by Janine Herrera
To understand why my immersion at Mayyim Hayyim was so transformative, one would first need to understand the journey I’ve been on. I made the decision to convert because the synagogue and community I belong to was inclusive, open, and committed to accepting everyone. They unabashedly embraced me as part of their community. Little did I know how difficult the road to observing Taharat HaMishpachah (monthly immersion) would be. I was aware that few women within the Reform movement choose to observe it, but I hadn’t realized how challenging the choice to observe this ritual would be.
I began trying to learn as much as possible outside of the books I had read, but no one really discusses the topic, not within my community, and certainly not between friends. Understandably so, it’s a very private matter. Mayyim Hayyim proved to be so resourceful in connecting me with as many educational resources that one could possibly need. Then came the matter of my actual immersion. The more I inquired at local mikvehs in my area, the more I began to realize just how unique my situation was.
I am a Jew by choice. I didn’t grow up with mythical tales, or thinking that mikveh was taboo, or only reserved for some. I naively thought that as a woman wanting to grow in observance of Taharat Hamishpachah, nothing could possibly stand in my way. I was simply a Jewish woman wanting to preserve and observe what thousands of women before me had done, by adhering to this ritual as a way to inject holiness into marriage and family life. What could be so hard about that?
Finding a mikveh that would allow me to immerse, let alone recognize my Jewish identity, proved far more difficult than I had imagined it would be, so much so that the closest place that would allow me to immerse monthly was 248 miles away. I decided that if I was going to travel to immerse monthly, then I wanted my first immersion for my observance to be at Mayyim Hayyim. This was when I really became appreciative of the space that Mayyim Hayyim truly provides, a place that is inclusive and accepts you “as is.” It is a space for anyone Jewish, regardless of affiliation, to benefit from the healing, renewing ritual of immersion.
My immersion was just as overwhelming as the day I converted. I felt reunited, I felt whole. It was liberating and profound. Despite the struggle I face to be accepted as a Jewish woman of color, despite the struggle to be recognized as deserving of observing this mitzvah due to my religious affiliation, there I was….in the mikveh… before Hashem, before God. There was nothing but Hashem and me, Batya (the Jewish name I took at my conversion, which means Daughter of God). All else melted away.
As I remain committed to this mitzvah, each immersion brings a renewal of spirit, of purpose and of commitment. After almost 6 years of many things becoming routine and some things taken for granted, we have found a new level with which to relate to one another. The days of separation allow me time to connect with myself, with my spirituality, and to center myself. My husband and I have found that we are now more mindful in our interactions with each other and truly savor our time together. We use the time apart sincerely and earnestly to truly connect with the things we appreciate about each other. We have unlocked another aspect of security and commitment within our love and our devotion to God and a Jewish home.
I realize that I may be speaking on a topic not often discussed in an open way. But I hope that by relating my journey and thoughts so intimately, it reaches even perhaps one person who has ever wondered, doubted, or held any reservation towards seeking out immersion for whatever their specific need or reason may be.
Janine lives in Miami, FL with her loving husband and two beautiful children. She is pursuing her second baccalaureate degree and works part-time as the Clinic Manager of a Multi-disciplinary health clinic. She enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and photography.