Thursday, October 11, 2007

I want to be a mikvah lady

I went to the mikvah last night.
This is surprising for many quite contradictory reasons.

First, I'm a practicing and happy Conservative Jew. You might say, "Conservative women don't practice taharat hamishpacha." But I do.

Second, I have been battling fertility related issues for over a decade now and rarely have "reason" to go...really, twice or three times a year. Every visit is a difficult one: either I'm not pregnant, or, well, I actually got my period, and I'm still not pregnant.

Third, I believe strongly in egalitarianism, and as a feminist, I have had a love-hate battle with niddah and the mikvah.

But I go.

This was my first visit to the brand new Upper West Side mikvah. Go. It is beautiful. I happen to be of the mind that going for a dip can mark any of a whole handful of transitional moments in life, not just the end of your white days or whatever. It raises hiddur mitzvah (the beautification of a mitzvah) to a new level. Not my taste in decor, but it is truly awesome.

The mikvah itself looks like the one in the scene from Sex and the City where Charlotte converts. Wouldn't surprise me at all if that was the model for the design.

But most powerful of all was the mikvah lady. Couldn't have been more than 25 years old and she was down on her knees cleaning my toenails of the remnants of bright red nail polish that I missed. Talking about getting pedicures, how she loves the sparkly colors and those are the hardest to remove. Talking about her sister-in-law, who does her pedicures. A real woman, obsessed with the vanities of life just like the rest of us, but devoted to escorting real live naked women through this experience.

I want to be a mikvah lady. Not the kind who picks the hair off the back and says "kosher" to the dipper. The kind who escorts regular women like me, ones with a need to make small talk and who wear pants to the mikvah (not to mention uncovered hair), through the moment when we leave the little deaths of our periods behind us and into the moment when we can focus again on life.

4 comments:

Ima Shalom said...

I too, really want to be a mikvah lady. We live in a smallish Jewish community and I feel bad to take from an institution and not give back. But our shul's rabbi, whom I like and respect, has nixed the possibility on account of my other, more egalitarian affiliations in the community. Most notably, davening from the amud. *sigh*

Sunkist Miss said...

Have you seen the (relatively new) Conservative teshuvot on Niddah? You and ImaShalom might find them interesting. CJLS is trying to encourage Conservative women to follow some version of taharat mishpacha. The teshuvot can be found on the RA website (scroll down to the bottom) at: http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/law/new_teshuvot.html

Anonymous said...

You gave your reasons for why you wouldn't use the mikvah, but you didn't say why you do, so I won't presume. But I like how some of my friends have used it, in part, to keep relationships fresh. The husbands participate by picking out and buying nice lingerie once a month. Another husband makes my friend a several course candlelight meal and WASHES THE DISHES after, each time his wife uses the mikvah. I admire your persistence though it doesn't seem easy for you.

Gluckel of Manhattan said...

Thanks, everyone. Just a few responses:

Yes, I've read the tshuvah.
Unfortunately, the CJLS doesn't have the crucial thing, women in communities to go out and talk and bring others in. Education is crucial, not just halacha, and that is what is missing. Also, going to the mikvah is a challenge when the mikvaot are under the auspices of the Orthodox community so I feel a bit challenged to try to bring Conservative women in to a community center that doesn't fully welcome their practice.


I go to the mikvah because I do. Because it was something that intrigued me before I got married, and no one in my family did it, so I had no one to cast a negative pall (or a positive one, for that matter) over the experience. I do it because it makes my husband happy that I do it, and somewhere along the line, it became meaningful to me. Naaseh v'nishma.

I will be quite controversial here and tell you that I do not follow traditional halachic practice in my mikvah-going. I know the cycles of my own biology and reproductivity, and I go 24 hours after the end of my period. I do not observe any extra days, and this is my own decision supported by my husband.

Feel free to respond...