She and I sat next to one another on a small wooden benchLit. To bless. From the Yiddish ''bentshn.'' outside of the mikvehThe ritual bath. The waters of the mikveh symbolically purify – they are seen as waters of rebirth. A convert immerses in the mikveh as part of conversion. Many Orthodox married women go to the mikveh following their period and before resuming sexual relations. Couples go to the mikveh before being married. Many, including some men, immerse before Yom Kippur; some go every Friday before Shabbat. preparation room with a box of tissues and a cup of water between us. Our voices bounced off against the silent, tiled walls. The ceiling grasped our words as we spoke. I took a deep breath, and like we train all of our ImmerseNYC mikveh guides to do, I began to discuss with her how she would like to shape her experience at the mikveh this time around. Part of our work as mikveh guides is organic ritual creation—drawing from texts and the needs of the one who is immersing to create an experience that feels sacred and satisfying. This particular individual explained to me that she wanted a chance to start fresh, to obtain a sense of renewal through dunking in living waters.
The theme of newness has been at the center of many of the immersions we coordinate at ImmerseNYC, New York’s community mikveh project. Our appointments ramp up especially around the time of the Jewish New Year, as individuals, friends and groups come to the living waters to mark the beginning of something new. Instead of driving forward, they’ll come for a reflective opportunity to think about the past, to savor the now, and to anticipate and give blessings for the future.
To me, it is no surprise that I was drawn to working at the mikveh. I loved the ability to savor the edge between now and the future through reflective rituals in childhood and beyond. From lighting the ShabbatShabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends. candles with a wave of our hands, to the joyous blessings I was taught to make when opening my eyes in the morning, what it meant to be ritually observant in my home was a constant awareness of not only who I was—but who I could be.
Water is a unique medium through which we can reimagine ourselves. The Shem M’Shmuel (R. Shmuel Bornsztain, 1856-1926) explains that the power of renewal as it relates to mikveh is profound, since “a creation who lives on land is not able to live in the water. Therefore, the one who immerses in a mikveh—their humanity as it was becomes temporarily nullified in the all-water environment, and they emerge out another person and begin to live anew—a different person than the one who went into the mikveh.” Some of those who come to the mikveh hope for the same; that in some way, part of their past selves can dissolve in the water. What is important to note, however, is that our lives are only temporarily nullified underwater. This moment of breathlessness reminds us that the immersion is not about obliterating ourselves, but an opportunity to reimagine who we could be.
The modern mikveh movement, a network of community mikvaot all over the country, has been the source of this immensely important spiritual tool of renewal for so many. All of these institutions have offered the mikveh, one of the only entirely embodied rituals located in the Jewish tradition, as a way to provide a sacred container around moments in our personal and communal lives.
This woman on the bench with me, however, was not coming at the beginning of a major life transition or at the start of a New Year. We had been here before, at this bench, since she visits the mikveh regularly after her menstrual cycle, and we come here every month. Sometimes, when I explain that monthly mikveh users access our service, I’m met with confusion: Aren’t community mikvaot for those going through intense life moments that need marking? The monthly story is a powerful one—we don’t need to wait for a New Year or a cataclysmic moment to pause and ask ourselves how we want to change or how we should change. In addition to a body, we have a spirit that requires upkeep and renewal.
As we immerse, particularly in the mystical waters of the mikveh, the pool or the body of water embraces us and radically accepts us for who we are. Under the waters we hold our breath, and when we emerge, we refill our lungs—grateful for our lives, for our breath, and for the opportunity to renew each day, each month, and each year.
Hadas (Dasi) Fruchter thrives on spiritual leadership, vibrant TorahThe Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general. learning, and community building. Originally from Silver Spring, MD, Dasi graduated summa cum laude from the Macaulay Honors College at Queens College, and recently completed an M.P.A. in Non-Profit Administration and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. Dasi is a Wexner Graduate Fellow/Davidson Scholar and is the Program Director at ImmerseNYC, New York’s only community mikveh project, and a teacher of brides and grooms before their weddings. Dasi, who also serves as the Maharat Scholar at Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac, MD, spends her free time singing, thinking about world-changing communities, and hosting extravagant Shabbat meals.