Over the years, I have heard rabbis talk about “born again Jews,” the idea that all Jews are “Jews by choice” and the notion that one becomes more observant by taking it one step at a time. I have also heard about the rejuvenating power of the mikvah, (also spelled mikveh) especially as one is starting anew for the High Holy Days. I decided that this was the time to take this step in my spiritual development.
Having written about and taken tours of Orange County’s two mikvaot (one at Congregation Meir HaCohen/Chabad of North Orange County in Yorba Linda and one at Congregation Beth Jacob in Irvine), I understood that the primary purpose of the mikvah was to enable women to comply with the laws of family purity. I also learned that “women of a certain age” (the post-childbearing stage of life) who had never done it could engage in this mitzvah by doing it once. The mikvah is also open to women who want to experience a sense of renewal for the holidays.
What I did not know was how good it would feel – how much of a privilege it would be to fulfill a commandment. It is a special treat reserved for women, a private time to connect to one’s spiritual self. According to mikvah.org, “Mikvah is a most precious and beautiful mitzvah. There, enveloped by its living waters and immersed in its sanctity, one is transformed to a state of spiritual purity.”
As jewishcelebrations.com/wedding/Orthodox/Mikvah.htm explains, “A mikvah is a natural body of water, like a lake, ocean or pond fed by natural springs. Or it is a small in-ground pool mixed with water from a natural source like a well, rainwater, melted snow or melted ice…In Judaism, water commonly symbolizes a new or altered status.”
While it was not about starting a marriage or creating new life, my immersion was about affirming renewed commitment. It was a chance to divide the old from the new, to start anew for the New Year and to feel a bond with Jewish women throughout the ages who have embraced the commitment to create Jewish homes and nurture new life. By doing so, I was joining a continuum that has lasted for thousands of years.
Rebbitzen Natalie Ciner of Congregation Beth Jacob guided me through the preparations before my arrival and when I got to the mikvah. She took me to a spa-like preparation room, replete with candles, soft music, a thick robe and towels, a luxurious bathtub and other items I would need to get ready for the immersion. While I had done some of the preparations at home – removing makeup and nail polish and combing the tangles out of my hair – I enjoyed the feeling of pampering myself in this soothing environment while making sure that nothing came between the mikvah water and me. I imagined what a break from the ordinary this private quality time must be for young mothers with children. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to be in the moment and leave the mundane world outside.
When the rebbitzen checked that I was ready to enter the mikvah, she guided me to the edge of what looks like a small shallow pool. As I descended the steps, I began to feel a sense of tranquility. After immersing, saying the blessings and indulging in some personal prayer, I felt truly fulfilled, refreshed and rejuvenated. I was a link in a powerful chain of Jewish women and at one with all of them.
Starting anew for the New Year has new meaning for me now. I look forward to making the spiritual journey to the mikvah an annual tradition.
Jewish women who want to partake of this beautiful tradition should contact the Irvine Community Mikvah at (949) 207-7177 (irvinemikveh.org) or the Orange County Mikvah (North Orange County) at (714) 693-0188 (ocjewish.com.
It is an unforgettable experience.
Orange County Jewish Life welcomes home Gilad Shalit. Look for commentary on that and other news as it happens on our website, www.ocjewishlife.com, as well as on our Facebook page.