No Sharks in the Mikveh

by Rabbi Jen Gubitz

jenLiz wrote to me in an email and shared her excitement with her community on Facebook: “I’m going to Mayyim Hayyim today to immerse in honor of the one year anniversary of my conversion!”

This is the type of note every rabbi dreams of: a woman like Liz who chooses to become Jewish because she is so drawn to what Judaism has to offer; a family who dives deep into the art and practice of Jewish living with vigor; and an organization like Mayyim Hayyim who ensures that we can mark this sacred choice to become Jewish year after year.

“Good news,” Liz’s note concluded, “there are still no sharks in the mikveh!”

One year ago, we were sitting together in the beautiful reception area at Mayyim Hayyim. It was a special day: the day when Emmie and her mother Liz would immerse in the waters of the mikveh to affirm what was already true – that Judaism was central to their lives. There was so much joy in the room, as well as an air of seriousness in the moments before Liz would join my colleagues and me for her beit din conversation about her Jewish journey.

But Liz wasn’t the only serious face in the room.

“Emmie has a really important question, rabbi,” Liz shared with me.

Emmie was excited for the day, too. She had previously toured Mayyim Hayyim with her mom and dad, Jamie, to see the mikveh and talk about their special day. I was intrigued by this unexpected question from vibrant Emmie.

“Emmie, tell me,” I invited, “what do you want to know?”

Typically a talker, in this moment Emmie was sheepish and quiet; eventually Liz chimed in on her behalf.

“Emmie wants to know: Are there sharks in the mikveh?!”

Eyes wide, I asked, “do you think there are sharks in the mikveh?”

Emmie nodded “yes” with certainty.

It was a fair question and I appreciated her intensity. With any body of water, one should always know what they are dipping into!

“Let’s look,” I suggested, “Let’s check and see.” Our mikveh guide helped us enter into the mikveh room to do our research until Emmie was convinced that the water was, in fact, safe and welcoming.

After sharing the journey that brought Liz to Judaism with our rabbis and cantor, Liz and Emmie prepared to enter the sacred waters of Mayyim Hayyim. With an unparalleled joy, Liz immersed first. Through the window above door, her friends and family shouted “amen” to her blessings of immersion and Emmie clapped along as we sang Siman Tov U’Mazel Tov in celebration. After her immersion, Liz carried Emmie down the steps into the waters. Emmie cried for a moment and clung to her mom, but after her dunk, overwhelmed with playfulness, she shouted “again!”

Emmie loved the waters so much that she refused to get out.

I asked Emmie to double check for sharks to make sure the mikveh was safe for future guests. She assured me that it was safe, but grew upset at the thought of leaving the warm waters.

“Emmie” I encouraged, “there is a special prayer we say after a moment such as this. It celebrates being Jewish and it also tells us that while it’s time to get out of the water, we can always come back!”

It goes like this:

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam, SHARK-IYANU v’kia’manu v’higianu lazman hazeh!

emmie and liz

Rabbi Jen Gubitz is a rabbi at temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, MA.  Raised an Indiana Hoosier, Jen spent her formative summers at the Reform Movement’s Goldman Union Camp Institute, immersed in the art of songleading and community building.   Jen loves Hoosier basketball, Improv Comedy, Earl Gray Tea, Tot Shabbat, and Mussar study. She is very glad there are no sharks in the mikveh.

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