Carrie Bornstein

The Mikveh as Our Spiritual Tool

By midday after last week’s election, I had already heard about three teenage girls so frightened by the results, they weren’t sure they’d be able to go to school that day. No matter your particular political perspective, it is impossible to deny the deep sense of anguish present in our country, and in the Jewish community in particular.

Jews are a people of action. Our tradition cares much less about what a person believes or feels, and much more about what she does. Whether it’s the food we put in our mouths, the way we support one another during times of need, or the grand task of repairing our broken world, Judaism demands that each of us act in ways that honor our past and protect our future.

How jarring, then, for so many to feel caught between what was and what will be, catapulted into a liminal space without clear lines of action to move forward.

No matter what emerges in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead, our country is in deep need of recuperation as women, men, and children search for ways to heal from what has happened, transition to a state of action, and to practice self-care for the long haul.

Watching our community respond to the election – as secular and universal an event as they come – I am also struck witnessing a gravitation toward the spiritual, a pull back to the particular of our tradition, to the mikveh – that feel-good, warm water, transition-marker, washing away, echo of creation and flood and do-over ritual of ours.

People who don’t use the mikveh at any other point during their year are now suggesting it to friends looking for a way to move forward. Rabbis are encouraging it during their talks from the bima.

Perhaps this time of uncertainty encourages a renewed desire to connect with one’s roots. Perhaps there is a collective knowledge that, just as with the flood God brought to Noah’s world, with every disaster there is an opportunity to start over. Or perhaps, just as the mikveh resonates back to the water of a mother’s womb, the idea of just crawling back in for a bit feels like the right thing to do.

Mayyim Hayyim, Newton MA

There is no one right time to come to the mikveh. For some, it will be a chance to sink down into the depth of the hurt, as it was with the one of the teenager’s mothers who called me, crying, to schedule her immersion. For others, it will be at a transition point shifting from mourning to action, as it was with a man who immersed last weekend – as he now prepares to marry his partner before January, while they know they still have their rights. Still others will immerse many times over the months ahead without our even knowing why. But the sentiment of nourishing oneself and marking the passage of time will be there.

The collective work ahead in our country will be long, as will the ongoing practice of nurturing resiliency, healing, and hope as individuals. For those able to visit Mayyim Hayyim in Boston, we welcome you. You’ll find support at a number of other mikva’ot around the country too. As so many of us work to make change in our communities, we owe it to each other to keep ourselves whole.

At this difficult time, I stand between worlds of hope and fear… May my mind be clear. May my heart be open. May my body be renewed, as I immerse within the living waters.”


– Mayyim Hayyim Immersion Ceremony

Toward Healing After Receiving Difficult News

Ceremony created by Matia Rania Angelou, Deborah Issokson and Judith D. Kummer for Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters

About the Author
Carrie Bermant Bornstein is the Executive Director of Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Paula Brody & Family Education Center in Newton, MA. In 2013 Combined Jewish Philanthropies named Carrie one of the 18 most influential young adults in Boston.