Going to the Mikveh: The Day Before

With the ritual bath's echoes of sexuality and its demand for self-abnegation, the prospect of immersion can create some trepidation for the prospective convert.

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The mikveh is nothing if not intimate.

Then there is the unmistakable symbolic significance of self-abnegation and obedience inherent in the act of immersion, a significance that does not rest easily with contemporary notions of freedom and self-sufficiency. And for converts, the mikveh may suffer additionally from its uncomfortable similarity to the Christian ritual of baptism, a sacrament most likely chosen for us by our parents as part of a religion that we are now rejecting in favor of another spiritual path.

The mikveh sits there at the end of the conversion process like a very large, politically incorrect and immovable object. I find myself thinking a lot about the spiritual fortitude of the first Israelites who followed Abraham on an unknown path by entering into the covenant, a contemplation which frankly helps me keep my own trip to the mikveh in perspective. While it's true that immersion carries the obvious connotation of losing one's individuality by uniting with a larger community, it also embodies a joyous expression of a new beginning. After all, one emerges not as a different person but as the same unique individual in a newly minted relationship with God and humanity.

For me, the mikveh is now plainly visible on the event horizon, refusing to be ignored. But now that I've drawn closer, the mikveh is smaller and more approachable than it first seemed. And it turns out that finding the mikveh rather than entering it may have been the real test after all.

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