dear gefilte

Dear Gefilte #8: Who Do I Invite to the Mikveh?

Dear Gefilte,

After a LONG, very non-hasty process, I am pleased to announced that my conversion will be official, shortly. I have been embraced by my small congregation, and truthfully, it’s really been a group effort. For my own selfish reasons, I am hesitant to invite the lovely ladies of the Temple to share in the joy the Rabbi assures me will be abounding at the mikveh. I have never been to one for anything, ever, and this first time the thought of spectators concerns me, but on the other hand I feel like a schmuck for not inviting them.

Also, my mother has invited herself.

What’s a girl to do?

The New Jew on the Block

Dear NJOTB,

If I may quote the great (Jewish) Helen Shapiro:

It’s my mikveh and I’ll cry if I want to!

New Jew, I’m going to be a little tough with you. If you start sending out invites to your intimate and sacred event, I’m going to tweet it to the Northern Hemisphere, grab my swimmies, and meet you at the deep end. Remember, this is your day and no one else’s. I want you to submerge your body, your mind, your past, present, and future. I want you to float in the space of I-am-possible-in-every-direction. This ritual can be so wildly beautiful, if you give it your whole self.

Rabbi Maurice Lamm writes about the conversion mikveh so poetically: “Individuality, passion, ego–all are submerged in the metamorphosis from the larval state of the present to a new existence.”

READ: Why My 7-Year-Old Asked To Go to the Mikveh

New Jew, let your inner larva loose. I’m saying this not just because I’m a fishball: water is the only witness you need. Take a deep breath and make a tea party on the mikveh floor if you like. Embrace this moment of weightless rebirth.

Here’s a little story about yours truly inviting too many people to my Gefilte Mitzvah. No offense to Melissa Sparks, but she knew I only invited her because she was ridiculously popular and had perfected the art of home perm-ing. At the party, we barely said hello or mazel tov to each other, and then I felt guilty when she got caught smoking with one of the catering staff in a phone booth.

Cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to!

OK, now here is a story about the most exquisite death I’ve ever known. My dear friend Anya was 85 when she decided to go for a swim in her favorite lake up in Connecticut. Anya had been stowed under a sink to hide during the Holocaust. When the war was over, she went to night school and learned how to read MRIs. In her later years, she made thick pottery, and swam, and forced me to eat her marinated mushrooms. She always wore purple and had a thermos of homemade cosmopolitans. She was the most brilliant, delicious, resiliently potty-mouthed woman I ever knew.

READ: How a Trip to the Mikveh Helped Me Face My Pregnancy Fears

A few summers ago, just around this time of year, Anya went up to her cabin in Connecticut to get a break from the New York City heat. She’d been in and out of treatment for cancer and was pissed about how loose all her purple pants were. She was tired all the time. She had no appetite–even for mushrooms. So she walked into the water. She dove into the most familiar and yet unknown place she’d ever been. She floated between here and beyond in the soft seaweed and then…

She never resurfaced.

They found her towel lying on the shore. And later, her body, with all its breath gone. And when I got the call, I was so relieved and grateful. Anya left this earth doing what she loved to do most. Submerging herself in this holy weightless space.

You would cry too if it happened to you!

Just FYI, that song was written about a sweet sixteen gone awry. As in, she invited someone who stole her man. I don’t want to scare you, but what if someone took off with your rabbi at your mikveh? Awkward.

READ: Everything You Need to Know About the Mikveh

New Jew, there are so few moments in our lives where we are suspended and protected. We come from a watery sac and flop onto land barely knowing how to breathe. (To make matters worse, some of us get plunked on a plate next to a pile of horseradish.)

I hope you give yourself the gift of this special day. I hope you cry and laugh and sing and swim. I hope you feel loved and witnessed, as you float between here and beyond.

With love and schmaltz,

Gefilte

Have a question for Gefilte? Send it to deargefilte@kveller.com, and you might just get an answer. 

Dear Gefilte

Dear Gefilte is Kveller's advice column. You can send your questions for Gefilte to deargefilte@kveller.com. Dear Gefilte is written by Abby Sher.

Abby Sher is a writer, performer, and mom to three cool beans. Her memoir, Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn't Stop Praying got lots of awards from people like Oprah. She writes regularly for The New York Times and The Jewniverse and wears a bike helmet to bed.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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