The second time I ever went to the Mikveh stands out in my mind. I was nervous and hesitant and felt like a vulnerable novice. Would I bump into someone I knew on the way? Would I remember what to do? Would it be awkward if I recognized someone in the waiting area? Anxiously, I entered what I was only half certain was the entrance to the mikveh.
I was greeted by raucous noise and laughter. For a moment I was not sure I had come to the right place. I had remembered the Mikveh being quiet, with everyone taking care of their own private needs.
Looking around for the source of the noise, I saw a young girl, a bride-to-be with what seemed to be her entire extended family. Not only that, but they were setting up a table with what resembled a lavish Kiddush. I later found out that this is a common custom among many Sephardic women.
The contrast between my own attempts to be discreet and this family’s festive celebration highlighted to me that the experience of the Mikveh is unique to each woman. For different women, the mikveh brings up a unique combination of emotions, ranging from excitement, anger, love, resentment, spiritual connection, intimacy, shame, and fear, among others. In contrast to many other Jewish practices which are done publicly, communally, and at marked times in a shared calendar, the practice of mikveh is generally done alone and on an individual calendar, which is known only to each individual woman.
Though each woman’s experience is distinct, I imagine we also have much in common. What is gained from the discreet nature of the mikveh practice is a sense of privacy and the ability for each woman to make this practice her own without answering to others. But perhaps what is lost, is the potential for women to connect with one another and hear about each other’s journeys with mikveh. I imagine that a comfortable space for women to examine their own lived and embodied experiences, hear from each other, and examine writings on this topic could greatly enhance our sense of ownership over this practice. Throughout the first couple years of using the mikveh, I did not have a space to discuss the concerns, thoughts, and challenges the experience evoked in me. As a mental health professional, I know how much strength, wisdom, and peace of mind can be gained from sharing our experiences.