by Kim Creem
This past May was my daughter Lily’s Bat Mitzvah at Temple Emanuel in Newton, where we have been members for over 15 years. She had been at Temple Emanuel for both preschool and Hebrew school and was completing her last year at Makor at Hebrew College in the spring.
Over the years, her Hebrew class had taken her on a few trips to Mayyim Hayyim to learn about mikveh and to tour the facility with her classmates. A few other families from our community at Emanuel had also mentioned to me that they had a wonderful experience with their daughters at a Mayyim Hayyim program for Bat Mitzvah girls and their moms, called Beneath the Surface. I immediately called to find out the details. The timing was perfect…there was a class that would end not long before Lily’s Bat Mitzvah date! I told her we were going to do this program together, and initially, I did not receive much of a reaction.
As we got closer to going, Lily started to question whether she would like it. Would there be people she would know? Would it be awkward? I assured her it would be a learning experience for both of us. We would meet new people, and learn about ritual immersion, and have the potential for our own immersion experience before her Bat Mitzvah.
Upon entering the class for the first time, we both had no idea what to expect. We were pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm of the teachers! They were amazing and so interested in the girls’ lives, concerns, questions, as well as how to make these three sessions thoughtful for them. We talked about special objects to the girls, items that represented their family. We broke out into groups of mothers and groups of daughters so we could discuss our feelings without the other. At the last session, we had a beautiful ceremony right outside the actual mikveh where the girls said their own prayers and lit candles. It was so peaceful and beautiful.
After the third session, I was praying that Lily would either initiate, or allow me to initiate an immersion before her Bat Mitzvah date. I was afraid and nervous to broach the subject with her when the evening was complete. I mentioned it to her as we were filling out our final paperwork, and much to my surprise, she said that she definitely wanted to come back with me for a special pre-Bat Mitzvah immersion before her Bat Mitzvah date! I made the appointment as fast as I could for the Wednesday leading up to her date (5/13/17).
The week came for Lily’s Bat Mitzvah. It was one filled with emotion, anxiety, stress, and excitement. However, the one day of that week that I was most looking forward to was our immersion on Wednesday night. We came into the mikveh, and on the way, I explained to my daughter how lucky we were to have such a beautiful mikveh to come to, as my mother had always told me about the one that she went to before her wedding…gross, dark, in the basement of her shul, overall unpleasant. When we walked in, we were approached by our Mikveh Guide who could not have been more kind, caring, and calming. She gave us the option of going separately or together. I let Lily choose, and she decided we should go together. Needless to say I was thrilled!
We both went into our changing rooms to prepare for our immersion. It was a cleansing experience preparing for immersion: showering, cleaning, and mentally getting ready. We entered from our respective doors into the mikveh, and by then, it was dark outside. We turned off the lights and let the lights of the mikveh waters light the room. It was spectacular!
We both walked down the stairs and said our respective blessings for the Bat Mitzvah girl and mother. We swam and talked. We both marinated on the fact that what we were doing was a tradition of the Jewish religion for thousands of years. How amazing, we thought to ourselves, that now, we too, are participating in this tradition before Lily becomes a woman according to our religion. We had the most peaceful, spiritual night I had ever had with my daughter. It was a true bonding experience that neither of us will ever forget. We came home and told my husband, my mom, and Lily’s friends about our immersion. My mom cried when I explained the evening to her and what it meant to me. Lily’s friends, who had not done an immersion and heard about it, wished they had.
I urge you to take your daughters to Mayyim Hayyim for this magical experience of Beneath the Surface and hopefully a Bat Mitzvah immersion for you and your daughter. It was mystical, spiritual, and one of the most emotional moments I have shared with my daughter. I hope you can find that peacefulness as well.
Register today for the fall cohort of Beneath the Surface, beginning Sunday, October 29.
Kimberly Slabin Creem lives in Newton with her husband, Gary, and their two children Jacob, age 15 and Lily, age 13.