A Liberal Jew at the Mikveh

KLS Member Lior Locher, having converted to Judaism during the pandemic in 2020, writes about her recent – and belated – trip to the Mikveh

Liberal Jews don’t typically go to the Mikveh. I think it’s a missed opportunity. Rituals matter, and there are plenty of ways this can be useful, ways this can mark steps, closures and beginnings.

Like all rituals, it’s an inner and outer process that goes far beyond the “thing” you do.

The mental bit. Memorizing the blessings. Thinking about my Jewish life so far, what it is looking to shape up to be. Given that, because of the pandemic and shifting regulations, this needed rescheduling, I’ve had a few rounds of that, all meaningful to me.

The community bit. Within the Jewish community, and as part of a global community of people of faith. Taking off time at work, being transparent to what this was for, and having some good conversations with colleagues whose faiths also have ceremonies involving water to mark milestones. Going to the Mikveh with a few others, the siblinghood in that.

The engineering bit. I have a few piercings that are non-trivial to remove.

The preparing the body bit. I used it to scrub, pick, cut, wash, make myself in the best shape possible, unadorned except from the inside.

The logistics bit. Like last-minute dashing into the waitrose next to the train station on the way to hope they’d have towels on special sale (they did). Bring your own towel. Bring your own everything else, too.

The emotional bit. That was key for me. It came later, and in stages. Some of this is still unfolding:

Held. Immersing in a narrow pool of body-warmth water that goes everywhere. Floating within that, weightless for a moment, suspended, held. And then again. And again. Nothing is more fundamental an experience as that.

Relief. I am not exactly feeling “Jewisher” than before, I already felt and feel Jewish, and I mean it. Still, I am glad I’m now as Jewish as a liberal Jewish convert is ever going to get, and that feels right.

Prepared. Some people go to prepare for the High Holy Days (and our timing did that too). It feels meaningful to start a New Year with a clean slate in many ways, to not just make it an intellectual exercise (my favourite psychological defence mechanism), but to bring the body in.

Formalized. The Mikveh seals the conversion process, and I felt that, with the blessings, and the Shehecheyanu, and the little celebration that followed, the congratulation texts I got from Jewish friends.

Ready. Some of the other reasons to go to the Mikveh is after a long illness or disruptive life events. Crawling back out from underneath a global pandemic and its disruptions, out of a few health and other disruptions of my own the last years that profoundly changed the shape of my current and future life in ways I’m still only beginning to grasp. Plenty of things in the last few years to get closure on, to wash off, to mark that they are done now, and that something else is coming. In a way that isn’t just intellectual. I needed that deeply.

Rituals matter. Our rational very modern worldy-educated mind might not like them, initially. They are always bigger than we think though, and being inside them is different than watching from the outside. Rituals matter.

For Liberal Jews, the Mikveh is optional. One of the many things I love about Judaism is how much this is designed with human nature and psychology in mind. The Mikveh has a place in there, certainly for me.

You can read more about Lior’s conversion journey here.

Lior (2nd from right) with Rabbi René (R) and other KLS members Rebecca and Natalia