Testing the Waters

Accessibility and Inclusion, Jewish Community

by Shanna Shulman

I was there to test the water… or rather, to test the new policies and procedures Mayyim Hayyim had developed to reduce the risk of COVID transmission.

Mayyim Hayyim had made the difficult decision to close the mikveh last April when transmission levels were rising in our area. The staff and board worked diligently since then toward a safe re-opening. There was no model for us to follow in this work, and so we, as an organization, relied on what has always carried Mayyim Hayyim forward: adapting Jewish tradition to meet the modern life interests of the Jewish community. In this case, however, we needed infectious disease experts, in addition to our consulting rabbis, to meet the safety and spiritual needs of our guests.

So I was at the mikveh in late August to help test those procedures. Our goal was to pilot, refine, and ultimately ensure that we could hold to these new safety procedures while maintaining the quality of our guest experience. We walked through Mayyim Hayyim’s revised procedures, testing the smallest details along the way – where to store the masks, how to accommodate guests of differing abilities, how to refill the automatic hand sanitizer dispenser – but someone had to get in the water to really test the system, and that someone was me.

I’ve immersed many times over the years of my involvement with Mayyim Hayyim. Each immersion has felt significant to me, each one defined by the reason for which I’d come to immerse – preparing for holidays, a new pregnancy, an impending birth, a weaning, a job transition, a celebration of a child’s bar mitzvah, sending a kid off to college, a trip to Israel – but this immersion was not in any of those categories. I was merely testing what it would take to get a person safely in and out of our pools.

As I prepared to enter the water, wrapped in one of Mayyim Hayyim’s pristine sheets, the last article I removed was my mask.  My mask – this unwelcome layering, this artificial second skin I’d had to don over the past six months – I left hanging on a hook at the edge of the pool. As I descended the seven steps into the mikveh, I noticed the warmth of the water on my toes, ankles, legs in contrast to the cool air now circulating around my face. What bliss to slip into that water completely unmasked. To engage in the mikveh ritual, tucking my legs up under me while dunking my head under, for a moment completely submerged and suspended.  All those months of being scrupulously careful and wary of exposure released in the water as I floated freely, unfettered, and blithely exposed. In that moment, I felt safe, and held, and renewed.

And so the test proved the case: our new safety protocols are sound, and the power of the ritual is still intact. It’s safe to return to the water.

Shanna Shulman joined the Mayyim Hayyim Board of Directors in 2014 and was instrumental in shaping its first strategic plan. Professionally, Shanna works to increase access to health care for vulnerable populations. Shanna and her husband Mark are the delighted parents of Caleb, Jonah, and Gideon, and they are members of Temple Beth Avodah.


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