[Originally posted on June 16, 2014]
At age 56, I experienced mikvah for the first time.
It was a rare, perfect day. As I started my drive into the city, a bright bolt of lightning streaked across the sky directly in front of me. Then, as I drove up the New Jersey Turnpike, a rainbow filled the sky; its arch swept from high to low, its width expressed the full spectrum of color against a backdrop of light blue sky and shades of grey-filled clouds. It stayed with me until I could no longer see it at my approach to the Holland Tunnel.
My traffic-filled drive up the West Side Highway was spent reviewing my prayers. Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam, asher kidshanu bi-t’vilah, b’mayyim hayyim.Hineni. And the Shehekeyanu. And my personal prayers to mark this transition.
I had thought a lot about my prayers, and why I was choosing mikvah at this point in my life. Raised as a liberal Reform Jew, mikvah was never something I considered. My family was culturally very Jewish, but spiritually I think I was the only one who believed in G-d, or deeply felt the connection to past generations. Over the past decade, I divorced and life often wasn’t easy as a single parent, and as a woman returning to the dating world. I’ve had much love, and lust and loss, and these experiences dredged up past heartaches and traumas from earlier times. My best friend of 40 years had recently died from cancer. I was emotionally distanced from my siblings, who were not intellectually nor spiritually inclined. Darkness had crept into my body and soul.
I had become the emotional container for my family, and carried a history of trauma that my grandparents brought with them from Lithuania and Latvia. Sometimes I felt my relatives were calling out to me. Sometimes I felt haunted by their cries. And then it occurred to me that my immersion was not only for myself, but for my namesake, Breina Freidel, and the women in her short-lived life, whose spirit I embraced, whose darkness I carried along with my own.
After I immersed three times and said my prayers aloud, I turned in the other direction and closed my eyes, felt the warm water surround my body, and contain me. First I prayed for my children – for them to be happy and safe and at ease. Then I spoke to Breina Freidel. I gently told her it was okay now, that I heard her cries and she could rest. I hoped that maybe I could rest too.
The next morning when I woke, I felt happy – more at peace than I had perhaps ever felt.
Mikvah was both a spiritual and sensual experience for me. I understood that I was renewing and cleansing more than just my body and spirit, but also the spirit of the women in my family who had cried out to me. I embraced their darkness with light.
I believe the heavens called out to me on that rare, perfect day. The lightning bolt and the rainbow guide led the way, imprinting my memories, on a screen of light blue sky and shades of grey-filled clouds.
Barbara is the mother of two children, living in suburban New Jersey. She is a psychotherapist and practices yoga, meditation and continuum movement, and writes poetry. She believes true healing occurs in time through compassion, courage and creativity.