Home » Uncategorized » Mikvah Musings

Mikvah Musings

In my 4th year of rabbinical school, I was privileged to witness, as a sponsoring “rabbi” my first conversion immersion.

I was awed by the sacredness of the moment and I wrote a poem, which I’ve shared with others from time to time and which is part of my rabbinic portfolio. As yet, it is unpublished in print media.

Just before Rosh HaShanah, I took Mayyim Hayyim up on their suggestion that rabbis immerse themselves prior to the High Holidays, as a way to center, reflect, refresh, etc. before diving-in (pun intended) to the intensity of the Days of Awe.  Again, I was moved to write.

I shared the new poem with the folks at Mayyim Hayyim and this morning it appeared on their blog.

The two poems are in some ways mirror images of one another. I hope to publish them somewhere, together, sometime soon.  In the meantime, here they are:



By Emma Gottlieb, 3/27/09


The first time she goes under

it’s messy.

She’s nervous and the water

                        is deeper than she expected

so she dunks


        and comes up spluttering,

        her arms flailing.

“You can set your feet down”

I tell her,

but she can’t find the ledge

        and then she does

and as I feed her the words of the bracha,

the holy repetition calms her –

        calms me as well,

        my heart fluttering

        my breath caught up

        in the transformative moment,

God crackling like electricity in the air.



The second time she’s more confident.

“Just give me a second to get momentum”

        she says

before she takes the plunge.

“You might want to curl your legs up a bit

so your feet don’t touch the bottom,”

I had told her

when she was a Christian woman

only minutes before.

Now as she hurls her body into

the deep and wet limbo –

        no longer Christian but not yet a Jew –

she bends her legs slightly,

and from where I stand

        looking down

she is the perfect replica of an unborn child.



I wish she could see herself

as I saw her in that moment



The mikvah is a round well

the steps



and as time stands still

she floats suspended

in a watery womb –

A fetus ready to be born



She comes up

Breathing calmly.

We bless

for we have reached that moment –

each of us thankful for reasons of our own.

        I am praying along with her

        though she may not know it.



By the third time she’s an old pro

(and so am I).

She does not hesitate.

She is ready

        and then it’s over

and I hold out the robe she had shed

at the top of the stairs

        like a snake sheds its skin –

               laying her past on the floor

before wading into her future.

It’s the same robe she steps into now

and she looks the same

        but we both know better.



“I can’t believe it”

she says.

But I can

because I saw her floating there

in the wet womb between worlds.

Because she was reborn



and I was her witness.



USUALLY I AM ABOVE (by Rabbi Emma Gottlieb, 08/2013)

Usually I am above,

       looking down
I avert my eyes as they descend
and then connect with them to say the prayers
       to share the joy
       to complete the process
       to witness

I am the rabbi

I lead
I accompany
I affirm, confirm, and reaffirm
I am the guide
I am with them
       but apart
A part
       of their experience
but my own experience is secondary
(as it should be in such moments)

How nice

to return to this place for my own purposes
       for me
       for my soul
       for my spirit
It is I who descend this time
I, who am embraced by God’s warm and welcoming waters
I, who get to immerse
and emerge


with God and the water
and the words on the page
       renewing my spirit
       repairing my soul
       preparing for the year ahead

I know what I look like,

a body
       distorted as I submurge
       hair floating around me
       as the splashes echo
I can see myself as I have seen so many others
I know I am glowing as I come out from the water
I know I am walking straighting
head held higher
       by the waters of God

Usually I am looking down

But today I immersed
and I looked up
       through those beautiful windows
       through the light streaming in
and God was my witness
and the waters, my rebirth

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s