decide if he could be there, as per his rebbe’s suggestion.
I was honored to be considered “kosher” for this celebration by the family, and their rebbe, and I felt it was a tribute to Mayyim Hayyim that they can welcome members of so many different communities in such a heartfelt way.
The second couple is from Sharon, MA. They were already civilly married and were 8 months pregnant. She had been living a married Jewish life for 7 years and had decided to formalize her Jewish status and complete the experience with a Jewish wedding. He was of Israeli decent through his father, and his mother had converted through the Conservative movement prior to their marriage. The bride came from an Italian-Catholic family, and both sets of parents and some friends were with them at the mikveh through conversion and the wedding. The 4 parents held the chuppah poles, which they then donated to Mayyim Hayyim for future couples to use.
The most beautiful part of this ceremony, in my eyes, was the offering of 6 creative blessings, one by each parent and the 2 witnesses, with the 7th offered by me. The staff at Mayyim Hayyim circled around us as we stood in the center of the greeting space. We used the tallit (prayer shawl) owned by the mikveh as a chuppah covering.
When I first asked the staff if we could host weddings there, they were exuberant in their reply of “yes!” This mikveh is so much more than a perfunctory ritual space. Every aspect of the process, from first phone call, to last hug before leaving makes entrance into Judaism a wide open welcome.
As I prepare to leave New England for parts southern and funky (Austin, TX), I know that Mayyim Hayyim will be for many others a sign that the Jewish community has room for fresh and creative ways of linking past with future and linking Jews with the many possibilities Judaism offers in ritual practice and communal engagement. I also hope that others will continue to think creatively about how to use this valuable resource and expand its scope of offerings. And, I know that if any one has a glimmer of an idea, the staff at Mayyim Hayyim will help to figure out how to bring it to fruition.
Thank you for all the reasons you have given me to travel from Dover, NH and Plymouth, Northampton and Winchester, MA to celebrate so many meaningful and beautiful occasions in your center for Jewish engagement. I only hope that someday soon we will have such a place nearby my new home in Texas.
Lev is a consultant to the Jewish Community of Boston and the Director of the Resource Center for Jewish Clergy at www.Interfaithfamily.com. Lev travels the world officiating life cycle events for Jewish and interfaith couples and families, and can also can be found teaching courses on Jewish living and life cycles, and facilitating workshops on ‘Inclusion and welcoming’ of unaffiliated Jews and interfaith families in Jewish life and community. Lev was ordained in the Reform Movement of Judaism in 1994, holds a law degree from Yeshiva University and a BA in Psychology from Clark University, and is currently adding Nursing to his spiritual and practical work in the world. He lives in Malden, MA with his partner Andrew.