My body tells the story of my life. I carry with me the marks of bruises and bumps, of accidents and incidents, of life lived and life halted.
Like water, life is full of flows and ebbs and rushing and stillness and noise and silence.
And water takes us right back to before there is a ‘me’. Before I was me I was held in water, in my mother’s body. As she was held safe in water in her mother’s, as we all were, back and back. It’s like the Disney song, under the sea we don’t have responsibilities, don’t have relationships. Everything is taken care of. In the water we can just be.
As a woman, in a woman’s body, time is counted in eggs released, in moons. In monthlies. And for many of us in pregnancies wished for, wanted, worried about. And maybe-babies that could have been or might have been. And each of those pregnancies, births, babies, eggs – fertilized or unfertilized as the case may be are part of us and our story. And our religious tradition provides a space for recognizing this.
And like many Jewish women I have found moments of peace in my life that so often seems to be running in fast forward by going back to the source of life, to the water. Back to the source of life to recognise that the potential that my body carried within me had not been more than that. Back to the source to mark the changes in my body after that potential was realised and I was healing from the birth of my first child, and then my second. Back to the source as my body stopped nurturing my child’s and my decade of pregnancy and breastfeeding came to an end.
And then my body changed again, as bodies are wont to do. And I wanted to go back to my safe space under the water. But now it is too hard. A serpent that had been in hiding for many years has returned.
The Mikveh is the lungs of our community. Without a Mikveh Jewish communities stagnate. No babies, no children, no need for schools, no future.
Without access to the Mikveh can I be a part of the community? How can I be a part of something that I can no longer fit into?
There are stairs, and I cannot use stairs. There is a recently remodeled bathroom that does not allow me, in my body as it is now, to access the shower or bath. There is the communally funded and run Mikveh where I have been weightless and where I have given my worries and stresses back to the water from whence I had come. This Mikvah, and others, exist for the women of our community. Ostensibly…
I recently came across a Facebook thread full of Jewish community members sharing stories of the ways the community is inclusive, so good at providing space for people with disabilities to join in. Look over here they cried, we have a whole organization devoted to providing this, and another which gives that. We give, we raise money for, we donate time to.
And my heart sank. Because here it was in black and white, as a person with a disability, as a disabled person, I am no longer ‘of’ the community but have become other. Someone the community will invite to visit but never fully consider an integral part of the whole.
There is no Mikveh in this country (Australia) that is designed for my use. Not one in a building I can access without help, with showers I can get in and out of, with a Mikveh I can lower myself into and feel again weightless and embraced. Not one.
And it is not just for myself that this matters. If members of our community cannot use the areas set aside for ritual purposes then are we really members of the community at all? What message are we sending to women and girls who have bodies that are different when they, when we, cannot enter a building that is central to Jewish marriage, and thus Jewish life. As a community are we imagining that these people do not exist, or are we threatened by the idea that a woman who needs to access a Mikveh is by definition a sexual being? Sex is for the young, for those with perfect bodies. Our imagination struggles to encompass the idea that there are adult humans whose bodies or brains are different, yet who are still sexual beings.
Losing full use of my body and brain has been a fast or slow process, depending on where the story begins. Losing access to my community at the same time should not have surprised me as much as it did. The realisation that a space that was built to allow women to honour their cycle – as have our mothers and theirs for more years than we can count – is not set up for me was devastating.
Every year some women will become disabled. And each year girls who are disabled already will become women. Will there be mikvaot for us to access as we need? Will the lack of accessible mikvaot remain a barrier to full inclusion in klal Yisrael?