New Writing on Mikveh

a new posting from poet/educator, Sarah Antine, who’ll be leading a talk-back on Wednesday, June 2nd following the 7:30 performance:

When I was first asked to write about mikvah I wrote: of my vulnerability, my discomfort with it. 
Then after the last trip to the mikvah I wrote:

Before immersing in the mikvah, one has to remove anything that isn’t attached as part of you. I remove my make-up, my nail polish, cut my nails, comb out all the loose strands of my hair, scrub off all the dirt, loufa the souls of my feet, clean my ears, nose and mouth. I unhook the earings from my ears, take off my watch and wedding rings, if I was someone else, I’d take out my contacts, or take off my hair covering, until I am without pretense, without illusion. I take off my outer layers, my clothes; I leave my intricate snail’s shell behind me.

I have nothing left to block me from the mikvah attendant’s careful eye. If she is respectful, I feel taken care of, attended to. It is up to her: She can create a safe space or she can create a place that increases my feelings of vulnerability. She has that power, because she is dressed and because she dictates the rules of the mikvah.

She is the last impediment, the last thing I take off.

If she is polite, she raises the towel like a high curtain between us.

Only I enter the short stairway in –

the warm water greets me like a flowing skirt, like a loose flowing dress.

I sumberge. For a moment I am weightless, in utero, I come up for air, recite the blessing.

I am like beach glass smoothed by these waters.

It has taken years to become beach glass.

 

2 thoughts on “New Writing on Mikveh

  1. After the talk back last night, I realized that I needed to share more of the difficulty I’ve had with mikvah because of the mikvah attendants:

    I have been going to the mikvah for almost 9 years. I’d say for most of that time, I’ve felt as if I was entering into a foreign culture as soon as the mikvah attendant opened the outside door to let me in. I didn’t grow up in an Orthodox community and women wearing shaitels or head coverings used to make me feel nervous at the mikvah because of their piety, because they were hidden and I felt exposed. When I finished the final preparations, I used to feel a sense of dread, as if I thought she would examine me with a magnifying glass. She had special powers to find the dirt in my nails that I missed. Somehow that symbolized for me that she would find dirt in my soul. Like a dentist or a doctor, she could judge me without really knowing me. In that way, I felt objectified.

    It is in the mikvah attendant’s power to dictate the mikvah experience for the women who come to the mikvah. When I lived in NYC, I had a regular mikvah attendant who did not hold up a towel at all. Once I was up to my shoulders in the mikvah, she held the towel over my head since I wasn’t wearing a hair covering and was reciting a blessing. I had a mikvah attendant pull out a hair that was attached. I had a mikvah attendant who commanded me, “Pray, Pray!” I found it very difficult to find my voice in any of this, so I stayed quiet. In the play, the mikvah attendant, Shoshana, embodies this as a character. She is so concerned about anything getting between the woman and the purifying waters, but she inserts herself between the woman and the water.

    I’d love to hear your comments on struggles you’ve had with the mikvah.

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