By Lisa Lisser
A friend asked me to chant haftorah a few weeks ago for her daughter’s bat mitzvah. It was the haftorah for parasha Bechukotai. Of course I said yes. I always do, but this was special because it was also my bat mitzvah haftorah. I was excited to chant it again. I almost still know it by heart. As I was preparing, I got to the end of the haftorah, and I read –
Mikveh yisrael YHVH.
Hope of Israel, is Adonai . . .
Mikor mayim chayyim, et YHVH
Source of Living Waters, is Adona
God is the Mikveh (the hope) of Israel; God is source of the Living Waters. I stop. I read it again. There has to be some beshert reason behind me reading this now, at this moment in my life.
When I say this moment in my life, I am talking about the fact that I am in the midst of training with ImmerseNYC to become a mikveh guide. ImmerseNYC is a young, start up non-profit in New York City which is opening up the ritual of mikveh to the broader Jewish community. In a city with many mikva-ot (the plural of Mikvah, ritual bath), ImmerseNYC is the first community mikveh open to all. One of the many blessings of ImmerseNYC is that this organization sees mikveh as a channel to explore and sanctify transitional moments in our lives, both joyous and challenging, whether we are traditional or not. The transformational power of the mikveh waters is something we can share with Jews of every denomination, and of no denomination. During the mikveh guide training process, we are preparing to co-create rituals with our immersees, to listen actively to their spiritual needs and to nurture a process that can be both empowering and cleansing. We hope that through this process we can enable our immersees to feel seen and heard by us as witnesses. And, we further will facilitate their process to articulate their own needs so they can access the hope that flows beneath the surface of the mikveh waters.
As new mikveh guides,we have received incredible and inspiring training facilitated by Pippi Kessler and Rabbi Sara Luria. For me, the floodwaters opened during the very first session, when Rabbi Sara, the visionary founder of ImmerseNYC, looked at each of us and told us: you are already mikveh guides. You sitting in this room today already have the power within your souls to do this spiritual work. We (your trainers) are the facilitators – here to help make your flowing inner spirit connect with the rivulets of power that are already within you. (Just for the record – points are given for water references!)
I was moved by this acknowledgment. Each of us in the room was taking a risk and dipping our toes into uncharted waters. I had always been curious about mikveh, but thought it wasn’t for me. After all, I was a conservative Jewish woman. Niddah, the mikveh ritual of family purity, was not part of my life practice. My Rabbi didn’t suggest I go to the mikveh before my wedding. I was trained (brainwashed?) to believe that immersing for niddah was an archaic practice that didn’t make sense for modern progressive Jewish women. Beyond that, I thought mikveh was just for conversions. And yet… I always wondered.
Here we were. Forty four strangers taking a spiritual cruise. Rabbi Sara told us we already had it. For me, the overlap of this training with re-learning the haftorah that began my own journey into the “adult” Jewish world, created an incredible “aha” moment. I felt a confirmation that mikveh was part of my story. Hope. Living Waters. Life force. Perhaps this training has been part of my journey from the beginning. I felt humbled and in awe. The fact that many moons ago I chanted these words at my very own bat mitzvah left me a little breathless.
The Etz Chayim chumash comments that this description of God as Mikveh Yisrael, “hope of the people Israel,” is a pun on mikveh – the pool for ritual immersion. I suggest that maybe it’s not a pun, but a reverse engineering. The ritual immersions we create at ImmerseNYC allow us, and those we are guiding, to connect with God and to find hope in a sacred pool that fully immerses us in spirituality. Maybe this idea of mikveh as “Hope” is truly the essence of mikveh. As we create new mikveh experiences, purposes and rituals, we are connecting with the hope for transformation that is possible within all of us, as guides and as immersees. We will all be transformed with each mikveh experience. Our immersees, who are all coming for their own unique reasons, are looking to us and to the mikveh, in order to find, connect with, and access hope. From this text, we learn that Hope is the essence. Hope is the core. Hope is the Mikveh. Hope is Hashem.
Let us all go through this journey with hope in our hearts and living waters in our souls.
Lisa Lisser is a 2017 graduate of the NY School of Education of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where she received her Masters in Religious Education. Her passion is adult Jewish learning, and her mission is to dive into these waters with adult Jews so they may find meaning and relevance that will make a difference to them in their lives today.
ImmerseNYC is a community mikveh organization dedicated to creating deep ritual experiences at the mikveh, build supportive peer communities through sacred conversations, and provide meaningful educational programming for the broad and diverse Jewish community of today. For more information, please go to Immersenyc.org.
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