Almost a year after I got married, I had plans to be at my in-laws for Thanksgiving. Being at their place requires preparation and organization, as they do not keep kosher, but thank God are respectful and accommodating.
While preparing for our trip, I realized that for the first time my mikveh night would fall during our visit. My in-laws live in Northern Michigan and there is no mikveh nearby but just across the street is a private beach of Lake Michigan, which belongs to their neighborhood.
For those who have not been to Michigan during Thanksgiving, it is cold. Very cold. Winter has begun already by Thanksgiving time and often the first snowfall of the season already takes place before the end of November comes around.
We therefore asked our Rabbi what would be the process I should follow in this situation. First of all, he in fact confirmed that I could immerse in Lake Michigan as a natural body of water. Secondly, he made sure that it was clear that I should not immerse if there was any danger to my life, due to the water being too cold. Then he explained that I could wear a large T-shirt and that my husband could be my mikveh attendant for the evening. In addition, he instructed that I should go out far enough so that I could fully immerse my body, and that I should not change my regular tradition for immersion.
For those who do not live in cold weather or specifically do not live in the midwest, there is a known custom called a polar plunge. A polar plunge is when someone dressed in a bathing suit jumps into ice cold water when it is freezing outside. Obviously the water is not frozen over, but it is practically almost there. With this custom being in the mind of my in-laws, all agreed that it would not be a problem for me to immerse. To be completely honest, I really wanted to do it because I didn’t know if I would have the chance ever again and it seemed to me like such a unique experience, as long as it was safe, of course.
The day had arrived and wouldn’t you know? It started to snow. Was I going to back out? Was it still safe?
I decided to go for it and take upon this challenge for myself. As we headed out, it was something quite magical to see the massive lake that stretched into the distance and no one around, just me and my husband in this spiritual and yes, also slightly scary moment.
I was ‘blessed’ that although it was snowing there was no wind so I went out slowly, step-by-step, and I wish I had the bravery to just run out, dunk and run back but I am also ‘blessed’ to have contacts, which of course I had taken out for the immersion. So I went out slowly. My teeth were chattering and I actually kept saying to myself ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this,’ while I kept putting one foot in front of the other. My husband was fully dressed and completely unprepared for immersion in cold, freezing water, but he was by my side if I needed support.
The water suddenly was deep enough. I had walked out far enough to immerse. I will be completely honest that I felt the cold water and could move my feet of course but once that initial cold feeling passed, the body parts immersed were numb and no longer felt cold. I was very nervous to fully immerse but I had come this far – I had to dunk! I muttered a little prayer to myself, counted and just went for it. I said the blessing with chattering teeth and dunked two more times as is my custom.
The moment I had finished was very special. I got to hug my husband immediately after immersing and I don’t know how many women have had that experience before. No dressing, no make-up on, no prep in the bathroom after immersion – immediately coming together after immersion. It was a very powerful and spiritual moment for me and for us. My husband could now pick me up to get us both out of there as quickly as possible, and my mother-in-law had her car prepared just at the edge of the beach. So I quickly got dressed, jumped in the car, jumped afterwards into a hot shower, and made sure to properly warm up with some hot chocolate.
Would I do it again? Yeah, if I needed to. Fact is, I have already immersed a few more times since this experience, once more during cold weather and other times in much warmer weather (but boy, Lake Michigan is still pretty cold!). I would definitely not seek it out but if the opportunity ever arises for you and you find yourself in a similar situation, I do recommend it. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, very spiritual and magical, but does require preparation, support and assistance from those around you.
I can attest that Netta was very brave (as I was the one parked near the beach ready to drive them back to our house)! And John was extremely supportive and helpful to her. It’s something I’ll never forget being a small part of…