Growing up, I hated going swimming in the pool. Besides the fact that I couldn’t see anything without my glasses, I also really didn’t feel very well after being in the pool. Even simply stepping into the pool area affected me. I was told that it was just the way pools are – because of the chlorine – it makes your eyes itch.
As a child, I assumed that if chlorine made everyone’s eyes itch, then the fact that my throat itched a lot as well was probably normal too. As the years went by, I went to pools less and less often until I never went anymore, since it was such an unpleasant experience for me.
Fast-forward a bunch of years. After I got married, I began going, monthly, to the mikveh (except for those few 9 months here and there when I was pregnant).
At the beginning, I was pretty okay. But after a few months, I started dreading going to the mikveh more and more. Every time I came out of water, my throat felt itchy and tight. And I usually got a headache shortly after getting home, which would often continue into the next day. Sometimes I would itch all over, but excused all of these symptoms as being my usual seasonal allergic reactions I often suffer from. Only when I actually discovered that they use chlorine to clean the water between women (why should I know?), did a light go on in my brain. I started thinking “Hey. I feel like I used to when I went to the pool. I hated the pool too. I guess chlorine affects me more than it does most people”. I continued feeling ill from going to the mikveh and the whole experience became pretty dreadful.
After I suffered anaphylactic shock about 4.5 years ago (from a different allergy – a story for a different time), my allergic reactions in general became more intense. So when I began feeling difficulty breathing after being in the mikveh waters, I decided that I should find out if there is such a thing as a chlorine allergy. Not being able to breathe well is scary, and knowing that allergies can get worse every time you’re exposed to the allergen made me even more worried.
I called up Machon Pu’ah. Because I figured – if I have a chlorine allergy I would need a mikveh solution — and they might have one. The lady I spoke to immediately assured me that chlorine allergy is actually not uncommon (phew! I have a “normal” allergy!) and that there are specific mikvehs in every major city that have time slots before the mikveh opens to everyone when women with chlorine allergies could make up to come and tovel before they put in the chlorine. Really good to know, right?
Only I live in a small community out in the middle of nowhere. I decided to speak to the Balaniyot here and see if something could be done to make my experience less life-threatening and maybe a little more pleasant. After the women got over the initial shock that such an allergy exists, they all agreed that the water would be changed the day I go and that I would be the first woman into the water that day. I coordinate with them right when I manage to do a Hefsek Taharah. That way, the once a week emptying, cleaning and filling of the mikvah can be planned for the day I need to go.
I often feel guilty that they go out of their way for me. But then they mess up once in awhile and out of habit accidentally put in the chlorine before I get there (and then I have to shower off and take an extra allergy pill afterwards in the hopes that I will be okay) and then they feel guilty too, so I guess we’re good! And it’s good to know they care enough to make our arrangement happen.
Now there is another woman in our community who is allergic to chlorine as well, and everything is set for her, since everyone knows the procedure already from me. So I’m happy my fumbling around helped someone else. And I am very thankful to be able to have a slightly better Mikvah experience.
Tamar Rund lives in Gush Etzion with her husband and four daughters. She studied Art Education in Michlelet Emunah and recently completed her Masters in Fine Arts Painting through the Academy of Art University or San Francisco. She works as an artist and art instructor and her work can be followed at: https://www.facebook.com/TamarRundArt/