No Longer on the Outside

by Andie Insoft, Mikveh Guide 

Just a “few” years ago, when I was a teenager, if someone had told me that I would someday be a mikveh guide, I would have said they were absolutely crazy.  I grew up in a fairly traditional, Conservative, Jewish home.  We kept kosher, attended services (at least 3 times a year), lit Shabbat candles every week and NEVER went out to dinner on a Friday night, but andiemikveh was nowhere in my vision.  I thought it was cool, when, at age ten, I went to Israel and saw the mikva’ot on top of Masada; but using a mikveh was clearly for the old or the Orthodox, and I was neither.

As I got older, the idea of community became increasingly important to me – particularly Jewish community. Being part of a Jewish community was completely foreign to me until we moved back to the Boston area from San Francisco when our daughter was three-years-old. Growing up I attended a Christian school where the Lord’s Prayer was said every morning.  We attended chapel every Monday and had lovely Christmas pageants.  I had few Jewish friends and even fewer who were as observant as I.  Even so, I didn’t realize how out of place I was, until I actually stopped saying the Lord’s Prayer and sat quietly during it. No one knew what a Bat Mitzvah was and never mind the “weird” things I ate for Passover.

When our daughter was three, she attended Temple Emeth pre-school, and I am forever grateful to them for the sense of identity that they gave her and us as a family. I began to further explore my own Jewish identity as my husband and I created a Jewish home for our daughter and then later, our son.  I was curious about the ability of Judaism and feminism to co-exist – something I thought could never happen given the apparent patriarchy which I saw in much of Jewish practice (and in my own family).

I began learning more by attending workshops and listening to friends and family who were more knowledgeable than I.  And then I learned about Mayyim Hayyim and the plans to build it.  Mayyim Hayyim’s mission statement about the founders’ desire to “reclaim and reinvent one of Judaism’s most ancient rituals – immersion in the mikveh – for contemporary spiritual use,” rang a long and insistent bell for me that would not quiet down until I became involved.  So, I dipped a toe in and joined Mayyim Hayyim’s women’s Torah study group.  Even the title of the group resonated for me: “Women’s Voices, Women’s Wisdom.”  It was a chance to find my voice, to help other women find theirs, and be a Jew in a way that is authentic to me. These were things I’ve always wanted to do and for which I have never had the time.  Now, each month, I eagerly look forward to meeting with Rabbi Beth Naditch and my fellow students.  We have become a community, learning from and listening to each other.  These are women whom I admire and respect.

After getting my feet wet with Torah study, I realized it was time to immerse more fully.  I waited for Mayyim Hayyim’s mikveh guide training.  And then after months of study and shadowing, it happened: I was a Mikveh Guide.

I have been honored to be a part of so many people’s transitions.  There was the couple who came to immerse together to mark their 9th month of pregnancy and to pray for a healthy delivery.  And then there was the couple who came together to mourn a miscarriage.  Or the hug from the young girl who immersed with her mother two days before becoming a Bat Mitzvah. How can I forget the joyous young woman who completed her conversion at Mayyim Hayyim and then immediately wed her fiancé in our celebration space? Every single time I guide at Mayyim Hayyim I arrive full of excitement and a little nervousness.  I never know what the day will hold, yet I’m prepared to give each immersee what he or she needs.  I walk part of a journey with them and I give them the space they need to just “be.”

The theme for this year’s “Women’s Voices”  is bachootz ha’ machaneh or outside the camp.  In our class, we are asking: what did it mean in biblical times to be outside the camp?  What does it mean today?  In the past, I have felt on the outside, but I don’t anymore. Having a home at Mayyim Hayyim is a big part of why.

Andie is a clinical social worker who specializes in women’s mental health. She shares her home with her husband, Rob, their 17 year old son, Adin, and their quirky dogs, Shadow and Charlie.  Her daughter, Rachel, has successfully launched and is living it up in DC.  In addition to her family and her work, Andie’s passions include yoga, chocolate and the color blue.



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