December 8th, 2015: my first mikveh experience. I’ve been Jewish all my life, but up until a few months ago I didn’t even know this ancient ritual could be practiced by men, other than for the purpose of conversion. I met Rachel Eisen, then an intern at Mayyim Hayyim, at a Jewish event organized by The Network, and was excited to learn that mikveh immersion has been adopted for many celebrations, including birthdays. As a social worker, I was also impressed to learn that the modern mikveh can be used for emotional healing from trauma.
I’ve felt my Jewish identify strengthening in the past few years, and this past Rosh Hashanah I realized that this year marks twenty years since becoming a bar mitzvah. It was an easy decision to celebrate my birthday and to spark a year of re-dedication to Jewish learning and practice by immersing for the first time. I also knew it would help me to heal after a difficult year.
I arrived feeling the anxiety of a weekday rush and did a quick meditation in my car to prepare myself to savor the experience. In the preparation room I used the Seven Kavanot (intentions) for Mikveh Preparation to help me focus. I slowed down, became present, and allowed myself to consider my body as a gift.
“Hineni” (here I am) I said with eyes closed in front of the mirror, with my reflection as my witness.
As with every Jewish ritual I practice, the spirit of generations, past, present, and future is felt closely. The pain and loss, the resilience and joy. Every step I take in a moment of ritual, no matter how alone I might be at the moment, is sparked by thousands of years of family tradition, and will spark thousands more. I counted the holy number of seven stairs as I descended into the water, while at the same time moving toward a feeling of aliyah (spiritual ascent).
Standing alone, I let in the living rain water from outside. “I’m still here,” I said with the Eternal as my witness.
Acknowledging the trauma of the past year, and all the years before it, I created distance with the three traditional full immersions, each completed with more confidence and intention than the last. I said the Shehecheyanu blessing with a new sense of humility and gratitude to God for allowing me to reach this moment. I thought of all my ancestors who have or have not had the opportunity to experience this, and I felt extremely privileged.
This same room has welcomed my new brothers and sisters who have chosen to be reborn into the Jewish family. These same waters have instilled bar and bat mitzvah children with joys I once felt, and they have comforted aging bodies from pains I have yet to feel.
This space and this time is holy.
The Shema prayer affirmed my belief in the Oneness of this sacred moment and helped me commit myself to a new year and a rediscovered purpose. I took time to simply enjoy being in the water. Intensity gave way to the plainest joy, and I floated refreshed, laughing and smiling, cradled in warmth like a newborn. My anxieties of the day were left behind in those waters, and I left feeling relaxed with a sense of truly existing in the moment. I made a promise to myself that for the next year I will try to be more mindful in the moment. I will be back for days of rebirth to come.
Daniel Goldberg is a social worker and musician living in the north shore of Massachusetts.