By Dr. Max Klau
In the early days after the 2016 election, I made myself a vow to immerse in the mikveh when the time came to mark the end of his administration. In late January 2021—about a week after the inauguration—I made it happen. I spent a good long time floating in the warm water, fervently seeking to cleanse and rededicate my civic soul after four endless, foul years.
I have immersed in the mikveh several times in the past, to mark transitions that felt meaningful: when I completed my doctorate, before the birth of my son, before the birth of my daughter. Those were moments that felt transformational enough to merit marking with ritual. I had never before felt that need to mark a transfer of political power in this way. Until now.
Like so many others in our nation, I spent a lot of time grappling with dark emotions like fear, anger, and despair over the course of the last four years. At some point in the early months of this past administration, a specific word popped into my head with intense force and clarity: defilement.
To defile something means “to desecrate or profane something sacred,” and I realized that it was the word that resonated most powerfully for me when I thought about what was happening to our nation. When the President responded to the march of white supremacists in Charlottesville with the claim that there were “good people on both sides,” I thought about the generation that had stormed the beach at Normandy and risked their lives to fight against an earlier movement that had marched in the night chanting angrily that “the Jews will not replace us.” It was hard to imagine a statement that profaned their memory and sacrifice more completely. When I learned that America was separating children from their families at the border, I had moments when I felt like I was going to vomit. These were far more than policies and statements that I found disagreeable; this was a desecration of sacred civic values that generations of Americans had sacrificed for and died to defend and that I had been raised to revere.
I’ll admit that for years, I dreamed of a mikveh dunk that would provide an experience of instantaneous, complete renewal. I longed to just wash all the fear, anger, angst, and sadness away all at once. It didn’t work that way. The dark forces empowered over the last four years are still with us; the outcome of this struggle for the soul of the nation is still unclear. I did not emerge from the waters feeling born anew.
I did feel different, though. More powerfully connected to something pure and whole. Strengthened in my awareness of the basic decency, kindness, and compassion within that had been battered and beaten but never defeated. Reconsecrated, in some small but meaningful way, leaving me renewed to continue striving to bring a bit more holiness into this world walking the razor’s edge between chaos and community.
Dr. Max Klau is a leadership consultant and coach. He is an alum of four Jewish service programs, has completed two years of service in Israel, and has led Jewish college students on service trips to Honduras, Ghana, and Ukraine. He is married to Beverly Klau (a Jewish educator involved in programming at Mayyim Hayyim) and is father to Bernie and Sadie.