The Mirror in the Mikveh

Can a Jewish Purity Rite Be Adapted for Teens?

Kurt Hoffman

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Published May 23, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
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Ellie’s mother, Esther Goldenberg, is so supportive that she is considering using the mikveh herself. The family is very health-conscious, eating a vegan diet and exercising regularly (Ellie is a red belt in karate). But it had never occurred to them that mikveh could be part of a healthy lifestyle. “I really care about my and my daughter’s health and Judaism, and the two are connected in our world. Mikveh can further these goals,” Goldenberg said.

The program is grounded in traditional Jewish texts and spiritual concepts, which were reviewed with its leaders in meetings and training sessions with Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, Adas Israel’s director of lifelong learning, and Rabbi Rachel Gartner, the Jewish chaplain at Georgetown University.

Gartner, who sees a lot of eating disorders and other stress-related health issues among college students, is contemplating introducing the mikveh practice to Georgetown students. “I try to work on helping them understand that what matters more than how they look and present is for them just to be present [in their own bodies], and mikveh can be a tool for this.”

“Bodies of Water” has the financial support of the Tikkun Olam Women’s Foundation of Greater Washington, a grant-making organization dedicated to creating social change for women and girls, as well as additional support from the Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington at Adas Israel, which offers programs and workshops to help deepen people’s spiritual experiences.

Sara Gorfinkel, the former’s director, applauded her organization’s board for understanding how “Bodies of Water” relates to TOWF’s mission, and how mikveh can be a vehicle for creating social change for women and girls. “We are really excited about this model, because it’s really accessible and can be replicated,” Gorfinkel said.

For Emily, the history of the practice inspires her. “These waters have been here for all of time,” she said. “The most special part of mikveh for me is getting in touch with myself as part of Jewish history. And at some point in the future, another girl, going through the same issues I am now, will immerse herself in these same waters.”

Renee Ghert-Zand is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Forward.

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