Thursday, April 15, 2010

Barring the Mikveh – my experience

I don’t usually post responses here to other blog posts, but I was intrigued by Hadassah Sabo Milner’s guest post on DovBear’s blog, entitled Mikvah Rules.  She writes about a mikvah with a policy not to admit anyone who is a non-Orthodox convert.

Because I had a similar experience (kinda), I thought I would post it in the comments there – and also here, because I have been neglecting this blog lately.  Life has been sucking.  But it’s nice to get the brain in gear a bit.

Here’s what I wrote.

“Long LONG ago (during my first marriage), the first time I went to an Orthodox mikveh, and I mentioned that it was my first time, they asked about my husband's conversion, our marriage, etc. Probably bc I was a total newbie, even after a few times of going to the "liberal" mikveh. 

After I told her what was up, the mikveh lady said, "I could let you toivel (dunk), but you'd only be going home to your Christian boyfriend."  The words sound harsh, but she was very nice - believe it or not.  She gave me the "kallah basket" with special soaps and a copy of Tehilla Abramov's "The Secret of Jewish Femininity." 

Hmm.  Definitely food for thought.  I think I already knew; anyway, she had me at "I could."  I didn't toivel that night. 

She then invited us for Shabbos, which ended up being the day before Tisha b'Av, an interesting experience.  They were Chabad, and we ended up spending many more Shabboses and even RH/YK up in that area with other Chabad families over the next few years. 

My husband did later have an Orthodox conversion in that very same building (on the men's side!).  I seem to remember that mikveh lady dancing at our wedding (yup, the same day he converted).

The truth is, I had been looking for greater authenticity in the mikveh experience.  I was unsatisfied going to the liberal mikveh because, with all the R & C Jews in town, I still had to make an appointment; I was pretty much the only one using it, I think.  (other than perhaps the C rabbis' wives). 

Similarly, my husband and I were sick of being the only ones walking to shul after we had learned in our Conservative conversion course that we weren't supposed to drive on Shabbos.  Why did we have to be the suckers?  So we pulled up our roots and headed for a Judaism where more people were visibly taking the religion at its word. 

I wish I could say I've never looked back, but of course I have.  Still, I don't regret that incident, and sometimes, what looks like being turned away is just another door opening.”

p.s.  Another woman commented that mikvah is a “horrible experience most of the time” because the ladies are so intrusive.  That’s the opposite of my experience; it’s really very sad. 

The ladies I’ve encountered here, at several mikvahs, have always been, without exception, polite and non-intrusive, to the point of asking if I want them to check my hands/feet.  It seems to be universal, and it is very, very nice. 

I wonder what kind of community would encourage its mikvah ladies to be rough or harsh with people that way?  Do they not realize how vulnerable you are?  Maybe the fact that you’re naked should be a clue.

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