As a monthly mikveh goer, I had always appreciated the cleansing experience of immersing in the water. The routine enhanced my own life, as well as my marriage. As a rabbi, I had witnessed the powerful experience of a new Jewish person immersing in the mikveh upon conversion. I had not yet experienced, either personally or professionally the powerful healing that the mikveh could bring. This all changed when the Boston Marathon Bombings occurred on April 15th 2013.
My husband ran the marathon that year and finished four minutes before the bombs went off. I had been standing in front of where the first bomb went off. For twenty minutes I could not find him, the longest twenty minutes of my life.
That night when we finally were able to go home, I told my husband, “this was one of the hardest and worst days of my life.” Little did I know that the days that followed would be much worse.
I was a few months pregnant at the time of the bombings. I found out the next day that I had lost the pregnancy. I was in the hospital the Friday that they found Dzhokar Tsarnaev in a boat in Watertown. As I drove to the hospital that day, I passed FBI and police along the way. Nothing, not even the lockdown could stop me from trying to move on. I hoped that the pain of this loss would wash away after I left the hospital.
Friends, family, even my own thoughts were telling me to go to the mikveh. I couldn’t; I could not imagine washing away the pain and finding comfort in the water. The mikveh had always been a positive place of peace and tranquility for me. Months before, I stood in the water with tears in my eyes as I prayed to God to grant me the blessing of pregnancy and children. I was not ready to change the meaning of the mikveh for me forever. I did not want to “taint” it with my pain, suffering and loss.
I suffered emotionally and physically for a while. I realized that time was not making the pain go away. I needed a transitional experience. I needed the mikveh. My husband and I went together, and I asked him to come in the mikveh room with me, but not in the water. With the guidance of Mayyim Hayyim's immersion ceremony, "Mourning a Miscarriage," I once again was crying in the healing waters. This time, I was not praying to God to bless me with pregnancy, but rather, to bless me with the strength to pick up the broken pieces of my very being. As I stood in the water I felt indescribable pain as my tears hit the water. At the same time I felt I had finally given myself the space to really mourn my loss. I was broken, and would always have a few cracks as a result of this experience. The mikveh reminded me that I was not shattered, but rather would become a new version of my whole self. It would just take time and a lot of support.
Now, two years after the Marathon Bombings the bomber has been found guilty. Each time the trial is covered and the images of the bombings are shown on TV I feel a sharp pain in my heart, but I am also reminded of how far I have come. This week Boston demonstrated how strong we are through the patriotism and love at this year’s marathon. I stood this year cheering on the runners with my one-year-old daughter in my arms. I am the most complete version of myself that I have ever been, more than I imagined could be possible two years ago. I continue to visit the mikveh on a monthly basis, and each time I am reminded of both the power and the pain that comes with each immersion. I am reminded of the beautiful times such as my wedding and the ninth month of my pregnancy, as well as the painful experience of cleansing my body and soul of the pain of pregnancy loss. The waters truly healed and continue to heal me. Like the city of Boston, I will never be truly whole again, but I am stronger than ever before.
Rabbi Danielle Eskow is the co-founder of OnlineJewishLearning.com, a program which focuses on providing high quality and accessible online personalized instruction across the world to affiliated and unaffiliated Jewish individuals. Danielle graduated from The Jewish Theological Seminary in 2013 with a MA in Scriptural Interpretation. She lives in Brookline with her husband, daughter, and pug.
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