by Iris Adams
I’ve always been curious about the tradition of mikveh, so I was pleased to accept an invitation to visit Mayyim Hayyim in June with a group of women from the Merrimack Valley. When I walked through the gate by a pretty white and blue tiled bench set among greenery and gardens, I felt an immediate sense of serenity.
Inside, we walked past the art exhibit and wandered through the public part of the house. I was swept up by the simple yet warm architectural elements, beautiful woods, and tiles. As we sat around the conference table, Leeza, the Associate Director of Education, told us about the biblical origins of mikveh and the history of Mayyim Hayyim. Then onto our tour of the atrium, the changing rooms, and mikva’ot. Already in awe of the physical beauty, we moved poolside, as Leeza shared a story about a woman who brought along a violinist who played outside the closed mikveh doors in the atrium while the woman immersed herself in private. The story caught me off guard, a few tears, and feeling embarrassed by my reaction, I quickly composed myself. Hmmm….what was that all about?
A few years ago, my husband and I were on a bike and barge tour from Amsterdam to Brugge. One of the stops along the route was in Schoonhoven, a little Dutch town known for its silver shops. One of the shops had a sign, Jewish Tours for One Euro. The Jewish artifacts were housed upstairs and the mikveh, (called a Joods Bad – Mikwah) a cement hole in a stark tiny room was in back of the shop. When I asked the shopkeeper if there was a Jewish community in the town, she replied in a crisp Dutch staccato accent, “There are no Jews left in this town.” I shuddered at her terse tone.
On occasion, I have thought about my reaction at Mayyim Hayyim. I was so taken with the light, the warmth of the Jerusalem stone, and the architectural beauty. The violin touches my soul and the thought of soft violin music combined with the harmony of being immersed in the mikveh seem to have merged together. Perhaps my reaction, tucked away in the recesses of my mind came from Schoonhaven with its barren mikveh set in the back of the silver shop, and a Jewish community wiped out by hatred contrasted with the welcoming, spiritual and growing community of Mayyim Hayyim.
Whatever my reaction, Mayyim Hayyim is a gorgeous example of an egalitarian accepting Jewish community.
Iris is a member at Temple Emanu-el in Haverhill. She recently retired from Lawrence public schools as a middle school teacher.