It had been four years since my first immersion. I cannot tell you exactly what made me suddenly want to go to the mikvah. Until recently, I had mostly considered the rules regarding Tarahat ha’mishpacha (family purity) as little more than a scheme devised by rabbis to increase the Jewish birth rate, or an outdated remnant of a time when female menstruation was mysterious, repulsive and scary. It was one of the chapters I had put on the “maybe some day” shelf when I converted.
The mikvah itself had always appealed to me greatly. There is something extremely compelling about the act of immersing oneself. Judaism is far from alone in its belief in the cleansing powers of water.
It was a nice, quiet drive, by myself at night, with some old-ish pop-punk tunes playing at a volume my late thirties can still handle. I don’t often get the car to myself these days, so already, pulling out of the driveway, it felt like a bit of a treat.
When I pulled up into the parking lot, I saw that two other women were waiting by the door: Sam’s former teacher from his brief stint at a Jewish preschool, and his future Sunday Hebrew school teacher… I was a bit baffled by the serendipity of it all.
Truth be told, I felt a bit awkward. I didn’t try to hide my inexperience, although strangely I felt the need to justify it. There is so much I don’t know about Jewish customs, the kind that is not written down anywhere but passed down through families and communities. I am always afraid of saying the wrong thing.
“So what made you decide to come after four years?” asked Sam’s former teacher. There was nothing judgmental in her tone, she really just wanted to know. For lack of a better way to explain it, I said I started “missing” it. And I was curious. The time just felt right to take it off the “someday” shelf and try it out.
After some friendly chatter, the mikvah attendant let us in. I was lead to the same preparation room I had used four years before, and I remembered enough about the process that it felt somewhat familiar. The meticulous shower, combing of the hair, trimming of the nails, and so on. I chose the smallest of the three bathrobes to wrap myself in and buzzed the attendant. I could hear her pronounce the word “kosher” as one of the other two women came up from her immersion, meaning that every part of the body had been fully immersed.
I did not wait long, five minutes maybe, and she knocked on my door. She asked me if I needed her to check me, and I said yes, it being my first time in a long time and all. She quickly took a look at my back and invited me to enter the pool.
I had expected the water to be rather cool, but it was warm this time, almost like a bath. It was surprisingly comforting on a cold winter night.
I went under, making sure to lift my feet and to go deep enough for all of my hair to be submerged, but when I came back up, the attendant told me that the top of my head had not gone below the surface. I quickly swallowed my embarrassment (how do you mess that up??) and did it again, this time letting more air out and taking my time.
There is something incredibly peaceful, for those few seconds, suspended under water. It feels like the world is suddenly light years away. Everything is quiet, warm, easy.
This time the attendant pronounced my dunk kosher, and I said the blessing: Baruch atah Adonaï eloheinu, melech ha’olam, asher kid’shanu bemitzvotav, vetzivanu al netilat ha’tvilah.
I immersed a second time, opted not to say the prayer for the restoration of the Temple, simply because I have not decided how I feel about it yet, and instead said a silent personal prayer.
I immersed a third time, trying to stay under a second or two longer. It really is so darn peaceful, and soft, and warm in there.