This is not a blog entry about what it feels like to immerse in Mayyim Hayyim. Most narratives in this space provide moving descriptions of the tranquility of the pools, of the restorative powers of the living waters. This is a glimpse into what it feels like on the other side of the doors.
Since Mayyim Hayyim opened, I have been privileged to have accompanied scores of students to immersion – the final step in becoming a Jew. And so with the beit din (rabbinic “court” of 3 learned Jews, usually clergy, who meet with a candidate for conversion) and the family, I stand in that beautiful atrium, gathered right outside the door, relying solely on what we hear.
Every time I stand outside the door waiting to hear what happens, I find I am holding my breath. I know the candidate is ready – minutes ago I sat beside her while she met with the beit din. I was often moved to tears as she described her journey to stand with the Jewish people. But I hold my breath anyway. After all, until the very last minute she may say no, I’m not ready yet.
But she never does. Instead, I hear the quiet movement of the water as she steps into the mikveh. Often I hear the gentle murmuring of the mikveh guide softly offering instruction and support. And then….
SPLASH! “Kasher” the guide calls out, “Every part of you was touched by the waters,” and the new Jew offers her very first bracha (blessing): Praised are You, God, Who gave us this commandment to immerse. We have all inched closer to the door by this point, eager to hear those words. Releasing that held breath we all call out “Amen!”
A second SPLASH and a second bracha (this one often said with a little more confidence): Thank You, God, for bringing us to this momentous day. Another Amen. Another SPLASH, and we, gathered outside the door cannot help ourselves: “Mazal tov,” (good luck) we shout! And even before the new Jew steps outside the doors, we’re singing, we’re hugging, we’re as happy as if we ourselves had just come up from the waters.
So there I am, I haven’t even entered the water, yet I am breathless. All I have done is stand outside the doorway, but I am replenished, joyful, and grateful.
To those of you whose SPLASH I have heard from outside the door: Thank you for the privilege of letting me lead you to Mayyim Hayyim. Thank you for sharing this moment of profound change. Thank you for casting your lot with ours, for finding us worthy. You have chosen us and we are reborn and replenished.
Rabbi Leslie Gordon is the Rabbi in Residence at Temple Aliyah in Needham. She worked on the committee writing liturgy for Mayyim Hayyim’s use even before the building opened. Over the years, Leslie has taught classes to several cohorts of mikveh guides and to the general public as well. She is honored to have served on the Mayyim Hayyim board of directors since 2007. As a teacher for the Conservative movement’s Jewish Discovery Institute, Leslie has had the privilege of participating in scores of conversions — and each one of those is her favorite story. Leslie will be honored along with Patti & Louis Grossman on Sunday, November 18th at Tapestry: Choosing a Jewish Life for her work to make Mayyim Hayyim a leader in creating a welcoming and inclusive Judaism.