by Evan Taksar
Before I started the Hornstein Program at Brandeis, my idea of mikveh came exclusively from that scene in Sex and the City when Charlotte converts to Judaism. I had no idea the mikveh was also used for brides, niddah (monthly immersion), and many other reasons. The truth is, I had very little knowledge of Jewish ritual practice before deciding to get my Master’s in Judaic Studies, and while that may be slightly embarrassing to share, I’m all the better because of choosing this path.
When a good friend of mine sent me an email, asking if I was interested in immersing at Mayyim Hayyim in celebration of finishing graduate school, I didn’t have to think twice before immediately replying “of course!”
Over the past two years I have immersed (no pun intended) myself in Judaic practices that exist largely outside my comfort zone. I was raised in a secular, culturally Jewish household where my family attended services twice a year (you know which dates), and I quit Hebrew school the day after my Bat Mitzvah. When I was 7 my parents signed me up for summer camp, and 17 summers later I’m still headed back there. Everything I know and love about being Jewish comes from my family, and from those formative summers at camp.
That being said, I didn’t learn a whole lot about halacha, the Jewish legal tradition, from my JCC summer camp. What began with a few Jewish Studies courses in college, quickly turned into a full-blown exploration of my Jewish identity, and 7 years later, me signing up to immerse in a mikveh. Over the past two years I have learned with some incredible professors and challenged myself to grow outside my comfort level. I have engaged in exhilarating text study, been to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, and have learned about the Jewish community in the Former Soviet Union firsthand from Jews living in Minsk, Belarus. I have spent hours around the Shabbat table laughing and singing, my cell phone shut off and tucked away. I learned Hebrew (not very well, but it’s the effort that counts).
So that brings me to the here and now; making the decision to immerse at Mayyim Hayyim. Our traditions are so rich and intricate, whenever I think I have something figured out, I’m introduced to a new way of thinking about it. The fact that Mayyim Hayyim is a mikveh used for traditional practices and non-traditional life cycle events proves just that. So does its commitment as an educational space, making it possible for our Jewish community to learn about this ritual and tradition. When I walked through the doors, I really had no idea what to expect; but I was immediately greeted with a warm smile, taken on a tour, and put at ease. I didn’t have any sort of visceral emotional reaction to immersing like I hear so many people do, but I was overcome by this sense of stillness and calm. In the crazy lives we lead, how often do we take a moment to celebrate ourselves as human beings? To congratulate ourselves on a job well done? To recognize a transition in our life? How often do we allow ourselves to just be with ourselves? While immersing, I felt grounded and calm, healthy and thankful. And as I sat out in the garden afterwards, my hair still dripping down my back, the anxiety long gone, I quietly thanked myself for pushing myself out of my comfort zone once again.
The truth is, I don’t think immersion will become a regular part of my Jewish practice, and that is probably akin to the majority of non-Orthodox Jewish women in the United States. However when I signed up to immerse with my friend in celebration of finishing graduate school, Mayyim Hayyim welcomed me with open arms. The fact that a place like Mayyim Hayyim exists –a place that encourages Jewish inclusion, celebration, and curiosity– makes me really excited to begin my journey working for the Jewish community.
Evan Taksar recently graduated from the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership program at Brandeis University with a dual-Masters in Jewish Professional Leadership and Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. While at Hornstein, Evan focused her studies on experiential Jewish education and modern Israeli society. Evan currently lives in Los Angeles and recently became the Assistant Director at Camp Alonim in Brandeis-Bardin California.