Most Reform Jews I know don’t consider a Mikveh part of their daily lives. The whole concept was certainly a mystery to me growing up, however complex my current feelings are surrounding the tradition. Such essential parts of my Jewish identity stem from values I learned in my Reform synogauge. My parents, Rabbis, and most teachers welcomed my questions and drive to positively impact the greater Chicago community. I proudly say Reform Jews were among the movers and shakers of the social justice world ever since Reform Judaism was founded.
Even with all the traditions and customs I learned about in Sunday school, there are still so many concepts and traditions I never knew existed until recently. I remember stumbling across a blog post by Mayim Bialik about a year and a half ago, talking about reclaiming the Mikveh. Little did I know that I would both meet Mayim and dunk in the Mikveh in a year’s time.
When Avram asked us at the beginning of the year if we wanted to experience any Jewish rituals, I remembered the blog post I had stumbled upon. I wanted to confront my mixed feelings about the intersection of my feminist values and dunking in the Mikveh.
During the few times I asked people about Mikvehs, I was told that women dunked to cleanse themselves as Judaism considers women impure. I thought the only people who visit Mikvehs were oppressed Orthodox women who just finished their period and were given permission to restart the process of procreating.
When I entered the Mikveh at AJU, the American Jewish University, I was initially nervous, but the experience started reshaping my idea of the community that visits and dunks in the Mikveh. I learned that AJU’s Mikveh is a community Mikveh, one of only a dozen in the United States and only one in Israel that welcome Jews of all denominations, don’t segregate the times Women and Men can dunk, and have adopted the reclamation of dunking.
It still fascinates me that many people visit the Mikveh after going through a divorce, for spiritual cleansing after they’ve been raped, or when going through any spiritual transition or changes in their life.
I wanted to keep an open mind, regardless of the information I was given, but everything Katie, our group leader and “kosher” overseer affirmed and strengthened my intention to dunk. After we sat together to learn about Katie’s job and the dunking experience I was picked first to dunk. I never would have imagined how spiritually uplifting the whole experience would have been. The room was dark, the water warm, and something just felt right.
While I still believe certain aspects of the Mikveh are problematic, dunking in the Mikveh was an incredible experience. I sure don’t have the answer to the Feminism vs. Mikveh debate but the experience definitely impacted my gap year experience and Jewish experience as a whole.