By Tehilah Eisenstadt
I’ve seen many kinds of Mikveh Ladies: the Good the Bad and the Soul-Crushing. Mostly I’ve seen the latter. Mikveh Ladies who have been given minimal ownership over the knowledge behind their function, and maximum authority to wield their half-halachic-truths.
I met a Mikveh Lady who grumbled to herself after a woman’s sobs met me through the thick walls of the preparatory rooms. When, as a newly-wed and new mikveh user I got up the courage to ask the Mikveh Lady: “Is that (still sobbing) woman ok?” she signaled that I was intrusive and that “some husbands were just more strict with their wives than others.”
One friend met a Mikveh Lady who questioned why this friend was childless. Another friend met a Mikveh Lady who told her to lose weight to achieve the pregnancy she so longed for. One friend met a Mikveh Lady who told her that despite her allergic reaction to chlorine she was still forbidden from showering after immersion (and before sex).
I’ve also seen a Mikveh Lady, despite being touched by her own public tragedy, welcome me every month with a genuine smile and help me transition after every immersion with the most gentle of blessing. I’ve met Mikveh Ladies who told me to take a moment, no matter how rushed they or I seemed only moments before, and in that gift of a moment I could meditate solo in the ritual pool.
As a result of more of the former than the latter descriptions I’ve been searching for a way to meet this (among other) challenge of mikveh for 10 years.
Now that there’s a brand new Mikveh Guide in town, namely those trained by ImmerseNYC, I am filled with gratitude that something so fraught for me is now available without the majority of obstacles my friends and I previously experienced. I think it is also profoundly important that there are guides available for male and transgendered individuals to partake of this ritual. Perhaps ImmerseNYC even prompted Justin Bieber to consider a transformational dip of his own, though I think ImmerseNYC takes zero credit for this.
And so, there’s a new mikveh, within the mikveh you might already know about. And there’s a new Mikveh Lady/Mikveh Guide alongside those you already knew. As a newly minted Mikveh Guide, who only seems to guide or be guided during snow storms, I’ve created a motto:
“Neither snow, nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night, slow subways, nor mucky paths, pre-conceived notions about what mikveh is or is not, will keep these guides from the steady, calm completion of our appointed rounds (including referrals when requested/needed).” (based on the US Postal Service motto)
I celebrate that ImmerseNYC Mikveh Guides and new attitudes and conversations about mikveh offer a unique opportunity for the female Jewish community/communitas. I am grateful, honored and relieved to be a part of the new Mikveh Guide team in town.
Tehilah Eisenstadt is a Jewish educator, consultant, community builder and storyteller. She has worked in various leadership roles with prominent Jewish educational agencies and non-profits: Covenant Foundation, Huntington Jewish Center, Pardes Institute and Storahtelling. Recent projects include helping to open Kings Bay Y’s new community center in North Williamsburg, creating programs that serve multi-faith families. She has been hosting mikveh conversations on and off since 2005. If you have questions or comments please drop her a note.
The Mikveh Musings Blog is a forum for members of the community to express varying and divergent experiences and opinions. The ideas expressed in this blog post are the author’s. ImmerseNYC is proud to host this open conversation.