Going to the Mikveh: The Day After

As both symbol and expression of the profound change required of a convert to Judaism, the mikveh (mikvah) is often a deeply emotional experience.

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Recalling yesterday, I remember a fleeting moment in which I'm emerging naked and dripping wet, but in the next moment all I'm aware of is the warmth of Mrs. Markovitz's embrace as she wraps me in a towel and plants an affectionate kiss on my cheek. In retrospect I recognize that I might have used these exact words to imagine birth from the point of view of a newborn.

But in fact, I've just exited the mikveh [ritual pool] and, after another kiss and hug from my friend and Jewish mentor, Sue, I'm alone with my reflection in the dressing-room mirror, seeing myself as a Jew for the first time. Knowing that it's silly even as I do it, I can't help but look to see if my physical appearance was changed by such a profoundly spiritual experience. 

As I dried myself off and dressed, the intensely surreal quality of the previous moments began to recede and I was glad I had taken Rabbi Greenspoon's advice to schedule my beit din [a three-person rabbinical court that rules on conversion] and mikveh for a Friday morning. I had taken the rest of the day off and ahead of me stretched a long afternoon that would glide gently into Shabbat.

I confess to a few butterflies in my stomach earlier that morning and a whole flock of them in the moments before I entered the mikveh.  I wasn't worried about what I knew or didn't know, I wasn't afraid of the mikveh, and I certainly didn't have any doubts about my decision. Furthermore, I knew that my conversion to Judaism would not really take place that morning but had taken place in my heart gradually during the preceding months as I internalized Jewish values, beliefs, and customs. Nevertheless, the beit din and the mikveh were unquestionably significant events that had to occur in order for Judaism to recognize me,and November 8 would forever mark that moment in my personal story.

visiting a mikvehEven a day later, I'm unable to say what it was precisely that made me nervous as I got myself ready and traveled to the mikveh that morning, but whatever it was, I forgot about it as I sat and talked to the three rabbis who comprised my beit din. I had met each of them previously when they taught their respective portions of the conversion classes offered jointly by the local Conservative synagogues. A few months earlier, the idea of sitting and talking to one rabbi would have intimidated me, but after spending more than a year meeting with various rabbis and studying with Rabbi Greenspoon, I found our meeting that morning quite comfortable.

In advance of the beit din, I had sent each rabbi a piece I had written describing my background and explaining the circumstances of my decision to convert to Judaism, which provided a comfortable jumping-off point for our conversation. All of the rabbis were kind and supportive, and there was a seamless transition from our initial friendly chatting to the subject of Judaism. I recall a lot of laughter and lightheartedness in our four-way conversation, and I got so involved in our discussion that it rather startled me to hear one of them say, "It's time for the Big Dunk!"--a reference to my own term for the mikveh.

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Terry Himes lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she practices law and resides with the youngest of her three children.