Well, I may not be that old chronologically speaking but taking the dip of all dips for the very first time at age 57 is somewhat unusual. I beg my reader’s indulgence while I explain.
I was born in New York to first generation American parents. My maternal Bubby and Zaide were “Old Country” traditionally observant shomer shabbat, kashrut, mitzvot, etc. My parents were secular and abandoned all observance. As a result they had two daughters who were totally secularized and assimilated, not even going to “Sunday School”. Except for one summer at a Jewish/Kosher “sleepaway” camp for three weeks at age seven and my Bubby’s constant rules about what I can and can’t do when we were at her house (without explaining why), we did not have any real understanding of what being Jewish meant. All we knew was that a lot of people hated us and were not afraid of being vocal about it.
Fast forward many years to 2000. My husband and I began the Teshuvah journey together. We moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to the Park Heights area. It was quite “frum” and a very warm and welcoming community. We studied, we learned and we became immersed into a genuine observant life. We were very happy. We observed (almost) all the mitzvot set before us. We did not, however observe the laws ofniddah because it was not necessary, or so we thought. I was post (surgically induced) menopause since age 33, almost 20 years prior.
In 2002, both my husband and I lost our mothers within 6 hours of each other, buried them side by side and sat shiva together at our daughter’s house. I think that during those 7 excruciating days we were visited by everyone in the entire Jewish community including all the rabbonim gadolim. Everyone was talking about the “bizarre” circumstances. Offering condolences and giving blessings. As terrible as the situation was, there was comfort in these amazing visits and expressions of love. I have never felt anything like that in my life. It has left an indelible impression of Jewish unity.
Forward another 3 years. My husband and I make the decision to make aliyah. Our daughters were grown and married and had their own families, all 4 of our parents were gone, we were both approaching retirement years and so after hearing so much about planes that take 200 people on a one way trip and landing in Israel as official Israeli citizens, it was just too wonderful not to do it! And so we did. Three days after my 56th birthday I came home.
I cannot describe the incredibly powerful feeling of holiness in the air! We were changed people. We made our first home in a lovely yishuv in the Binyamin area. We made friends quickly with the Anglo community whose outreach was beautiful. After several months, I started having a feeling that something was just not quite right – with me. I felt “dirty” in HaShem’s Holy Land. I wanted to go to the mikveh! Even though I was technically exempt, I felt that this was absolutely the most important thing to do to make my teshuva journey complete. So at age 57 I started taking private, tailor made “kallah” classes with the most incredible young woman I have ever met! She was sensitive to my needs and respectful of my concerns. Whenever I had a question, she would immediately consult the Rabbi. Some restrictions were waived in my case, but others were fully enforced. Finally the big day arrived and I was treated with the utmost respect. The “Mikveh Lady” (balanit) indulged me with the bridal room. They took me on a little tour, explained how things worked and what I was supposed to do. I had a bubble bath and a short shower and did the required grooming. I was nervous and I was very excited. I recited a few tehillim and my hands were shaking. I did not feel comfortable at all, being seen naked by anyone! Nor did I relish the moment when water would enter my nostrils and ears. But I did it because it was so important to me. Not just for my husband (of many years) but for HaShem. It was as if I was cleaning away all my past dirt and putting on new, holy clothing!
The Mikveh Lady was amazing! She told me how to stand when I removed my robe and how to immerse. She held a huge towel up in front of her and did not look at my body as I went down the steps. I was surprised that the water was so warm and soothing as immediately a sense of extreme peace and calm came over me and I was no longer afraid of anything at that moment. Every concern was miles away at that moment. I said the blessing, I went down into the water as instructed and finally heard the balanit yell exuberantly “KO-SH-ERRR”!!!!! And all the other attendants were applauding and cheering from the hallway! I came out and up the steps with the towel outstretched so my body was not seen by anyone. I was wrapped in a terrycloth hug that defies any description. I really felt like a bride. And every time I recall that moment the tears of joy overflow and I am imbued all over again with the feeling of HaShem’s Kedusha.
As a sort of a P.S. I wanted to share a hashgacha pratis short story. In 2015 I was approached by a friend and fellow cast mate from the Raise Your Spirits production of “Count the Stars” – the story of Avraham Avinu and Sara Imeinu when they “made aliyah” in their old age. Being part of this amazing production affected me in such a profound way. This wonderful lady asked me if I might like to be in a short video for a mikvah center called “The Eden Center” and she told me a little about the center and the story they wanted to tell via the video. Of course I said yes. But I did not share my past experience until after the shoot was finished. I played the part of the balanit and I was to help a very frightened young woman who was preparing to go in the water but who just couldn’t do it. I was to comfort her and be supportive. She came back another day and did it with a smile on her face. The videographer and my fellow actress were so impressed by how I acted and they asked me if I had been a balanit in America. And I said “no, but do I have a story to tell you!”