At this time of year – a time of reconciliation and forgiveness – we are posting a blog which expresses intense personal feelings in the hope that both attendants and mikveh users will share the desire to connect and find a respectful way to hear each other’s voices and needs.
Dear Mikvah Lady,
I’ve always loved mikvah. I’ve been going since the night before my wedding more than 20 years ago.
It’s private, personal, and female, connecting my earth-bound body to the spiritual realm. It is my favourite place to pray.
But now I don’t want to go back again. Because of you.
Around 10 years ago, I moved to your city.
I braved my new mikvah that first time, not knowing what to expect. But it was lovely! The rooms were plain but clean, and there was music playing.
And there was you: smiling, patient, respectful. After I stepped out of the water, you gently held my hand in yours, smiled, and gave me a beautiful blessing for a good month. “Amen!” I said.
Every month, in reply to your blessings, I said, “Amen, amen!”
Every month, I felt uplifted.
The years passed. Now I am nearly 50 years old and go to mikvah less often. Each time I go becomes more and more precious.
I read recently that I could immerse without someone watching me.
That sounded perfect, to be totally alone in my spiritual moment, with my private prayers.
So when I came to mikvah, before I stepped into the waters I said, “I would like to immerse alone today.” “Are you sure?” you said. “Yes.” You pulled the curtains closed, gave me my privacy, stepped back and waited.
And so I immersed, savouring my solitude, my space, my prayers.
Oddly, when I said the blessing out loud, you didn’t say amen. Perhaps you hadn’t heard me.
When I stepped out of the water, you left the room and didn’t give me your blessing. You must have been called away.
I got dressed, wrapped my head, and as I left, I saw you.
“Oh, you forgot to give me a blessing!” I said. “Please bless me now!” I smiled and extended my hand.
You had a serious look on your face as you crossed your arms and shook your head.
“I can’t bless you,” you said, “because I couldn’t see you. I don’t know if it was kosher or not.”
Here are some of the thoughts I have as I walk home:
I feel incredulous. You found my immersion lacking? Do you think that after more than 20 years of mikvah, I might not immerse correctly? Do you believe that our ancestors’ immersions were all supervised?
I feel angry. I am 48 years old, I do not seek or need your approval. Why do you think you have the right to offer it or deny it to me? Why are you infantilising me? And in the mikvah of all places, a space uniquely reserved for adult women?
I feel despair. Blessing is a source of abundance and goodness. Blessing is the opportunity to bring the Divine between people. How is it possible that you are harnessing blessing as a source of power, control, and manipulation?
I feel sadness. I am so sad that you were able to act this way to me. If you can act like this to me, you can act like this to any woman, and then the mikvah has ceased to be a sanctuary at all.
I feel the opposite of uplifted. I feel despondent.
When I get home I instinctively step back from my husband as he approaches me for a hug.
“I had a difficult time,” I whisper to him, “I’ll tell you later.”
And for the first time in my life, I dread going back to mikvah.
What made you withhold your personal blessing?
As I tried to imagine what makes you tick, I discovered some of my own beliefs along the way.
1. The mikvah exists to serve the women who come to immerse.
Mikvah sits at that profound intersection of health, fertility, body image, spirituality, religion, and intimacy. Every woman stepping into the mikvah is on her own journey in each of these areas.
It is the job of the mikvah lady to support each woman wherever she is on her journey today, to send her a message of validation and self-worth. Remember: you are in service to her (and not the other way around.)
How a woman chooses to immerse is not a reflection of you! How a woman approaches mikvah is HER story. One of the most empowering things you can do for her is to witness her story.
2. As the mikvah lady, you can change lives.
The mikvah is your territory; you create its environment.
It’s a busy world out there. We women are juggling a lot of stuff.
How many women come to mikvah feeling overwhelmed and over-burdened? How many women come bearing physical or emotional scars or both? How would you like these women to experience mikvah? How would you like them to feel when they leave? What can you do to create for them a shelter and place of harmony?
When you offer your welcoming smile and a personal blessing, you are helping to create a positive religious experience for women in a healthy, accepting, and safe environment.
3. A blessing is one way we invite God’s presence into our space.
Blessing is synonymous with mercy, sanctification, and grace.
Whether you agree or disagree with a woman’s personal choices, you can recognise that your blessing is a source of connection and abundance that brings God’s presence into every visit.
When you interact with women in the mikvah, overseeing their safety and sanctity, and you extend a blessing to them, you are inviting God’s presence into your shared space.
Only you have the opportunity to impact this many women’s lives, every single night.
You have the chance to create a safe space for women and to let them know that they are enough, exactly as they are.
You have the power to support women’s positive religious experiences, and to invite God’s presence into this world, again and again, with every blessing you give.
Be that kind of mikvah lady. The kind I know you already are, smiling, patient, and respectful. The kind that lifts a woman up, no matter what. Because it’s not negotiable. In this life, lifting each other up is all we’ve got.
Wishing you a sweet and healthy year ahead.