Adi Samson, the co-director of Likrat Shlichut, a program which trains community rabbis rebbetzins to provide Jewish spiritual care (https://www.kehalim.org/english/index.html), taught a class to balanioton effective communication techniques. Mrs. Samson’s goal for the course was to train the balaniot in the skill of active listening, which she considers a fundamental skill for building emotionally meaningful connections with others.
Why are communication skills so important for balaniot? After all, as Mrs. Sampson explained, a meaningful conversation takes time, and at the mikveh, the interaction is a short interface of a mere few minutes. She works to teach the balaniot how to listen actively not just to words but also to body language. To really listen, Mrs. Samson explained, you need to be able to identify the feelings behindwhat you see and hear. As we walk in the world, we don’t usually speak our feelings directly: “I’m scared” or “I’m angry” are often expressed through action. Reading the signals through which people project those emotions requires immense sensitivity.
In the mikveh, it is all the more important to approach women with sensitivity because of how vulnerable women are in a space in which their bodies and their emotions are exposed. The responsibility of the balanit to protect a women’s dignity is even greater in a place where her defenses are down, unable to hide anything. Even in a short exchange, the balanit has the potential to do a lot of harm or a lot of good.
During the class, several stories came out about women who felt alienated by the balanit. One balanitrecalled that when she was a young kallah, she always felt judged. The balanit would give her the third degree, questioning her about whether her observance of halacha was “good enough.” Good enough for whom? Now, through the Eden Center course, she feels like she is learning how to speak and carry herself so that she never comes off as judgmental. The hope is that projecting empathy will mean that women can comfortably use the mikveh, over and over, and to tovel in a way that suits them as individuals. It also means that the mikveh may become a place where women can find help and support. As Mrs. Samson explained, you don’t need a lot of time to touch a person with the offer of support or a referral to outside help for women who need it.
It only takes a couple minutes to change someone’s life.