Guest Post: Reclaiming the Ancient Girls’ Club

Today’s post comes to us from one of my best friends in the whole world. I met Tehilah Eisenstadt in a college poetry class. After two classes together, I stopped her on her way out and told her that I liked her poetry and that we should be friends. That was 18 years ago. She lives in Brooklyn and I live in Minneapolis, but we talk every week. (Or at least try to.) She is one of the smartest, kindest, most resilient and amazing people I have the honor to know and I am certain we’ll be friends until we’re absolutely ancient old ladies. And beyond.

Tehilah and I have talked a LOT about the mikva over the years, and because she has had a variety of experiences with the ritual herself and countless conversations with others in the Jewish community about its significance, I’ve asked her to write about this fascinating practice here. Although it has nothing to do with style, it has plenty to do with body image, womanhood, community, healing, strength, and so many other issues central to the mission of this blog. I’m sure you’ll find her experiences and reflections as fascinating and inspiring as I did.

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Reclaiming the Ancient Girls’ Club

By Tehilah Eisenstadt

I imagine in ancient times, there existed a world of clear, rigid, gendered roles in which a Jewish girl became a woman, wife, and mother within a 2-year span. She led a domestic life: mothering, wife-ing, cooking, and teaching. Creating, and creating order out of chaos; A godly role. Then, once a month when she was not full of life or nursing a child, she bled and went to a ritual bath, the “mikva.” The mikva is the culmination of a Jewish religious cycle of separation that usually occurs when a woman begins her period, and ends a certain number of days after bleeding ends. Immersion in a mikva pool marks a change in spiritual status, including a transition back into her sexual relationship with her partner, which has been on hold since the onset of bleeding. At the mikva, she marks time, maybe notes a few stretch marks or crows feet, and nurtures her friendships with those on her cycle who also revel in the rare in-between moment. Released from being a life-, food-, and love-giver, she joins her fellow-cycled women for a leisurely catch-up. I imagine them wrapping each other in storytelling, recipes for healing, theories on small-joy-taking, while they wait for their turn and the touch of the mikva waters.

That’s how it might have been. And though I readily see the drawbacks of life in ancient times, I like the image of what might have transpired at the mikva and how it could have been a place of healing and remedy. In modern times, the way I have most commonly experienced this women-and-body ritual can best be encapsulated by the night before my friend’s wedding. We went to a secret building. (Really, the city cab driver was convinced the address didn’t exist.) There, we passed silent, ancient men staring down their noses from picture frames above us, and my best friend prepared her body in a tiny bathroom for one hour. Next at the ritual pool/mikva, a woman looked her over, urged her towards the pool, and watched my friend immerse. She received bridal blessings and candied almonds afterwards.

Except for my friend, myself, and the ritual attendant (“the mikva lady”), the women who shared this ritual space with us did not speak to or look at each other. This silent isolation reflects the modern-day Eastern European tradition, encouraged by religious societal norms. Since mikva rituals mark when a religious couple can return to one another sexually, this private celebration is considered inappropriate to share with anyone other than your partner and the “mikva lady.”

What feels inappropriate about this ritual for me is that – as a city girl, used to small living quarters – trips to the mikva are among the only times I find myself in front of a mirror allowing a 360-degree view. As a mom to a young son, I seldom have the bathroom all to myself with no one calling my name or banging on the door. What do I end up doing with this time? Scrutinizing myself for flaws, every extra pound, and (potential) wrinkle. I find grey hairs I swear don’t exist anywhere except for when I am within the mikva’s walls. I pluck my eyebrows, I shave, and I say to my reflection “Is this really what you look like?” Then – though I perfected the art of changing underneath a towel in day camp at age eight – I have to stand before a woman I barely know so she can ritually scan me to make sure that there is nothing between me and the water and to make sure I am fully immersed. An experience that could offer a rejuvenating way to connect with other women – or, at the very least, an opportunity to relax and meditate alone – becomes an exercise in self-scrutiny and criticism with a bit of meditation (often focused on the self-scrutiny).

The first time I stepped into this ritual for myself was quite different. Two incredible friends (disclosure: one of them created this incredible blog space) accompanied me to the mikva a little less than 24 hours before my wedding day. They took my phone (genius) gave me loving smiles, and sparked conversations that led to joy and laughter. We celebrated together and then they sent me off to soak and meditate. Afterwards, we shared some chocolate from my family. This was my first reclaiming of mikva, and one of the only times I prepared for “inspection” with care and love instead of major-to-minor self-loathing.

Because I wanted more women to experience the mikva the way I had that night before my wedding – as a communal and enjoyable sacred ritual – I joined ImmerseNYC’s “mikva guides” dedicated to helping each other (and strangers) mark important transitions by joining bodies with water. We help women acknowledge divorce, childbirth, abortions, marriage, menopause, a new job, a round of chemo, and more. The list of transitions varies, but vulnerability is the common thread. Most importantly, we help shift the mikva experience away from the alienating rooms, staring at body flaws, being inspected by a stranger doing her job (sometimes kindly, sometimes by rote), all amidst other silent women cloistered off unto themselves.

Mikva experiences with best friends or ImmerseNYC guides turn the ritual bathhouses into female spaces for laughing, crying, asking, and sharing intensely intimate transitions. Women from different generations, neighborhoods, socio-economic strata, and religious streams meet without barriers. For me, this practice reclaims the ritual from Rabbinic ownership and places that ownership firmly in the hands of the women who undertake the ritual. It also transforms those moments of staring forlornly at a mirror image that can’t compare to Photoshopped advertisement facades into moments of gazing at the warmer image of myself as a friend, partner, mother, leader, and teacher.

Before I bring a woman to the mikva with ImmerseNYC I have two ritual blessings/meditations I’ve created in preparation:

  • May I be able to facilitate an experience that is meaningful for each woman.
  • May I recognize every body as holy and thus beautiful.

Interestingly enough, while I’ve been changing into and out of bathing suits behind a towel since my day camp days, I have also been careful to avoid looking directly at other female bodies, assuming we all shared levels of bashfulness or modesty. As a mikva guide I am sometimes asked to witness a woman’s immersion. I’ve had fears of how I might react to seeing strangers’ or friends’ bodies because it is so uncommon for me. But on the few occasions a woman has asked me to witness her immersion, I have been struck by how sacred the moment becomes. It’s not about her body being “right” or “wrong.” There’s no notion of judgment, just the beauty of sacred water met with great intention. As I head into my first experience with an ImmerseNYC guiding me as I dip into the mikva, I hope that this realization can transform my self-judgment. Bodies are sacred, including my own, and judgment – at least in the mikva – is misplaced.

Even if mikva is not a part of your spiritual life vocabulary, I urge you to find a friend with whom you can celebrate your physical self. Together, consider any and all of your significant transformations on a monthly or a yearly basis. Mark changes in community, not in solitude – where, with only one perspective, scrutiny can flourish. I believe a lot of female body self-hatred comes from solitude. It is far too unusual for close female friends to share all the intimacies of the hard, physical reality of being a woman. It is rare and precious for us to come together to usher each other into something new. I would love to see a world in which we hold hands, share stories, sobs, questions, or maybe just a towel.

Tehilah Eisenstadt is a Jewish educator, consultant, community builder and storyteller. She has worked in various leadership roles with prominent Jewish educational agencies and non-profits: Covenant Foundation, Huntington Jewish Center, Pardes Institute and Storahtelling. Recent projects include helping to open Kings Bay Y’s new community center in North Williamsburg, creating programs that serve multi-faith families and developing a unique 5-day a week Jewish cultural after-school program for children of all backgrounds in Sheepshead Bay, and working as an ImmerseNYC volunteer guide. She has been hosting poetry workshops since she met Sally in Binghamton, and has been hosting mikva conversations on and off since 2005. If you have questions or are interested in ImmersionNYC, please drop her a note.

* * * * *

Before I open things up for comments, several points must be made:

  • This post discusses a religious practice. Even if you are not a member of this religion or disagree with this specific practice, bear in mind that what has been described is sacred to some people.  Express your views respectfully and civilly or they will not be published.
  • Be courteous and kind to each other when responding to remarks from other readers.

Huge thanks to my dearest Tehilah for being willing to share her experiences with and views on the mikva with us all.

Image courtesy Rose770

  • http://thecityspace.wordpress.com/ Rachel Q

    What a lovely post to read this morning, just as I’ve been wrestling with my own place as a woman in another religious tradition. When I think about all that I’ve learned of mikvahs, I realize everything I’ve been taught came from men, so it’s wonderfully enlightening to hear the lived experience of a woman who reclaimed the tradition. Thank you.

    • Tehilah

      Rachel, I am so glad that I could give you another, female, point of view. Pardon the pun, but with mikva/mikveh, there isn’t much that’s cut and dry. This is my experience and my current reclamation point. Wishing you the best of luck, patience, energy and great friends/thinking partners during your own wrestling and inquiry

  • Jocelyn

    @”It is rare and precious for us to come together to usher each other into something new. I would love to see a world in which we hold hands, share stories, sobs, questions, or maybe just a towel.” YES!!

    This was so beautifully written. I’ve never heard of the mikva, but it sounds like it could be a wonderful experience.

    • Tehilah

      Jocelyn, mikva/mikveh is pretty obscure, but what the ritual evokes (bad and good) are pretty universal I think. Thank you for your comments. Much appreciated.

  • ruth bernstein

    It is so interesting to read about mikvah from this perspective! I have been going to the mikvah regularly since I got married, and my experiences mirror married life (or maybe just life): Sometimes I go with perfect intention and it is a transcendent experieince; sometimes I go to discharge my obligation and reclaim my regular family life, going through the motions of preparation, immersion, and saying the blessing, pretty much focused on my grocery list or what route home I will take. I am ok with both–I hope to have many more mikvah visits in my future.

    But what I wanted to say was that in Boston, we also have a lovely mikvah (I think it might be the one in the picture) so if you are interested and live in Boston you can check out .

    • Simon

      Mayyim Chayyim is indeed in Boston and is fantastic. http://www.mayyimhayyim.org/Using-the-Mikveh

    • Tehilah

      I really feel where you’re coming from Ruth. Any practice will have it’s ups and downs, moments by-rote or moments of transformation (ideally). It’s part of a general philosophy I’ve bought into of “moments faith” (coined, as I know it, from Irving Greenberg – which can be found here: http://shoah.rabbikogan.com/theology/Cloud%20of%20Smoke,%20Pillar%20of%20Fire.pdf).

      Love, faith, joy, they’re all momentary. For me, I am a bit of a perfectionist. I aim for the most meaningful experience each time but being human, and due to much grappling, sometimes it “works” for me and sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes it really works for me and sometimes it really doesn’t. And I LOVE Mayyim Chayyim – it’s their work that inspired me to keep looking/dreaming and, led to Sara Luria’s (founder) actualization of ImmerseNYC.

  • Virginia

    What a beautiful, beautiful ceremony. All about holiness, healing, and love. Just beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Tehilah

      Thank you Virginia. When it all comes together it really is about all the things you’ve listed. Thank you for sharing as well.

  • Elin

    We often don’t acknowledge the negative transitions noted in the following passage: ‘divorce, childbirth, abortions, marriage, menopause, a new job, a round of chemo, and more.’ How wonderful to have a way to share the good and the bad in an affirming way. These transitions are often life changing – even when they result in a good change – but we are unsure of how to handle these times and therefore are unsure how to handle each other. What a beautiful post!

    • Tehilah

      Elin I cannot agree with you more. In the days of facebook we try to be there for our friends as best we can, even if it’s just a cheering on via their “wall.” It is completely different to hold each other, in real-time, during transitions. Your response reminded me of a moment I’d forgotten – holding my 3 day old son (and 3 day old c-section recovery), on our first day home, we had a house packed with visitors (another Jewish ritual with many pluses and minuses). My son and I had reached our limit. I went to hide in the bedroom. We were both sobbing. A friend came over and said over and over while staying near (maybe rubbing my back?) “I wish I could do something for you, I wish I knew what to do.” It was perfect, none of us knew how to handle the moment but her warmth, proximity and her genuine words were what I needed to make it to the next moment. We need to keep flexing our real-time consolation and support muscles (and discard the fear of jumping in when needed) much agreed, thank you.

  • Lynn

    I love this perspective. I am not Jewish and what I have learned about the mikvah has always seemed to put women in a second class status — why do only women need cleansing? This post helps me to understand the value of support during transitions and how wonderful this could be. Thank you!

    • Tehilah

      Thank you Lynn. Trust me, I’ve been dealing with mikva/mikveh and a lot of my religion that leads me to see where women are treated as second class. That’s why mikva/mikveh needed reclaiming, for me. I needed to take it out of the ancient and modern male-Rabbis-only land, the land of female-body-thou-shalt-nots. Glad it resonated, thanks for sharing.

  • J.B.

    This reminded me of an experience I had years ago. During a very difficult period in my life, I went with some friends (and also friends-of-friends who I had never met) for a women’s retreat/camping trip. At the end of the weekend, we ended going skinny dipping. It was beautiful in just the way that is talked about here, where we all kind of reveled in each other’s diverse beauty (one woman I had just met was seven month’s pregnant, and also naturally a little plump, and she was a little self-conscious at first, but seriously, her body was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen and it was joyful telling her that and seeing her embrace the truth of it). Another friend, a huge home birth proponent had given birth recently, and we all knew something had gone differently than planned, but she was still too upset to talk about it, but as she stood there naked she realized (though none of us even noticed it) that her C section scar was visible, and she tearfully spilled out the whole traumatizing story of the birth. It was just an incredible experience being naked and vulnerable and celebratory with women.

    • Tehilah

      All I can say is: Wow, wow, your story is so moving and powerful.Sincere gratitude for your sharing this.

  • http://www.walkingwithcake.com/ Catherine

    This is a really lovely post! I’ve learned a bit about mikvahs from various books, and I’ve always found the descriptions to be so beautiful and meaningful. It’s great to read a first-hand account, too.

    • Tehilah

      Catherine, so glad I’ve been able to add a layer to your mikva reading. Most of what I’ve read about mikva is similarly positive. The problem for me was that for so many years my experience didn’t match what I was reading. I am so glad to find a new space, not entirely traditional not entirely breaking with tradition.

  • deb

    I did not know about this ritual before reading this but with I had. What a wonderful place for support and growth. Thank you for sharing this experience.

    • Tehilah

      I am so glad Sally gave me the space to open up a conversation about a pretty obscure practice, it can be a really wonderful place. Thank you for your comment deb.

  • Abby

    Beautiful article!

    • Tehilah

      Thanks Abby!

  • marsha calhoun

    A beautiful post. But I’m curious – is the religious ritual required after a woman reaches menopause? Is it optional then? What do most observant women do when they no longer menstruate?

    • Tehilah

      Here’s a link on the topic, but I recognize it doesn’t fully answer your question Marsha. When it comes to halachic/religious codes regarding Mikva I often refer people here: http://www.yoatzot.org/topic.php?id=13

      To the best of my knowledge when a woman reaches menopause she is done with the mikva. With the re-visioning of Mayyim Hayyim and ImmerseNYC there are other opportunities for menopausal women to go, to markL their confirmed last period, milestone birthdays, surviving dangerous circumstances (such as illness). There are lots of non-traditional reasons to go. I remember meeting someone who said she’d never heard of the mikva until she reached menopause but the ritual called to her and so her first “dip” was after menopause. Thanks for your question and your kind comment.

  • kat

    I think we all need a way to disconnect from the non-stop demands of life and have time to simply be. This tradition sounds wonderful.

    • Tehilah

      Ha! Yes, Kat! As someone who observes a technology-free Sabbath for 25 hours a week I’d say a time like mikva is still necessary for me. I live with two incredible people, I love them beyond measure but it’s nice to have some purely free me time without having to work out, run errands etc. I had a taste of it when Sally and Elishe took me to the mikva before my wedding, when I can reclaim that utter abandonment and personal meditation time it is invaluable, there’s a weightless feeling that accompanies feeling so un-tethered/unbound (and floating in water helps embody that feeling too).

  • bubu

    What a lovely post. I have heard of mikvahs but not really understood what they are or their significance – wonderful to learn. While nowhere near the same in terms of spiritual significance — I have recently been facing a lot of these body-image issues when I joined an all women’s gym for the first time in 15+ years (now post two babies) — which not only has communal locker room, but also whirlpool, steam and sauna that women partake of in the nude or just a towel. It has brought me face to face with my own insecurities and contemplation of other womens’ bodies. I think this post will help me gain some perspective and hopefully acceptance of myself and others in this communal setting. Thank you so much.

    • Tehilah

      Bubu, I am completely honored if my post helped you in any way find a perspective that allows you to better enjoy (or dread less) those gym encounters. I worked long and hard to feel the way I do in the context of mikva (where I am guiding one naked woman or I am the one naked woman in the room), I have to say, I don’t know if I’d have to start from scratch in such a communally naked setting. Power to you!

  • Jennifer

    As a shiksa married into a Jewish family of varying observance, I had my first WTF moment when I was presented with a copy of The Red Tent by my mother-in-law. At the time, she was buying the books by the pallet and giving them to every woman in the family. I just didn’t get it. At the time I couldn’t get past the oppressive patriarchy bits and the whole thing just didn’t compute for me. This post about the mikva, on the other hand, this I can make sense of. I get it, and I like it. Thanks for sharing your view and experience.

    • Tehilah

      Your comment made me smile so much Jennifer. Ah… the oppressive patriarchy is royally a pain in the, um, tuchus, throughout the bible and subsequent rabbinic ages – agreed! Having grown up in a religious world living and breathing that patriarchy I loved the Red Tent because it gave a home and model for the behind-the-scenes reprieve. I really appreciate your response, thanks. By the way, the author of the Red Tent, Anita Diamont is the creator of Mayyim Hayyim, and thus the “(grand)mother” if you will of the group I joined, ImmerseNYC.

  • Jessica

    Like Bubu, I had a similar experience on a far less transcendental level the when I ended up having only a communal bath/shower option for a month. What helped ease the awkwardness after the first few visits in that case was that it was so normal for the other women – they weren’t complimenting each other or commenting on each other at all, but they would wash each other’s backs, etc. Being naked around each other was just a nonissue. Seeing a huge range of other women of different sizes and shapes and realizing that all of them had their own aesthetics of proportion and grace made me a lot more comfortable with my own non-airbrushed bits :-)

    • Tehilah

      Naked bodies as non-issues and being able to recognize the beauty in all bodies of all ages and types is huge. Huge. I am so happy for you that you were able to get there so quickly! My first communal shower experience lasted 10 days, there were stalls but no doors. I could write a stand up comedy about what I went through and put my best friend through during those 10 days navigating that experience. The zen you have was NOT there for me…I had to get older, wiser and apparently more insecure first. Thank you for sharing – from one non-airbrushed lady to another.

  • Elie

    I remember being terrified to go to the Mikveh before my wedding, mainly because my mother’s experience had been so bad. She came from a Conservative background and going to the mikveh before having children was a compromise she made with my Orthodox father. She told me stories of going to the mikveh in the Bronx and the mikveh lady told her to go home since the waters were filled with bugs and hair. So when I went prior to my wedding I made sure it was different. I went to a beautiful mikveh in Manhattan with a friend who was a Mikveh lady in North Jersey, rather than my mom. The experience was unbelievable beautiful. The place looked like a spa, the patience of the attendants and their blessings for my marriage. My first post wedding experience happened to be in L.A. in a gross-looking, shady building, but the women running the place saw my trepidation and made the experience beautiful again, regardless of the old building. Each month back in Manhattan I looked forward to my time alone to reflect, unwind and have my own private conversation with G-d. Being nude and vulnerable in the waters allowed me to humble myself and say “this is me hidden behind nothing and begging for (whatever was important at the time.)” Things began to change for me as I tried to get pregnant and suffered numerous miscarriages. The mikveh was a reminder for me that I had “failed.” Each time I bled, I felt like a failure, that my body wasn’t working for me, and I prayed for the day that I would have a 9 month hiatus from this ritual. But again, I took the time in the prep room to reflect and prepare what I would pray to G-d as I immersed in the water, like the baby I craved for in amniotic fluid, helpless and innocent. It was a depressing walk to the mikveh, but when I immersed, I would share my tale with whatever Mikveh lady was there, and she would give me a blessing and hope for me, and that made me feel redeemed. Women who work in Mikvehs and take time to hear or connect with the immersing women have a special place in my heart. This ImmerseNYC sounds amazing.

    • RL

      Hi Elie – would you mind sharing which mikvah in Manhattan you went to?

    • Tehilah

      Your words, the blessing you created, your story, you have a way with words. I’ve been in the fearful place of going to mikva and I also intimately know what you mean by “each time I bled, I felt like a failure.” There are many women in that/our position, I hope that ImmerseNYC guides and more typical “mikva ladies” who make it clear that they are there for the immersing woman can find ways for women going for the myriad of reasons that they do, feel they’re in a safe space to share and be comforted in a way that best suits their needs. Similar to what Elin said above, there aren’t enough spaces for people to support one another during difficult times, especially ones like yearning for a child that can be so hidden and so pain-filled.

      Best to you. And yes, ImmerseNYC is amazing, as is their visionary leader – Sara Luria. Hopefully you will have a chance to experience their guides/community if and when you’re seeking it.

  • TexasAggieMom

    Thank you for sharing this ritual so that women of all faiths (or none) can understand its significance! There is no equivalent of this in my Christian Protestant tradition, but I can see how it could be very reassuring.

    • Tehilah

      T.A.M. you are more than welcome. Your comment made me wonder – isn’t baptism similar? Can it be similarly reclaimed and reassuring? I am really not knowledgable about Protestant Baptism rituals and meaning. I also realize, as Justin Bieber recently highlighted (I read an article in the Metro free Newspaper on this) a baptism is difficult to do as an adult unless you live in warm weather near a private body of water.

  • LaPriel

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

    • Tehilah

      Thank you. It was scary to write and share but so much more worthwhile thanks to comments like yours.

  • amy

    I am Jewish but have never been to a mikvah. I love how beautiful this seems. We have several mitzvahs in the CLE area and one in my town. I have never been and now my curiosity is very present about going. I hope I receive the experience like this one.
    Men have the shvitz, why, women should have an opportunity to have our own version of a shvitz. Maybe evolving times will progress to having this happen and letting the mikvah become group gathering before immersion would be a amazing experience.

    • Tehilah

      Amy, “If you will it, it is no longer a dream.” – Herzl. I dreamed of an experience like this for 10 years at the least, and now it’s happening in MA, NYC, DC and OR (the last 2 I just found out about thanks to reactions to this article)! Good luck in CLE and thank you for your comment.

  • Nebraskim

    Thank you. Thanks also to the person who mentioned The Red Tent. I thought of that immediately, and also interestingly, Memoirs of a Geisha, two books I loved but until this moment had not connected how both were essentially about women’s interior and shared lives. This post is very thought provoking and illuminates an ancient faith tradition interpreted in a contemporary way.

    • Tehilah

      Nebraskim, your words are much appreciated. And, FYI, as I mentioned above the author of the Red Tent is the person who created Mayyim Hayyim which led to the group I am a part of so there’s no surprise that the importance of women’s shared spaces is encouraged and celebrated in both organizations.

  • http://www.smartprettyandawkward.com Molly

    What a wonderful post. Tehilah and Sally, thank you so much for sharing! I really loved reading about this part of another culture I was not familiar with. Thank you!

    • Tehilah

      Thanks for reading and sharing Molly!

  • http://queenoftada.blogspot.com Leah Gordon

    I appreciate that this author is trying to “reclaim” the mikva for pro-woman purposes, but I do feel, as someone who was born/raised Orthodox Jewish, that there is another, darker side to the issue of women and mikva. I have blogged about it (warning – if you are unabashedly a believer that God is pro-mikva, you will find it offensive, though I do not try to be):
    http://queenoftada.blogspot.com/2013/07/muddled-waters.html

    • Tehilah

      Thanks for directing me to your post. We agree on so many levels. For me, as someone born/raised Orthodox Jewish as well, I needed to do something about the “darker” side. I wasn’t willing to give up a tradition that was so strongly held in my family and community but I was NOT ok with pretty much any aspect of it. It’s taken me a decade to get where I am through learning, inquiry, a great partner and some incredible spaces – a Hawaiian waterfall, Mayyim Hayyim and ImmerseNYC.

  • Paula B

    How heart warming! It makes me recall a great book I read with a similar theme. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. Sisterhood is wonderful and powerful

    • Tehilah

      Thank you Paula. And FYI Anita Diamant created Mayyim Hayyim which inspired the creator of ImmerseNYC to do what she’s doing and inspired me and my partner to believe it was possible to create/find a beautiful space and culture/atmosphere for this ritual. Thankfully it only took me a decade to find it!

  • Shprintz

    Why the need to sugarcoat and white wash mikvah? The more articles I read like this the more I see that this cover up of mikvah for something else is to conceal what so many women find distasteful about mikvah. As a woman, I’m never going to enjoy mikvah. I do it to get it over with as quickly as possible with minimal contact with the invasive ML. That’s how it’s for many FFB women. I’m assuming its different for BT women who chose to do this.

    • Tehilah

      I can understand that this is a sensitive issue for many and that you may see it as whitewashing but please note: As a Frum [religiously observant] From Birth (FFB) woman I have grappled with all of the misogynistic, inconvenient and painful aspects of mikva for a decade. Wanting to get it over with and having a non-intrusive Mikva Lady (ML) makes a TON of sense to me. However, the way I chose to handle the balance of tradition and revulsion was to tweak, recreate, refocus wherever possible. One woman’s sugarcoating is another woman’s journey for genuine reclamation. I can’t speak for Ba’alei Teshuva (BT) [people who have become religiously observant but were not born into it] but such women in my life have expressed feelings that run the gamut of appreciation and struggle when it comes to mikva.

  • http://www.bodies-of-water.org Naomi

    Brava! I have created a program called Bodies of Water for Jewish women and girls ages 10+ that introduces Mikvah as a tool for developing a positive body image. Please check out http://www.bodies-of-water.org and be in touch!

    • Tehilah

      Naomi, how did I not know about your community mikva before? Thank you for showing me to your website and program. Fantastic space, programming and I love that we share a love and appreciation for Naomi Less’s “Elohi” song (on your video). I imagine that you guys might have worked together (perhaps with her Jewish Chicks Rock program) for building self-esteem for girls through music and community? I just shared it with another friend who works with girls in religious environs who suffer from eating disorders. Ditto on the be-in-touch! Your mikva and programs are now absolutely on my radar!

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