In doing my internship at The Eden Center, I was thrown into a universe I was not so familiar with, but one which piqued my interest. When I came to a new country with a different culture, everything was challenging. My lack of Hebrew made it even harder.

When it came to mikveh, I was taken aback. I was appalled when the mikveh attendant, at the mikveh I went to, looked right at me. She did not give me privacy, hold up a towel to block her face, or even simply turn away. I was turned off from mikveh  and felt uncomfortable about it, dreading every mikveh visit.

One night, after running around the city to find a mikveh that was open past 10pm, and after trying three mikvaot unsuccessfully, I was yelled at for coming to the last mikveh I tried, close to its closing hour. At every location I spent time running around the block valiantly trying to find the mikveh I had googled, and forcing myself to ask any passerby for assistance in finding it. After navigating in my broken Hebrew, I would learn that the mikveh was closed for the night, and close to tears, I would return to the car to continue my hunt. I was in a fragile and despondent state already, as you can imagine. When I finally found a mikveh that was open for another fifteen minutes, I was so relieved. I went inside,but was greeted by a woman yelling at me. In my pitiful Hebrew, I attempted to explain that I tried three other mikvaot that night, that this was my fourth and final try, and that I would be quick. It would have been very helpful to me that night to have had a patient, sweet, and understanding mikveh attendant. It would have benefitted me as a tovelet to turn my negative experience into a more positive one.

I was introduced to the Eden Center though Yeshiva University, where I am a student training to obtain my MSW. I found the work done in the Eden Center incredible. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they offer a course, among others, for women to become mikveh attendants. When I learned about the topics they teach the women, I was enamored. You mean women learn about practices and communication skills to use towards the women coming to tovel in their mikveh? Are all mikveh attendants trained like this? I didn’t think so. I was so grateful to the Eden Center for creating a course like this and attempting to improve the training of mikveh attendants. They saw a problem and took it to heart. The Eden Center looks out for the women of the world and for positivity surrounding mikveh. This is something I can relate to as a tovelet. 

The Eden Center’s balanit course that I participate in has opened my eyes to the intricacies of mikveh attending. This course shed light on perspectives of both the balanit as well as the tovelet. As a tovelet, when I go to the mikveh, I would come in, in a sort of delicate state already. I didn’t want to be seen. Did the attendant have to be impatient towards the women coming in? Until now, I only viewed my mikveh experience from the view of a tovelet. However, now I understand the perspective and experiences of the balanit, as well. Perhaps she was having a hard day, perhaps her children needed her that night, or she’d had an argument with her husband. Perhaps a tovelet was challenging just moments before. If I were in her shoes, I too would be piqued. I never stopped to recognize the challenges of being the balanit. The thing is though, that a woman needs to be dealt with gently when she comes to the mikveh. At that point, she has already gone through so many preparations, and she is already in a delicate state, and often under time pressure. Yelling at her if she comes late or if she doesn’t understand the language the first time, is not going to do her any good. This will only push her further away from this mitzvah. And this is what The Eden Center’s balanit course is all about. Creating positivity in this setting. 

After participating in a course alongside women training to become balaniot, I see, firsthand, the purely good intentions these women have. If one of these women were my mikveh attendant and for some reason I had a negative experience, I know these women truly meant otherwise. I am sure, however, that with the training of this course, these women will be sensitive and clued in to women’s needs, emotions, and life experiences. They learn, in the course, to be aware, to be non-judgemental, and to be sensitive to whatever the tovelet may be displaying. They learn to ask questions, to do as the tovelet would like, and to be as patient and understanding as possible. Additionally, these women learn to trust the tovelet, and that a kosher tevilah according to their (the balanit’s) personal standards is not the goal. If the tovelet does not want to be checked or says that she is ready to be tovel, she is to be trusted. It is her mitzvah and it is not the responsibility of the balanit to assess her cleanliness and readiness. This is an important point I am thankful to the Eden Center for identifying. I am looking forward to the world of mikveh becoming a more welcoming and increasingly positive experience.