Accessibility and Inclusion, Carrie Bornstein, Shabbat and Holidays

by Carrie Bornstein, Executive Director

My favorite holiday starts in just a few days. Purim, our most fun, upbeat, and irreverent holiday, is one that I take very seriously. I love creating themed homemade costumes for my family, coordinating the mishloach manot food gifts with our costumes and then eating all the goodies that come my way. I love reading Megillat Esther (I’m looking at you, Chapter 5!) and in theory I’m (still) working on writing my own megillah, having learned scribal arts from a sofer in Jerusalem.

It’s hard not to love a holiday like this whose commandments are a joy and whose restrictions are few. I think at its essence, though, I love this holiday because it’s an opportunity to take our assumptions and turn them on their head. Fine clothing and decorum in shul? Nope. Making food only for ourselves? Not this time. A story where the women do exactly as they’re told? Sorry, guys, this one’s different.

While it’s perfectly natural to use our knowledge about the world to make sense of it all and then use that knowledge to act accordingly, making assumptions can also hinder our ability to truly know one another and can make us less effective in our work and relationships when we get something wrong.

This idea of taking assumptions and turning them on their head is also at the core of my love for all things Mayyim Hayyim. Think the mikveh is a gross, dark, dingy place? It doesn’t have to be. Only Orthodox women go to the mikveh? Not true again. A person with a physical disability couldn’t possibly get in the water? Sorry guys, it’s just not the case.

We have Reform women who use the mikveh every month for niddah (the practice of abstaining from sexual intimacy around the time of menstruation).

We have men who visit to celebrate the birth of a child.

There are kids who immerse to mark the beginning of a new school year.

Orthodox women come to Mayyim Hayyim for niddah, and for non-traditional reasons too. Trans people come as they live more fully into the gender that matches their inner core. People come in wheelchairs in their final weeks of life as they prepare to die, and whole families convert to Judaism together.

It’s a wonderful, topsy-turvy kind of a mikveh we have here, where the only constant we can rely on is that things are always changing. It’s an opportunity to look at the world anew, to recognize that things do not need to be as we assume they will be, and to become active in making Jewish ritual our own.

Sometimes turning things upside down can be the best way to make things level once again.

Carrie BornsteinCarrie Bornstein is the Executive Director at Mayyim Hayyim.