My 10-year wedding anniversary with my husband was approaching, and for the first time since we had kids, almost eight and a half years ago, we were taking a real vacation without them. We were going to Jamaica.
Of course, there was the anxiety about flying without the three kids and about their well-being while we were away. We had them split between my parents, my in-laws, and my sister-in-law, and on certain days, the kids were split with each other for the week. These arrangements took more time and energy than planning the actual vacation.
As the time to leave drew closer, everything seemed to be in order as far as packing, chores, and last minute errands. But there was one loose end. My time to use the mikveh (ritual bath) fell out on an evening while I was away. I looked online and saw that there was a Chabad in Montego Bay. However, there was no mikveh yet in Montego Bay or the entire island.
I am not the typical Jewish woman that you would expect to use the mikveh on a monthly basis. I don’t wear long skirts and I don’t belong to an Orthodox synagogue. But I am spiritual, and visiting the mikveh is one commandment given to Jewish women (along with lighting Friday night candles) that I feel very connected to. I have written about my mikveh journey in my very first Kveller article.
I thought that the only way the mikveh could work this month was if I could be permitted to immerse a few days earlier, before I left. I emailed the rabbi and advised of my unique circumstances.
He wrote me back, and I was disappointed with the first line of his response. Halachically (according to Jewish law), I could not immerse early. But the remainder of his email left me in amazement.
It read: “Do not miss the immersion though. You are very committed to this mitzvah. One suggestion is to go to the beach late at night and have your husband be the mikveh attendant. This is what the Jews in Puerto Rico do. It will be an experience, and possibly a sexy one at that. P.S. Bring a flashlight.”
Yes. You read correctly. The rabbi’s response was essentially for me to go skinny dipping on a public beach with my husband. This rabbi is not a reform rabbi and not the Conservative rabbi of the congregation where we belong. He is Ultra-Orthodox, with the black hat and payos, and is the rabbi of the Orthodox synagogue where I use the mikveh and take occasional Kabbalah classes.
I was surprised at this risque suggestion and looked at Orthodox Judaism in a whole new light. But this was not something I’d typically do, and I was set to just skip the mikveh this month. Though, I have to admit, there was a small part of me that was intrigued.
After all, natural bodies of water are mikvehs in their most primal form. In the Midrash, it says that after being banished from the Garden of Eden, Adam sat in the blue river that flowed from the blissful Garden of Eden in order to be purified and to repent for his sins.
We left for Jamaica and four hours later, reached paradise. True paradise. From the first minute we got to Jamaica, we felt immediate peace and relaxation. Reggae music was in the air, rum ran freely, and any request made was promptly answered with the single phrase, “No problem, Mon!” Our resort was nestled in a secluded area of the island where aqua blue beaches sparkled around us. As we were in a 500-acre wilderness preserve, beautiful wildlife roamed freely about. Lush, manicured gardens and fruit trees were everywhere we turned.
And then I had a thought. Could this be a modern day version of the Garden of Eden? Was this a sign? The calm, blue ocean seemed to be the perfect place to immerse and connect with God.
It was also our 10-year anniversary, and the first time I immersed was right before my wedding day. Ten years of marriage is a long time, and more than I could have imagined or hoped for. Thankfully, it was filled with good health, laughter, promotions, and most importantly, our three beautiful children. But with the good also came trials and tribulations. Raising these three kids was/is not easy at times. There were stresses of jobs, finances, and anything else you can pile into the bucket of married/adult life.
Marriage isn’t perfect. People aren’t perfect. Sometimes external forces can pull couples in different directions and at times, we fall victim to leading separate lives or to the monotony of marriage. The last time my husband and I did something spontaneous or adventurous was probably when we snuck in an unexpected Trader Joe’s run before heading to the soccer field.
And so, with all the signs pointing in one obvious direction, I decided to immerse in beautiful Jamaica. My husband was naturally on board, and there we sat in our cabana, waiting for the time to come. We watched the sun set behind the mountains as we played music—most appropriately, “Night Swimming” by REM.
When the time came, we waded in the water together until we were deep enough for me to immerse and the bathing suit to come off. For the first time in a long time, I felt alive and uninhibited. I said the prayer, as I have said so many times before, but in the presence of both my husband and God. The experience was unique and holy under the bright moon, clear sky, and warm water—and one we will never forget. There were no distractions, and that night, on many levels, we reconnected as husband and wife.
We started out our marriage with freshness, unpredictability, and excitement. We ended that decade, and began this new decade , in the same way.
I will be sure to plan our next vacation together, whenever it is, in a remote island—with no mikveh.