Innovative American mikveh founder extols its virtues to backers of UK initiative

Anita Diamant explains success of Boston project to Zoom audience of 250


Novelist Anita Diamant, who was one of the founders of an innovative mikveh in Boston, has spoken of its impact to supporters of plans for a similar initiative in the UK. 

The Wellspring Project, led by Rabbi Miriam Berger of Finchley Reform Synagogue, hopes to open a wellbeing centre and mikveh in North-West London in three years. 

While traditionally a mikveh is used by married women for post-menstrual immersion and the initiation of converts, Mayyim Hayim, which opened in Boston in 2004, has encouraged them to come for other reasons – to mark important events in their life or before undergoing surgery, for example. 

Around 250 people took part in the Zoom meeting addressed by the author of The Red Tent and other books, who is president of the mikveh, with more following on Facebook. 

Immersion in water is “a profoundly elemental ritual,” she said. “It’s being back in the womb, it’s surrendering everything between you and the world - you go in the water with nothing between you and the water.” 

In Jewish tradition, which is “a very talky, thinky tradition, this is the least talky, thinky thing you can do in terms of ritual”. 

Her husband (one of the mikveh guides who helps users) “starts crying when he starts talking about the experiences he’s had, with everything from grooms and people who are joining the Jewish community to people who are retiring, to people who facing illness, to people who need physical help, who can’t walk down the stairs and need to be carried into the water. 

“These stories and these experiences touch people profoundly and changes their lives and enriches them. It is a great mitzvah.” 

Young children also come, not only when converting but bnei mitzvah who are about to read from the Torah for the first time. 

While they can’t always articulate what they get out of the experience, she said, “sometimes they do. Sometimes they say, ‘I felt God in the water’. Or ‘everything else fell away and I can concentrate on what’s ahead of me’.” 

Mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin and Rabba Dina Brawer, who also lives in Boston, contributed to the evening which marks the first of a series of planned digital events by the Wellspring Project. 

“There’s a lot of crying in the mikveh,” Ms Diamant said, “tears of joy and letting go of sorrow and grief, and surprise, and it feels totally appropriate”. 


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