Standing on the Boundaries of Liminal Space

by Carrie Bornstein

liminal |ˈlimənl|
adjective technical
1 of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
2 occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.

I live in a world of liminal space. And not only because I work at a mikveh. The mikveh, of course, is the space we have built in to our Jewish framework that marks transitions, that invites us to enter the water in one state and then exit, ready for another.

I live in a world of liminal space because I embrace contradictions. I don’t do well with categories, boxes, or assumptions. A 24-hour time span for me means teaching Orthodox feminists in New York City about creating an empowered mikveh experience, and coming back to talk with my staff about Transgender Day of Remembrance, how participants in Boston offered words of healing and also silence in memory of those who have been assaulted, killed, or have taken their own lives while simply trying to live out the truth of their identities.

In Hebrew, most words are built upon a three-letter shoresh. My favorite of these roots is ayin – resh – vet, the letters that spell out erev, or evening. Evening is the mixture of both day and night and all the words with this root have something to do with mixing: an eruv allows the mixture of physical space, the erev rav were a group of biblical people who joined along with the Jewish people despite their lack of clear Jewish identity. The words for potpourri and whirlpool come from this root too.

It is this mixing, these contradictions, that keep our lives rich. When we can interact with people who are different than we are, we can truly grow and learn.

In the words of Rabbi Reuben Zellman that were read aloud yesterday at Transgender Day of Remembrance in Boston,

“We offer a blessing for the twilight, for twilight is neither day nor night, but in-between. We are all twilight people. We can never be fully labeled or defined. We are many identities and loves, many genders and none. We are in between roles, at the intersection of histories, or between place and place.”

CBTapestryThough mikveh has historically been a place of boundaries where too many Jews have been kept out, I am grateful for all those in our community who make it possible for Mayyim Hayyim to be a place of welcome and inclusion, where we can stand on the boundaries of liminal space, and sink right in.

Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director. Follow her on twitter @carolinering.

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