Just before Shavuot this year a group of 60 Jewish professionals and volunteers including Reform rabbis and community members met to commit to bringing the ritual of mikveh – ritual immersion in a pool or body of water – back into the heart of the Jewish community. The event was the first public meeting for Mikveh Project UK which seeks to create a new centre of wellbeing with mikveh at its heart.
The group, who spanned the Jewish spectrum acknowledged the challenges with the current provision of mikveh in London. They shared their personal experiences of mikveh and spoke of the need to uncover the ritual of mikveh from its shroud of mystery and give it renewed meaning for the 21st century. They committed to work without the constraints of denominational identity to build a fully halachic mikveh for everyone, within a centre of wellbeing in North London.
Speaking at the meeting, Rabbi Miriam Berger of Finchley Reform Synagogue said: “The rabbis of old were psychologists helping us by giving us rituals which guide us through transitions in life. Yet for so many of us their wisdom has been obscured by language, the intricacies of the customs and the layers of halachah. The psychological healing powers are so often made murky by the narrative surrounding it… I want to wash away the murky exterior of mikveh and unearth the beauty as we reclaim it along with all its restorative powers.”
Rachel Silveira from the Mikveh Project UK organising group said: “We will see our success when the ritual of mikveh will be available and used by people to mark transitions in their lives. Not just before marriage but after all sorts of significant moments; when a mum finishes breast feeding, on retirement, to celebrate significant birthdays or the end of a long hospital treatment. Offering rituals in those moments gives people an inner strength and brings depth and understanding to their lives.”
Sam Clifford added: “This mikveh will become a resource to all sorts of existing organisations. We are calling it a project because it will involve everyone to work it into their new way of thinking. At a time when mental health is such a problem for society, we are looking for solutions within our Judaism.”