Written by Aliza Kline

This year, for my sabbatical in Israel, my family and I deliberately chose not to live in Jerusalem. My husband Bradley and I have both lived there for at least two years and we hoped for a different kind of Israel experience. We also were just exhausted by the constant meshugas (craziness) inherent in living in Jerusalem. The Holy City is host to a whole lot of extremists, on all sides. The ultra-Orthodox / Hareidi population seems to be overtaking every neighborhood – even ones that were previously more diverse, or predominantly “secular.” This makes me feel out of place, foreign and, at times, angry – like I have to prove my Jewish legitimacy.

In addition to feeling ambivalent about living in Jerusalem, I felt ambivalent about how much “mikveh talk” I would engage in during my sabbatical. After all – these 10 months are mine to renew, reenergize and nurture family and myself. Back home I talk about mikveh all of the time – this year could provide a break – remind me of other compelling aspects of Jewish life.

For the past several years on every visit to Jerusalem I have had back-to-back meetings with Reform, Conservative, modern-Orthodox and plain curious Israelis wanting to talk through their visions for an alternative to the State-run mikvaot that dot the city. Even though the conversations have been rich and stimulating, they don’t seem to have resulted in any thing concrete.

This year though, it seems like the topic is inescapable – and maybe just meant to be. The New Israel Fund and Shatil established a Mikveh Round Table – mostly made up of Orthodox women throughout Israel who are concerned about how mikveh attendants are (not) trained, (under) funded and (mis) treated – often resulting in the mistreatment of the women who come to immerse. And the Shamaya mikveh at Kibbutz Hannaton is blooming under the leadership of Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner David. And four Reform women rabbis have just published Parashat Hamayim, Immersion in Water as an Opportunity for Renewal and Spiritual Growth. This beautiful book, by Mayyim Hayyim’s friends, Rabbis Alona Lisitsa, Dalia Marx, Maya Leibovich and Tamar Duvdevani is a testament to the optimism that mikveh holds.

The book is filled with immersion ceremonies ranging from getting your first period, to marking various stages of couple hood, to pregnancy and infertility, to conversion, to healing to preparing for Pesach. Similar to Mayyim Hayyim’s collection of immersion ceremonies but unique in that Jerusalem offers no mikvaot to these four rabbis – no place to bring women, men, children, conversion candidates. Their only resources are natural springs or the Mediterranean Sea – both lacking the privacy and accessibility that a mikveh should offer.

They published the book anyway – took them four years. It is now being sold in bookstores across the country. I am seriously inspired by this. I know how difficult it is to publish resources for mikveh – and I have far fewer barriers placed in front of me in Boston.

So here it is, I am driving into Jerusalem regularly (we are living in Modi’in which is 30-50 minutes away depending on traffic). I am meeting with some extraordinary women who are committed to a vision of mikveh that is inclusive, welcoming, accessible and open for all those who wish to use it. But we are not just talking. We are planning. I can’t help myself.

Stay tuned for more optimism.

L’Shana Ha’ba’ah B’yirushalaim – Next Year in Jerusalem!

Aliza Kline, Founding Executive Director, has led Mayyim Hayyim from its initial stages, overseeing fund raising, publicity, design, construction, staffing, recruiting volunteers, and board development. In May, 2009, Aliza was awarded an AVI CHAI Fellowship (best described as the “Jewish MacArthur Genius Grant”) in recognition of her accomplishments, creativity and commitment to the Jewish people.