How I Learned to Swim..in the Mikvah
This is the first in an ongoing series on Jewish Wedding Network chronicling a bride’s experience visiting the Mikvah.
The decision to visit the mikvah before my wedding was a no brainer. I knew that is was not very likely that I would be visiting a mikvah again (or at least on a regular basis as Orthodox Jews do), and I saw it as a once in a lifetime experience that I did not want to pass up.
The issue was that I had high expectations, and I was concerned about being let down. I desperately wanted it to be a spiritual experience, something that would move me in a very profound way. I had heard good and bad stories about the mikvah – both from those who had highly spiritual experiences to those that had run-ins with the stereotypical “Mikvah Lady.” I tried my best not to let the horror stories deter me as it had done for so many of my friends.
I laid the foundation for my “good experience” by choosing a new spa-like mikvah on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The mikvah lady was young and pretty and kind, nothing like the dreaded mikvah ladies you hear all about.
And so the day arrived, and I was left alone standing naked as the mikvah lady inspected my body for dirt and loose hairs before I descended into the mikvah. I stood there completely uncomfortable, laughing to myself how strange this all was, thinking “This better be worth it.”
I don’t know what it is, but I was always one of those people who could never hold their nose under water. Yes, I was the kid who always pinched her nose as she did a belly flop, and wore nose clips when I went swimming in the ocean. It always bothered me that I couldn’t just swim underwater like everyone else, but it was something that I could never help.
I took my steps slowly one by one into the mikvah’s waters and when I was centered in the pool, I recited the prayer slowly and with meaning. Then the mikvah lady gave me the okay to dunk, and I did, slowly and with purpose, wanting to really take in the experience. As I arose from the waters I heard her say “Not Kosher, do it again, but don’t hold your nose with your hand this time.” I tried to explain my handicap to her – that I couldn’t hold my nose without pinching it, that it was something that I could just never do. I was hoping that she would make some kind of exception, but she wouldn’t have it. “Try it again without holding your nose,” she said, “It will only be for a second.”
I tried to prevent myself from panicking. Here I was trying to have a meaningful spiritual once-in-a-lifetime experience and it wasn’t even going to be considered “Kosher” unless I put myself in an even more uncomfortable situation. I could go under without holding my nose, but I knew that I was going to swallow a bunch of water and gag and….I decided to do it anyway.
I took a deep breath and went under, hands at my sides.
And as I arose from the waters, I realized I was fine.
Twenty-nine years of holding my nose and wearing nose clips, and with just one dunk in the mikvah
I FELT CURED.
I dunked a second and third time. I smiled, knowing that I did have the spiritual experience I was hoping for, although it was completely different from what I had expected.
I learned to swim in the mikvah that day, and I’ve been swimming with my hands by my side ever since.
The above photo was taken on my honeymoon.