Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Shul's Mikveh

I recently wrote, rather incoherently, here and (less so) here, about an incident revolving around my Shul's mikveh. On a related note, I've thought about what I should do with these posts to salvage the core points - breaking the second one up into three articles is a start - but have decided to let them fester as a reminder of literary failure.

Anyway, over the weekend I happened to visit my shul's mikveh and snap a few pictures on my cell. It's a bit dark - I didn't bother turning on the fancy water back-lighting.

You're looking at a guardrail leading into a pool of water. On Sunday it was nice and warm. One is not always so lucky.

Here's another view, from the opposite side of the room.

The beautiful, painted ceiling with lighting accents and twinkling stars.

There's a story, interesting to me, that concerns this mikveh. It was built in place of an older one that burned down on Shavuot some years back. There is a custom among chassidim to stay up late on Shavuot - the morning being Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai - all night if one is able, studying Torah, and to immerse in a mikveh as morning comes. I feel compelled to explain why we stay up, but Shavuot is coming soon enough and I'll explain then.

That year, I spent the night of Shavuot with a few young men and a couple of Rabbis, some learning independently, others in groups. I was only just becoming more observant in the Jewish faith, so I didn't know what to expect. When I was told, with the approach of dawn, that everyone was heading down to the mikveh for a dip, my heart sank. Throughout the ages, Jewish men have felt conspicuous, and often exposed themselves to ridicule after taking off their pants in front of non-Jews. In true baal teshuvah fashion, I was to experience the oppose - the embarrassment of being uncircumcised among fellow Jews.

It wasn't until two years later that I would be surgically wedded to my people. As things stood, I was uncut and terribly embarrassed of it. I had been to the mikveh before, but usually when it was deserted. Among a dozen Jewish men, high on the spirit of the holiday, my secret didn't stand a chance. Looking back, it does not seem like such an important thing, and neither does wearing matching socks in grade school, but imagine the abuse were a child to do otherwise. I wasn't prepared to face even a single taunt, insecure as I was. Instead, I barricaded myself in the library, praying my absence from the festivities would go unnoticed.

A half hour later I heard yelling, then fire trucks. I still don't know how that fire started, or why half a dozen guys with access to towels and water couldn't put it out. All I knew then was that my secret was safe.

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