I’ve always been a little crazy about mikveh. I have never missed going to the mikveh on time, even when it is incredibly inconvenient. I have used online directories like https://www.mikvah.org/directory to find mikvaot in random places, and have used those random mikvaot too.
One summer my husband was working on a river cruise in Germany and I accompanied him on the cruise for the week. As it turned out, I needed to go to the mikveh on Friday night. Conveniently, Friday night was the one night that the boat was docking, and so I knew I could work it out and go.
The city was Nurenberg, home of the famous Nurenberg trials. How ironic, I thought, that in the same city that played a role in bringing justice to the Nazis, I would be continuing the tradition of centuries of Jewish women. However the mikveh was about a 20 minute drive from the port and walking would be impossible.
When the boat docked, about an hour before Shabbat, I had a taxi waiting for me to drive me to the mikveh located at the Chabad house. It was one of the most beautiful mikvaot that I have ever been to. When I asked the Chabad Rebbetzin how her mikveh was so beautiful she answered that she had designed it herself. The taxi brought me back to the ship just in time for candle lighting and as we davened Kabbalat Shabbat with the flag of Germany waving at the front of the ship I thought about how surreal it was. Here we are, davening on a boat in Germany, with the German flag waving in front of me as Shabbat comes in – and yet I was carrying on the traditions that they tried to snuff out. What would the Jews of Germany during the Holocaust have done to know that this would be possible?
The following spring I found myself preparing to accompany my students to Poland. As fate would have it, of course mikveh night fell toward the end of the trip, on a Motzei Shabbat. This time I would be in Krakow. I called ahead to the mikveh in Krakow and booked a time. I arranged with the tour guide that I would go to the mikveh and then return to meet the group at the second location of the evening. I was “gifted” a driver by the head of the Poland program so that the transition would be smooth. When I arrived at the mikveh I was informed by the mikveh lady that the heater was broken. Did I still want to dunk? Yes, I told her. If women could sneak out of the ghetto and make mikvah a priority, who was I to wimp out because of a cold mikvah?! Together with my friend Debbie, I went to the mikveh. We davened for Jewish women, for Jewish families, and for a commitment to the mitzvah of taharat hamishpacha. And as we returned to the group, the tour guide was telling heroic stories of women sneaking out of the ghetto to go to the mikvah.
This year Yom Hashoah has fallen out in the midst of the corona crisis. It has made going to the mikveh a question for many people, and made the standards of cleanliness so much more crucial. As Yom Hashoah began, a friend in Modiin asked me to accompany her to clean a mikveh since the city was threatening to close two of the city’s Mikvaot because the workers had been put into quarantine. I immediately said yes. These are trying times. But I wanted to make sure that no one could ever again take away this piece of our practice and our Jewish identity by deeming mikvaot unnecessary!
In the middle of the night I woke up from a crazy dream. There was a world pandemic and Cherie had called me to help her clean mikvaot. And then I remembered this was no dream. So in honor of women throughout history who did not take no for an answer, who believed in the future of the Jewish people — even when the future seemed bleak — who believed in Jewish families as the center of hope, my friends and I spent some time today, Yom Hashoah 5780, cleaning and disinfecting a mikvah to ensure that future. And all I could think about while cleaning was how grateful and blessed I am to have the opportunity to be able to take part in this huge mitzvah!