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Bodies of Water

Adas Israel Community Mikvah
Washington, District of Columbia United States
Leadership team

Naomi Malka, Mikvah Director
David Polonsky, Executive Director
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, Senior Rabbi
Rabbi Aaron Alexander, Associate Rabbi
Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, Associate Rabbi
Rabbi Kerrith Rosenbaum, Director of Education
Debby Joseph, Board President
Maria Sloan, Mikvah Committee Chair
Mickie Simon, Program Faciliator
Lisa Himmelfarb, Program Facilitator

Prize category
Local/Regional
Operational
1 – 3 years
Target audience
20s & 30s, Adults, Baby Boomers, College Students, Disabilities, Educators, Elderly, GLBTQ, Jewish Professionals, Multi-ethnic, Teens, Women & Girls
Categories
Disabilities, Experiential Learning, Gender, GLBTQ, Health, Jewish Education, Ritual, Spirituality

By introducing Mikvah through the lens of body positivity, we are bringing it into the 21st century and re-framing it as a Jewish response to media over-saturation. Participants in this 2-3 hour program observe an immersion in the Mikvah by a demonstrator (who wears a bathing suit!), unpack preconceptions about Mikvah, explore ceremonies for different meaningful moments to immerse, and can choose to try other embodied practices, such as mindful eating with brachot or practicing a bit of Jewish yoga in which the leader emphasizes awareness of our Jewish bodies.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Our ancestors told stories about water--the Creation of the World, Noah and the Flood, Moses parting the Red Sea, and many others--that we still tell today. Water is an essential part of a life and a primary Jewish symbol. Every culture has its water ritual and Mikvah is ours. By entering water in a ritualized way, we are embraced by this primal element and given a moment to experience the holiness of our own bodies.

So much of Jewish life is communal--it takes place around a table or in a group. Mikvah is a private, powerful experience that connects a person to the earth, to Jewish tradition, and to God. Moreover, Jewish identity and practices can be abstract or intellectualized. While Mikvah is ripe with symbolism, it is also a very concrete set of physical actions that can be easily taught and learned.

The meta-message of Bodies of Water is that Judaism has ways to support you as you go through life's many transitions. Whether you are going through the physical transitions of adolescence, the psychological growth of your 20s and 30s, the many steps toward creating a family, managing an illness, or caring for an aging body, the Mikvah, as a ritual of transition, is here to help you to be aware of the thresholds you cross and to bring holiness to each step.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

Bodies of Water clearly conveys the message that our bodies are holy. Each activity of this program encourages participants to remember that--regardless of our height, shape, color, age, or our abilities--our bodies are our vehicles for moving through this world and for doing mitzvot. In the context of other Jewish rituals and ritual objects such as candle lighting, reading Torah, or wearing a tallit, we frame Mikvah as the only one where our bodies themselves are the ritual objects. When participants watch the demonstration immersion in the candle-lit Mikvah, they are often moved to tears and inspired to consider personally meaningful times when they may (have) immerse(d). At the conclusion of the program, participants receive some swag, including a coupon for a free visit to the Mikvah. Of the 520+ coupons distributed in the last three years, about 60% of them have been used. People return to immerse in the Mikvah to mark life cycle events such as bar mitzvahs, weddings, or divorces, and life transitions such as graduations, retirement, grief, or loss. Ceremonies for these occasions were written and published by Mayyim Hayyim in Newton, MA and their resources are an integral part of our programming. We have gone a step further in applying the wisdom of Mikvah to a issue that many people face--body negativity. As a result of Bodies of Water there has been a large increase in the number of visits by people struggling with body image or eating disorders. Individuals who have fought these issues for years come to experience a moment of peace. A group of therapists in this field from the Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders has even come for a training in how to help their Jewish clients access this ritual as a part of their healing process. Even for Bodies of Water participants who don't suffer to this degree, the Mikvah is presented as a healthy, positive way to feel Jewish in your body.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

From Feedback Questionnaires:
Before today I believed that taking care of our bodies is not part of Judaism, but after today I see that it really is.
This renewed my appreciation for my body and encouraged me to make positive, mindful changes.
My favorite part of today was visiting the mikvah and learning about all of the ways it can be used with an open, egalitarian, pluralistic mindset.
My teenage daughter and I did this together and we can leave today with this shared experience of remembering and practicing mindfulness.
Before today I felt like my body was aging. As a result of today, I remind myself that my strength and form evolve naturally with years.
Thank you for a wonderful afternoon. The leaders were especially wonderful, each of whom made me question, in the best possible way, who I am and how I can be a better mom, leader, role model and person.
My favorite part of today was the mikvah tour. It is something that always seems so cloaked in secrecy; it’s nice to both see the physical space and to know how accessible it really is.
As a result of today I will actually find ways to incorporate Mikvah into my practice.
Before today I believed that the Mikvah was only for really religious people. As a result of today, I see that the Mikvah is a way to connect with yourself, as well as with G-d.
Before today I prayed with my mind. Now I see that I can use my body to connect religiously as well.
The three hours flew by.
We liked all three parts of the program because it makes you stop and think about your body as a vessel that needs a recharge or a fresh start once in a while.
Before today I didn’t know what a mikvah was. Now I know it is a place to feel more connected with G-d and being a Jew.
The mikvah was my favorite part because I have never seen one before and it inspired me to try it.
Before today, I believed I was overweight. As a result of today, I believe that it matters what’s inside, not out.
I learned about a whole other aspect of Judaism today.
Before today I didn’t know anything about the mikvah. Now I want to do it before my bat mitzvah.
Before today I believed that Judaism is something to practice. Now I believe it is something that I am.
Before today I believed that the way I eat doesn’t make a difference, the food tastes the same. As a result of the mindful eating exercise, I see that when I eat slower, my body becomes aware of the taste and savors it more.
I liked the mikvah. It made me feel special and it really touched my heart.
Before today I believed my body was ordinary. As a result of today, I believe my body is special and very loved.
Before today I believed Judaism was mostly about books. Now I see that it is about experiences too.

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

The past holds great treasure for us to continually work to rediscover!! By taking an ancient Jewish practice and imbuing it with new meaning, we are revitalizing the past and enriching our lives.