I hate water. I don’t love drinking it, I’m not a swimmer – not even to cool off while sunbathing – and as my college roommates can attest, I went through a phase where the shower and I were basically frenemies, interacting only when absolutely necessary.
Thankfully, I’ve grown up enough to recognize that even though I hate getting wet, showering is non-optional. However, even on the hottest of summer days, you couldn’t pay me to jump into the pool and I can provide a 100% guarantee that I will never step into Lake Michigan.
So when my rabbi informed me that I’d have to visit the mikvah before I got married, I panicked. For those not familiar with the mikvah, rest assured – you are not alone. I didn’t know much about it myself until I found out I’d be going.
According to Orthodox Judaism, a bride must visit the mikvah before the day of her wedding, as a ritual of purification before entering the chuppah and getting married. As a not-so-Orthodox Jew, I had a lot of questions – and the mikvah lady was there to answer all of those questions and more.
The mikvah lady, otherwise known as my rabbi’s mother-in-law, walked me through the process. We toured the building, which looked more like a spa than a scary bath house, and she asked me a lot of awkward questions about my sex life, my menstrual cycle, and my plans for starting a family. I asked her about the technicalities, what I would need to do to prepare for my visit, and most importantly, how long I’d actually have to be underwater. And while it was mortifying talking about premarital sex and family planning with a lady my grandma’s age, it was a very eye-opening discussion. As I am certainly not an expert in the Jewish laws of Mikvah, Nidah and family purity, I encourage those harboring curiosity to click here or here or here for more info. Riveting stuff.
Back to the story. After wrapping up my Mikvah 101 course, I scheduled my appointment for my pre-wedding dunk and promptly put the whole issue at the back of my mind. I returned to sorting out seating charts, confirming last-minute details with vendors, and finalizing honeymoon plans.
At last, the day was upon me. No – not my wedding day. Dunk day. I arrived at the mikvah and spent about 20 minutes preparing: shampooing and combing my hair, exfoliating my skin, and removing my nail polish. I took out my contacts, because no foreign objects are allowed into the mikvah (not even ones that keep you from stumbling into the mikvah by accident). And then I hit the buzzer to let the mikvah lady know that I was ready to head in.
It was only when I stepped into the water that the mikvah lady and I found out that the water heater was broken. Just my luck – the girl with the water aversion stuck in a freezing cold mikvah. Luckily, the only requirement is that you are completely submerged for literally one second, three times.
Quickly, I repeated after the mikvah lady as she helped me say the prayer before plunging into the pool and then, about six seconds later, it was over.
I know many brides who have described their experience at the mikvah as a deeply spiritual moment. For me, my connection to Judaism is rooted more in tradition and community than spirituality, and despite the technical difficulties, I left the mikvah feeling a profound connection to the Jewish women over dozens of generations who had gone through this ritual cleansing.
And if thousands of other women could suffer through getting wet long enough to start a marriage with a clean slate, I could too.