by Phyllis Hirth
Here’s my timeline, short and sweet: I was born in Connecticut, raised as a Catholic, moved to New York after college, met my husband, and married into a Conservative Jewish family.
My first experience with mikveh was during my own conversion to Judaism. My memory of that is less than pleasant. A woman who barely spoke to me examined my body, supervised and double checked my cleansing, and observed my dunking. I remember the place and the whole experience as a sort of dull gray.
I successfully managed to avoid mikveh thereafter until my daughter-in-law called me one day. After ten years of marriage to my son, she had decided to convert to Judaism. I was so happy for her, and I was delighted to accompany her for her immersion. That said, I was worried for her. I wanted to be there to ease her through it. Little did I know I need not worry because her immersion was at Mayim Hayyim. I was so impressed by how wonderful her experience was. Her immersion was not remotely demeaning, but celebratory. We sang songs of joy as she embraced this beautiful change in her life.
I was so impressed by Mayyim Hayyim that I pushed my adult education trip through the Woodlands Community Temple to include a visit on our recent trip to Boston. First we went to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the Henryk Ross photographs of the Lodz Ghetto, and then to the Holocaust Memorial near Faneuil Hall. Both were such moving, powerful experiences that I feared Mayyim Hayyim would pale in comparison.
Every member of our group found our visit to Mayyim Hayyim to be a profound experience. The atmosphere was bright, friendly, and joyous. The presentation was open, honest, and interactive.
Reflecting back on my life, I have always worked and struggled to achieve equal rights as a woman, and something about the mikveh had always left me with tension. This time, though, I came away with the feeling that I had found a place where my femininity was celebrated. I am left with gratitude – what a wonderful gift for our youth to have a place like Mayyim Hayyim!
Phyllis Hirth is a retired Physical Therapist living in White Plains, NY. She raised three children and now has nine grandchildren; all are active in Judaism. She is very active in the Woodlands Community Temple as well as American Association of University Women and the ACLU.