At a meeting last year of the Education Advisory Committee for Mayyim Hayyim, we talked about ways to bring people in to learn about both Mayyim Hayyim and the new role that the mikveh plays within contemporary, liberal Judaism. I immediately thought of our interfaith book group, Daughters of Abraham. What a wonderful experience it would be for our members (even the Jewish members) to learn about the mikveh and to talk about the role of water in our three faith traditions.
I discussed the possibility with Lisa Berman, Education Center Director, of our holding one of our meetings at Mayyim Hayyim. Then at our final book group meeting last year I presented the idea to our group. They were very excited to have the opportunity to learn more about Mayyim Hayyim and about the role of immersion within Jewish tradition.
This May our group met at Mayyim Hayyim. We began our meeting with a tour of the mikveh led by Lisa. She is an incredible teacher! We learned about the history of mikveh and immersion and how Mayyim Hayyim expanded the role that immersion now plays in so many aspects of life. Our members were impressed by the beauty of the ritual baths and the preparation rooms. The discussion, facilitated by Lisa, continued over coffee; our Christian and Muslim members shared the role of water within their own faith traditions. One of our Christian members observed that the mikveh must have been the forerunner of baptism. Our evening concluded with the group singing of U’shavte Mayim B’sason (Joyfully shall you draw water) and Peace, Salaam, Shalom.
Two members shared their thoughts on our visit:
It was a very uplifting and positive experience for me. The serenity of the environment, the sense of calm and the genuine caring of the hosts for the participants in the mikveh generated a feeling of peace and comfort. The use of water by all three faith traditions, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, as a cleansing and purifying medium, reinforced for me the common core of our faiths.
I knew that the visit to Mayyim Hayyim would deeply influence me. I guess I had been waiting for such an invitation for quite a while! Having grown up in a progressive private school in Lower Manhattan in the 1950’s, I knew many liberal and ethnic Jewish families. Visiting the ritual bath reminded me of them and of my Jewish father who passed away at an early age. I married a Christian man and joined the church at that time. Over the years, I have been drawn to Jewish history and the Hebrew Bible as well as Klezmer music and Israeli folk dancing. I would rather have my Sabbath on Friday night than Sunday morning. Attending Mayyim Hayyim seemed like a coming home especially when learning about conversion and the purity of the water in the mikveh. I was able to ask some probing questions, mostly about misunderstandings I had been taught growing up. But the greatest delight was in learning about how pure the water was as long as it was fed by a natural source and that nothing could pollute it. This told me that I could always rise above my imperfections. Sometimes religious practice feels like an old shoe that really fits. Sometimes it feels like a shoe that is too tight or too big. It just doesn’t fit. There are many aspects of Judaism that fit me. I’m not sure that I will take it to conversion as I have been a practicing Christian for 30 years but there is always more to learn.
–Susan C.Sheila Goldberg is a member of Mayyim Hayyim’s Education Advisory Committee and Daughters of Abraham’s Steering Committee. She co-founded S.T.O.P., Students Together Opposing Prejudice. Goldberg also worked as the Director of Education of Congregation Beth El from 1987 – 1999 and as a consultant in Jewish Education from 1999-2004.