The original version of this blog was published on The Times of Israel, and has been reprinted with permission.
On October 7th, life changed for us all on a global scale and in so many ways. We were suffering loss, uncertainty, and for many of us, the immediate draft to reserve duty, or miluim. For me, it meant being separated from my husband in the middle of our annual Simchat Torah event for the community, something we established in order to give opportunity for men and women alike to enjoy the prayers and dancing. We raced home, turned on our phones, and were immediately swept into an alternate reality for the past three months that can only be described as a lucid nightmare. We were faced with challenges and hardships on all levels.
As time went on, we had to find ways to stay true to ourselves in this environment whether personally or religiously. Especially religiously. Our level of observance took on a different form as there was little to no feeling of Shabbat or keeping the laws. Kashrut was kept the best we could. Whether that be out of necessity or a general lack of desire to walk the tightrope of keeping these laws during wartime. Being religious became a state of mind rather than something we were capable of adhering to.
Being a religious married woman, then, became one of the hardest additional challenges that I could have ever dreamt of. I was questioned why I wanted to be in miluim, how hard it must be to be separated from my husband, and why am I not at home cooking him a nice meal when he returns. I was asked where my children were and who was taking care of them. I was tutted at and challenged on why I needed to fight too and that women don’t need to be combatants. When I came to shul on Shabbat, alone with my gun, I was stared at instead of being asked to stand guard, and received comments such as, “nice outfit,” or, “what a great look for a woman.”
In addition to the questions and comments, I had to navigate what being a religious married woman is when there are no laws to be kept. Niddah and mikveh were concepts that slipped my mind until I was faced with dilemma after dilemma. My kallah teacher on standby, I navigated how to do a check with a pair of cut up white underwear, meanwhile having not yet obtained soap, hygiene products, or underwear for that matter. I learned that stress and hormones aren’t a great combination and that having my period for two months in a row brought up new issues. What is blood and what is not? Does wartime halacha have a contingency plan when both spouses are in? How on earth will I be able to go to mikveh and when is the latest I can go after finishing because every minute is uncertain. What is it like to keep these mitzvot for the first time alone, doing them only for me and G-d because my husband and I are separated. More importantly, what is mikveh when the union of the couple is taken out of the equation?
I don’t think I ever appreciated mikveh until now. It was just something I had to do, but I never took particular joy or meaning from it. The halachot often feel oppressive and I don’t enjoy anything that has me counting and tracking. There is pressure surrounding the ritual from the mikveh ladies nagging you about your nose ring or who to pray for to the societal pressure of what mikveh correlates to, i.e, having babies. It is to focus on your body more than most women want to focus on their bodies and to zero in on the imperfection of being “impure.” However, as I entered the mikveh in my uniform, carrying my gun, I had the most overwhelming feeling of wholeness. This normal act that I was doing was bringing back some order in the world. A Jewish married woman goes to mikveh because this is what she does. Rain or shine, career, family, or even war, I was representing a whole new generation of women who, no matter what life threw at them, were going to go to mikveh on time, even if that meant packing weapons and army boots. Even if I couldn’t shower properly or take off three month old gel polish or shave or brush my teeth before going, I was doing my best. I was doing what needed to be done and that was to wade in a pool of water and pray for the safety of the Jewish people. It was to perform the mitzvah of mikveh, not because I am supposed to have babies, but because it is a staple of who we are as the Jewish people and I was not about to let these enemies take away any more of our essence. I was going to do this for me and for the nation as a whole so that life could continue on. Mikveh doesn’t demand that you keep Shabbat or kosher or pray every day. It certainly doesn’t demand a traditional role in the home or being put together in any way. Mikveh is bigger than just the purpose of the couple, it is about a nation who is in desperate need of our prayers and every single one of our “trying our bests.” It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be.
Shani Weinmann Kay was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in the Jewish community of Toco Hills. She studied at Midreshet Harova and then joined the IDF. She is currently studying Dance and Psychology. As a kallah she learned with Dr. Judith Fogel, Director of Eden’s Kallah Teacher Training Courses.
Shani Weinmann Kay was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in the Jewish community of Toco Hills. She studied at Midreshet Harova and then joined the IDF. She is currently studying Dance and Psychology. As a kallah she learned with Dr. Judith Fogel, Director of Eden's Kallah Teacher Training Courses.