by Anita Diamant, Mayyim Hayyim President and Founder
Once upon a time, in 2001, five women signed legal papers petitioning the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to incorporate an independent non-profit entity to be called Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center. The signatories were Dr. Paula Brody, Roz Garber, Judy Green, Rabbi Barbara Penzner and me. The papers required us to name organizational officers and all of a sudden I was a “president” and board chair.
I had no idea what this would mean for me personally or professionally. My family had no idea either, and in the early start-up phase the joke around my house was that we were “all mikveh all the time.”
I also didn’t know that being president would require me to attend so many meetings. I had never served on a board and declined several invitations by explaining, “I lack the meeting gene.” I considered myself congenitally unable to plan, discuss, hash out, mull, and deliberate. I wanted to pinch people who talked too much, even if I agreed with what they were saying. I wanted to shout at the chair, even if she was my best friend, if she didn’t finish on time. Most of all, I did not like the person I became in meetings, which is why I always said no.
But as president of Mayyim Hayyim, I was the person who called people and asked if they would come to a meeting to hear about starting a mikveh that made everyone in the Jewish community feel respected and welcome. Those conversations usually began with a polite version of, “Why on earth do you want to do that?”
For the past eleven years, I have run a lot of meetings. I no longer want to pinch anyone even if I disagree. I have become a better listener and a better person as a result of doing something I thought I hated. Along the way, I’ve learned so much from so many people, first among them Aliza Kline, founding executive director.
I learned that meetings can actually foster creativity, courage and even holiness when you share a vision with good-hearted, generous and hard-working people. Okay, not every single meeting is accompanied by singing angels, but I have truly enjoyed being president and chair. It’s been an honor to work with everyone who has served on the Mayyim Hayyim board of directors, and with volunteers on many other committees. Working and playing and laughing with them has been the best and most unexpected pleasure of this job.
I will continue to attend board meetings, but I won’t be sitting at the head of the table anymore, calling people to order. Nor will I be as involved in the mikveh’s day-to-day, which is in the extraordinarily capable hands of our professional staff. (The best of the best.)
Not that I’m going to disappear. I hope to remain useful as a “creative consultant,” supporting one of Mayyim Hayyim’s seven principles, hiddur mitzvah, making Jewish life beautiful. I see myself writing and editing, working on special events and serving as an ambassador and advocate for Mayyim Hayyim and the inclusive, expansive and dynamic Judaism that we embody and model for the world.
While I’m not leaving, I will definitely be moving over and making way for incoming president and board chair, Jennifer Slifka Vidal, a board member since 2007 who loves Mayyim Hayyim as much as I do. We will become a better and stronger organization because of her abilities, ideas, vision and leadership. She and executive director Carrie Bornstein already have a great working relationship and I know that the entire board, all our volunteers and staff will do everything we can to help her take Mayyim Hayyim from strength to strength.
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Anita Diamant is the Boston-based author of 12 books, including the bestselling The Red Tent. Her other novels include Day After Night, Good Harbor and The Last Days of Dogtown. She has also published a collection of essays and six non-fiction guides to contemporary Jewish life including The New Jewish Wedding and Choosing a Jewish Life. Her writing has appeared in many national publications.