June, 1997, Cincinnati, OH
It was the end of a journey. It was the beginning of a transition. I had spent five intense years of study, learning, mistakes, and growth at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. Those years had transformed me from a college prep to a religious leader. (Well, a potential religious leader.) The following day, I would be ordained “Rabbi.” The journey had been difficult, and it was just short of a miracle that I completed all my academic requirements in time for Ordination. I had secured a job as Assistant Rabbi of University Synagogue in Los Angeles. I was exuberant. And I was terrified.
Jews love to mark transition with ritual ceremony. So on this “Erev-S’micha” (day before Ordination), three soon-to-be rabbis joined me on a pilgrimage to the Cincinnati
. We had decided to prepare texts for group study after individual immersions.
Now the Cincinnati
is not your glamorous health spa. The space was dark and even a bit moldy at the time. But we had it to ourselves, and we created holy space. I showered, carefully cleaning my body and mind in preparation for immersion. I was nervous and even admittedly embarrassed at the thought of removing my clothes before my colleagues. I waited my turn, and then entered the
Standing at the top of the steps, I wanted to enter the mayim-chaim (living waters) slowly and deliberately. I stepped down. The water was lukewarm. Another step. I got goose bumps. Finally, I descended all the way and carefully lifted my feet allowing the river of transformation to fully acknowledge me. And as I recited the
, I closed my eyes. Tranquility embraced me.
Soon after, the four of us sat clad in towels, studying
, and Commentaries. After discussing the voices of our people, we then shared the texts of our souls. What a beautiful moment it was. We had all come so far. Soon it was my turn.
“You know, “I began, “I was about to say that this was my first time to the mikveh. But I’ve actually immersed once before …”