The Mikveh: It’s JUST Like Nordstom’s

by Carrie Bornstein

I have a confession to make, right up front. I’ve never been to Nordstrom’s. But from what I’ve heard, I imagine it to be the Mecca of department stores.  (Okay, I’ve never been to Mecca, either, so let me quit while I’m ahead.) The image I have of Nordstrom’s is of bright lights, clean displays, and friendly salespeople.

Just like your average mikveh, right?

In Boston, now that Mayyim Hayyim has been open for nearly nine years, we often find ourselves responding to the question, “How many mikvehs are there like this in Boston?” This visitor is astounded to hear that not only is the answer, “We’re the only one,” but that we can’t even say (yet) that such a mikveh and education center is standard around the country.

Last week when I read Erica Brown’s “Getting to Nordstrom’s” I was giddy. I started talking about it with the artist installing her work in our gallery… our Vice President who was in the building at the time.  I printed it out and gave it to our staff, we emailed it to the board and volunteer Mikveh Guides.

To me, the connections to our work and philosophy were obvious in this article.  But not too long afterwards, I realized that just like the visitor who thinks all mikvehs are exactly like Mayyim Hayyim, perhaps it’s not so evident how any mikveh could operate under high expectations of customer service. **Insert mental image of standard mikveh here.**

Brown’s full article is well worth the read, and describes tips for improving customer service in Jewish organizations. Here are some of my favorites, along with concrete examples of how they can manifest themselves in an organization such as ours:

“It’s not about customer satisfaction; it’s about customer loyalty, which means exceeding expectations every time.”

I have a theory about the “mishpacha factor” in Jewish life.  At best, this ingrained notion of Jews as one family, one mishpacha, encourages us to care for one another in the deepest possible sense.  But because we are more comfortable with our family than with anyone else, we also tend to let our guard down. We speak harshly; we react quickly. Unconditional love is a tricky thing.

At Mayyim Hayyim, we know that the stakes are high for each visitor. Positive or negative, each experience can last a lifetime in a person’s memory, and reverberates in the community. We don’t accept every applicant who shows interest in becoming a Mikveh Guide or Educator, harsh as it may sound. We can help find a different role for them in the organization, but as far as our “customers” go, we can’t take any risks.

“Expect lateral service — everyone is responsible on some level for everything that goes on. If there’s litter in the lobby, every person walking by should be invested enough to pick it up.”

We all empty the dishwasher.  When the doorbell rings, it’s a race to see who can welcome the visitor first.  I even learned from Gail, one of our volunteer Mikveh Guides, that the couch cushions in the reception area look better if the stripes line up to face the same way.  In a community-based organization, we all own this responsibility.

“The devil is in the details and so is the angel. Small gestures matter.”

One visitor commented that we didn’t have a hook on the back of a bathroom door to hang up a coat, so we installed one. Before we opened, we taught our architect about mikveh and our mission so he could design the building with these goals in mind. We offer full-sized (read: one-size-fits-all) bath sheets instead of towels as visitors enter the mikveh area so no one need worry about being covered insufficiently.

If we are to make a commitment as a community to improving our service to one another, we need to continue this conversation.  What would you add to the list? When have you experienced the Nordstrom’s of the Jewish community? What does it feel like when it works?

Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director.  She is currently working on planning an upcoming trip to Nordstrom’s.  Purely for research purposes, of course. Follow her on twitter @carolinering.


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