by Kelly Banker, Intern
The poet Mary Oliver says: “To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal, to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
Although Mary Oliver has probably never visited or heard of Mayyim Hayyim and all that occurs here, her words illuminate what the mikveh means to me.
The mikveh, particularly the ritual of niddah (monthly immersion), allows me to ritually mark what I cherish most, and then to release it each month. When I immerse at Mayyim Hayyim, I am loving and honoring the cyclical body that I live in. I am loving what is mortal – flesh, blood, and bones, moving in awe-inspiring rhythms and cycles. I am honoring the primordial beginning, the womb-like waters, and I am honoring an ending – the bittersweet bleeding where my body releases the possibility of new life. Endings and beginnings are contained within the body. What a blessing, truly, that the Jewish tradition holds sacred that which is alive, embodied and flowing.
I learned about Mayyim Hayyim during my senior year of college, amidst fervent studying of the Jewish tradition’s relationship to feminist concerns. Upon learning about the mikveh ritual, both for niddah and for other life transitions, I was in awe. I was moved to tears when I read the 7 Kavanot (intentions) for Mikveh Preparation. To me, Mayyim Hayyim’s recognition of each and every body as a sacred vessel didn’t just feel empowering – it felt like a spiritual revolution.
Now I sit here, almost exactly one year later, as someone who has ‘immersed’ myself as much as possible in Mayyim Hayyim. I work here as an intern, I immerse here frequently, and I just became a Mikveh Guide. I have made a commitment to the organization because I believe in the mission and the work on all levels – intellectually, viscerally, emotionally and spiritually. I believe in the spirituality of embodiment, cycles and rituals – and, yet, like many people, letting go is a struggle for me. Writer David Foster Wallace once said, “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” The soft, warm space of Mayyim Hayyim softens those claw marks for me. When I am held in the embrace of the waters, letting go finally feels possible.
Kelly Banker is an intern at Mayyim Hayyim. She is also a resident organizer at Moishe Kavod House and teaches Hebrew school at local synagogues. Kelly recently earned her BA from Carleton College in Religion and Women’s Studies, and has worked as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence. Kelly is also a doula, a farmer, and a certified yoga teacher. She loves movement, exploring the woods, poetry, and the moon.