“When life’s journeys come to you,” said Carrie Bornstein, executive director of Mayyim Hayyim: Living Waters Community Mikveh and Paula Brody & Family Education Center, “you address them.” While Bornstein’s observation could serve as a tagline for Mayyim Hayyim’s sacred work, in this instance she is referring to the project of compiling the organization’s second edition of “A New Beginning: Ceremonies for the Mikveh.”
Like its predecessor, this new book is a collection of ceremonies for the mikveh as well as the kavanot—which Mayyim Hayyim translates as “intentions”—to be used in preparing for an immersion. Mayyim Hayyim’s mikveh and education director Lisa Berman, Matia Rania Angelou and Rabbi Judy Kummer are editing the new edition. Bornstein told JewishBoston that the additions to the 55 ceremonies already in use are often responses “to new things happening in the world. There is always a need for more ceremonies and kavanot. We keep a running list of ceremonies as they are needed.”
In addition to Mayyim Hayyim’s original “Seven Kavanot for Mikveh Preparation,” a child-friendly form of the kavanot is now available. There is also an illustrated version of these intentions for those whom English is not a first language and for those with disabilities. These updated kavanot were produced in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation.
This latest version of “A New Beginning” is also notable for its up-to-date immersion ceremonies, including 30th and 70th birthday milestones, “Becoming a Parent” and “For a Gender Transition Milestone.” The latter ritual was not only developed by committee, but also with community. “When we first started creating the ceremony,” said Bornstein, “we wanted to talk to people for whom this is real. The feedback we received was, ‘It’s not as if you wake up one day and realize you are a different gender.’ Our ceremony emphasizes the journey toward transitioning genders.”
The ceremony “For a Gender Transition Milestone” begins at the edge of the mikveh with reciting an intention that comes from Psalm 118. The purpose is to help a transgender person prepare for the ritualistic three immersions that follow: “From a narrow place, I cried to God. God answered me expansively.” The service then ends in the mikveh with acknowledging “the powerful emotions that are part of this journey and that remind me of the promise that lies ahead.” (For copies of the complete ceremony with blessings in Hebrew, please contact Mayyim Hayyim here.)
Perhaps most surprisingly is that among this new crop of mikveh ceremonies is one dedicated to conversion. Since Mayyim Hayyim opened its doors in 2004, almost 3,000 conversions have been facilitated. Bornstein said including a conversion ceremony in the first iteration of “A New Beginning” felt like “an imposition on clergy. We didn’t want them to feel that conversion should be done in a certain way. But we have found that over the years we’ve earned the trust of the community and built up an expertise, and newer clergy often look to us for guidance.”
As a “thank you” to the clergy who lead congregations or care for others in various capacities, Mayyim Hayyim offers them free immersions for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur preparation. “It’s a way to say thank you and to offer them the spiritual space they need to be in for the most intense period of the year,” explained Bornstein.
Bornstein said another large group that comes for spiritual renewal around Rosh Hashanah are members of the Community Hevra Kadisha of Greater Boston. The group, which offers the full range of ritual burial to every Jewish denomination, gives this annual gift of immersion to its volunteers.
“We always aim to have an open perspective,” she noted. “The more open we are, the more effective we can be. When we collaborate and share resources, we elevate the mikveh experience.”