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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As I walked down the hall, the event began to take on a dreamlike quality. By the time I reached the dressing room for the mikveh, I had that odd sensation of being outside of myself watching myself as both actor and spectator. I showered and let Mrs. Markovitz (the "mikveh lady") know I was ready, and I walked through the door. There was so much going on in my head and my heart that I was only minimally aware of being naked and, in fact, only minimally aware that Mrs. Markovitz and Sue were in the room with me. But when I came out of the water, the warmth and welcoming I felt from them was palpable.

I had frankly wondered how this Orthodox Jewish woman who I had met just moments earlier would view my conversion to Conservative Judaism, but now there was no doubting the sincerity of her welcome. Additionally, the decision of whether or not to have my friend stay with me in the mikveh had been a difficult one to make and one which, in fact, I didn't make until the last possible moment. Fortunately for me, I knew Sue would be fine with whatever I decided when the time came. Had I made the decision earlier, I most likely would have decided against it but, having come that far, I knew as I stood there that I wanted to have someone close to me to share the memory of this with for the rest of my life. It just felt right. And it was.

After the mikveh, Mrs. Markovitz, Sue, and I joined the rabbis for readings and prayers, singing and hugs. If I had to compress my overall impression of the day into one word, that word would be "warm." I felt suffused with love and acceptance, and I was very aware of how blessed I was to have the company and the undivided attention of these three very different but deeply spiritual men, the love and support of my friend, and the acceptance of the community. I don't think I will ever forget the fullness of that feeling, the completeness of that moment.

I spent much of the rest of the day replaying the events of the morning in my mind, rewinding again and again in an effort not to forget any detail. When the time came to light the Shabbat candles and recite the berakhot--blessings, including the Shehecheyanu, thanking God for enabling us to reach this season--for the first time as a Jewish woman, it did indeed feel different. After the many weeks of anticipation, I felt especially peaceful and fortunate to have found my spiritual home. At services that night I was still kind of "floating" from the events of the day. They were particularly well attended because there was a bat mitzvah.

As I did my best to keep up with the prayers and the readings, I noticed some women seated in front of me fumbling through the siddur [prayerbook]. At the end of services they turned and explained that they were visitors, not Jewish, and that they "didn't know what they were doing." I smiled and thought to myself, "Ha! They assume I'm Jewish," followed immediately by "I am Jewish!"So I smiled to make them feel welcome and said, "That's OK. I remember how it feels."

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