Monday, August 21, 2006

a walk in the wilderness - the mikva

ok, so i should write about my shabbat this past weekend at the women's weekend at elat chayyim. before i say anything, please look here to see the velveteen rabbi's take on her experiences at this jewish renewal retreat centre.

first of all - why did i go? short answer is that h. was going and asked if i'd like to go to and i thought why not - it'd be nice to spend shabbat as a congregant.

i also thought that it would be healthy for me to be a little uncomfortable and push my boundaries a bit and the main thing to do that was the mikva that would begin shabbat. although i have witnessed for many women in the mikva, i have never actually been dunked myself. the reason has nothing to do with religion or theology or anything like that. the reason has always been that i am ashamed to be naked in front of a stranger. look, i grew up in england which means i haven't seen myself naked since i was small enough to share a bath with my sister; and i'm hung up about being fat - two strikes to start with.

i got there about an hour before the mikva, and wandered around emanating anxiety. when we finally gathered, those of us with body-image issues gravitated to each other and discussed whether or not we would be disrobing. meanwhile, i had noticed that the women who were leading and guiding us had badges saying 'kohenet', and i figured they had been there for the whole week and had volunteered to help us integrate into the group. they then began to smudge us. i decided not to have this done as i wanted the mikva to be my method of purification and the mikva alone. it was the mikva i feared (not to mention the thirty naked women who were about to share the swimming pool with me). we were told to find a partner so we could witness for each other. the woman standing next to me offered herself and so it began. everyone was disrobing, so i did too. once i took my glasses off, i couldn't see anyone else, and so of course they could not see me. my partner asked me how i was doing, and i said i was in complete denial. she asked if she should tell me i was naked and i said no thank you i do know that why don't we get into the water?

gosh it was cold. a couple of the kohenets were cavorting in the deep end, while the rest of us inched gingerly along until the water covered our naughty bits. a few of us went deeper, and squealed when our nipples hit the water. nu - we held hands in a big circle, and shared some of the things we wanted to wash away. nobody mentioned anger. (when i told d. that she just said, 'liars!') once i was in the water everything was fine. i have now been dunked. afterwards one of the women for whom it was also the first time said that she was disappointed that it wasn't a more spiritual experience. i told her that i had not looked for that - for me the important thing was actually, finally doing it.

i guess it was kind of like virginity, or treif food - a taboo that seems scary to violate but if and once you do, it turns out to be rather nice :-)

later i hope to write about kabbalat shabbat, and shabbat morning, but i am a bit tired. laila tov.

ps am wondering who it is in the burg who pops into the blog every now and then. say hello my virginia friend!

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