That Time I Was Trapped in the Mikveh

It was a typical Friday afternoon. Taking a break from worrying about school and life to walk over to the Mikveh. I had just gotten back to town after a couple months, and while I wasn’t away for very long, it kind of felt like old times. The walk every Friday afternoon is one of my favorite times of the week. It gives me a chance to clear my head, listen to some music and explore Manhattan. This trip to Mikveh ended up being slightly different than previous ones. I arrived just like any other time and entered the shul (the shul is upstairs and the Mikveh is downstairs, to get to the Mikveh you have to go through the shul). There were a couple of young Chassidic men learning in the shul (this is an important part of the plot). I made my way downstairs to the Mikveh area and to my surprise no one else was there (I wasn’t really surprised because it happens all the time. Friday afternoon is usually the busiest time of the week for a men’s Mikveh and despite being in the middle of Manhattan, I rarely ever see anyone else at this Mikveh on Friday afternoons).

At the Mikveh I did my usual routine (not important for you to know it) and was done just like any other trip. I put my clothes back on (very important detail). It seemed like nothing was unusual, but then it happened. To enter the Mikveh you have to go through the shul upstairs, but there was a way to exit the Mikveh going directly back to the street. There is a door from the Mikveh to get to a small closet-like room that is only a few-feet by a few-feet big. From this small room there is a door leading to some stairs taking you to the street. I decided to go this way and opened the first door and into the small ‘room.’ I made sure the door behind me was closed (so no one from the street could somehow get in, but proved to be my big mistake). Once I closed the door behind me, I went to open the other door (leading to the street) in front of me.

Except, I couldn’t. The door handle and lock were completely off of the door making it impossible to open the door. I tried a few times to mess around with it, but it was pointless; it wasn’t going to open. I turned around praying that somehow the door behind me would open, but it was locked. So here I was, trapped right outside the Mikveh (not inside the actual Mikveh like some of you probably thought and hoped I would be talking about). I knocked on the door leading back to the Mikveh, but there was no one there. Who knew the next time someone would come? It could be hours. Thinking how unreal the situation was I messaged a few people I thought might be nearby and might be able to help save me. To no avail, I started yelling out towards the street (the door leading to the street has holes in it so people could hear me if they were on that side of the street, but there are also stairs from the sidewalk to the door so even if people are walking by they can’t necessarily hear me). Even though it is the middle of Manhattan, it isn’t on a very busy street, so not many people walk by.

Surprisingly, calling my mom who is on the other side of the country didn’t help and my phone battery was close to dying which scared me even more (it was at the time my only contact with the outside world). I waited for dozens of minutes, but no one else came to the Mikveh. The only passersby were a couple different groups of girls, who couldn’t really hear me (let alone how would I explain my situation to these girls? Was I supposed to shout at them, “Help, I am trapped, can you come save me?” That would have been an encounter to remember). Finally, a homeless man (or at least he appeared to be homeless or at least in need) came towards the door looking for recyclables (there were garbage cans on the stairs near the door). I shouted toward him, “Excuse me sir, I am trapped in here. Would you please be able to go upstairs and knock on the door and ask the guys in there to come help me?” The man walked away without answering me, leaving me uncertain about if he was actually doing it. About a minute later, the uncertainty was cleared as the two young men who were upstairs in the shul came from the Mikveh and opened the door and rescued me.

I got out and went to the street, but there was no sign of the man who had rescued me. Was he a guardian angel, or just a homeless guy (probably just a random homeless guy, but I will never know). So I made my way back home to finish preparing for Shabbat, while thinking about how sometimes crazy things just happen.

There are many lessons I learned from this incident. First, every person has the ability to make a positive impact. A homeless guy might seem like a burden to society, but just like everyone else, he has the ability to do good in this world. Another lesson; always have an exit strategy. Also, don’t always take the easy road (I could have gone back upstairs and exited through the shul). Most importantly, never go to the Mikveh alone. Bring a friend along and together you can both cleanse your souls (don’t worry, you don’t have to go into the Mikveh at the same time).

About the Author
Zander Wold is a Jew from Los Angeles currently living in Haifa.