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Accessibility and Inclusion, Jewish Community

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by Lisa Berman, Mikveh and Education Director

Last week, I taught about mikveh in Buenos Aires. And Mexico. And a half dozen other Latin American countries. I didn’t rack up any frequent flyer miles – I didn’t even have to leave Newton, MA.

Mikveh in Mexico City

At the kind (and sweetly persistent) invitation of my friend and former Boston-based colleague, Cantor Gaston Bogomolni, I taught a class of rabbinical students at the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano via Zoom video conferencing. This seminary is “the academic, cultural, and religious center of Conservative (Masorti) Judaism in Latin America” with a goal to “train and ordain rabbis with the aim of spreading and perpetuating Judaism in Latin American communities.” Founded in 1962 by Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer (z”l), it has ordained more than 80 clergy – including women – who work in more than 15 Latin American countries as well as Israel and the U.S. Many of the students live in a variety of Latin American countries, far from the main campus in Argentina, and participate through online connection.

For this class in Jewish pastoral care, or livui ruhani (spiritual accompaniment), faculty member Rabbi Marcela Guralnik graciously framed the learning I presented and translated as necessary (which is to say hardly at all). She is an avowed “mikveh fan” and speaks passionately about the opportunities for healing that mikveh affords. I spoke about Mayyim Hayyim: what makes us unique (among others: pluralism, empowerment, and outreach); our principles; how mikveh is relevant to these students’ budding rabbinates; how it can be a key element in their “clergy tool kits.”

I was inspired to learn that there are well over 100 mikva’ot in Latin America, and that these rabbinical students, most already working in their Jewish communities, have access to the mikva’ot there – including some beautiful new ones.

They asked about the alternative blessing for immersion Mayyim Hayyim created that substitutes “Who makes us holy by embracing us in living waters” for the traditional reference to being commanded regarding immersion, “Who has sanctified us with mitzvot and commanded us concerning immersion.” This blessing is an option for the many guests who come for non-traditional reasons that are not based in halacha (traditional Jewish law). They asked about how we welcome and support trans and nonbinary guests, and we shared our Immersion Ceremony for a Gender Transition Milestone.

While in many ways our learning time together was familiar – outlines, materials, questions, and stories – I’m still struck by the reality of how easy it was to share a simultaneous learning experience with a dozen soon-to-be-rabbis ALL ACROSS LATIN AMERICA in one click. I freely admit, sometimes technology and I have a fractious relationship. But not this week.

Lisa BermanLisa Berman is the Mikveh and Education Director at Mayyim Hayyim.