Expanding Jewish Possibilities Through Mikvah
By Tracie Bernstein
MACoM Mikvah Guide & Trainer
One of the great privileges of my life has been to serve MACoM, the Metro-Atlanta Community Mikvah, as a mikvah (ritual bath) guide trainer. Over the last three years, I’ve worked alongside my training partner, Beth Tieman Feldstein, to facilitate an 8-hour guide course for more than 40 local women and men in preparation for the holy task of guiding people as they immerse in the waters of the mikvah. MACoM is a rare place – among only a few mikva’ot (mikvahs) in the United States that are both maintained at the highest level of Jewish legal stricture, while also being open to the entire Jewish community. Supported by more than 20 synagogues and Jewish institutions representing a wide array of denominations and perspectives, MACoM is a house of ancient Jewish ritual that serves the breadth of our community, regardless of observance level, sexual orientation or capacity for physical mobility. Men, women, trans and non-binary community members are invited to immerse.
The role of mikvah guides is to provide a welcoming space in which the guest can find a personally meaningful expression of the ritual. There’s a built-in paradox to the guide’s task. While we are intentional about helping our guests with all aspects of both the preparation for immersion and the immersion itself, we understand the necessity of leading by receding. The kabbalistic idea of “tzim tzum,” literally contraction of oneself, teaches us to make ourselves smaller in order to make room for the guest to fill the space as she or he needs.
MACoM guides are available to answer questions about the how-to’s and are also able to offer supplemental reading materials and “intentions” for the immersion. At times we serve as classic “Mikvah attendants,” simply ensuring that immersion ritual is completed as is customary, but we are also the support for lesser-known mikvah use. In all cases, we are here to bear witness to liminal moments marked by the most ancient of Jewish rituals.
You need not have mikvah knowledge or prior experience to try MACoM. We are here for first-time immersers who are curious about this powerful ritual, as well as those who may have had negative experiences with mikvah in the past, but are open to exploring mikvah through a new lens.
I love that MACoM serves the diverse spiritual needs of our Jewish community, from women who immerse monthly in observance of the laws of family intimacy (taharat ha mishpach) to those immersing for conversion. Many come prior to weddings or giving birth, while a growing segment of the community is exploring ways to use mikvah as part of their menu of options for spiritual practice. Women and men can immerse to renew themselves before Jewish holidays and even weekly prior to Shabbat. MACoM also offers immersions to mark major life change, loss, healing and celebration. Women immerse at MACoM to mark infertility, and to pray for healing, to acknowledge menopause, and celebrate an impending birth. Male and female cancer survivors have immersed to celebrate and acknowledge their healed bodies, and new grandparents have immersed to express their joy at witnessing a new generation.
We even offer the opportunity for immersion before bar or bat mitzvah! The idea here is to provide Jewish teens another beautiful ritual for their spiritual menu of options as they mold into Jewish adults.
The waters that circle the earth and fill our mikvah in a suburb of Atlanta today are the very same waters that flowed these last 3,000 years, maintaining and connecting the Jewish people to our peoplehood. Mikvah immersion is a powerful, singular Jewish ritual opportunity open to the entire Jewish community. I encourage all Jews to consider immersion and to reclaim this most ancient of opportunities to connect with ourselves and the wisdom of our tradition.
To schedule an immersion, contact MACoM here.