14 Elul 5778/ August 25, 2018
Mayyim Hayyim: A Time to Mourn; A Time to Laugh
By Cheryl Kollin
It’s been a year since Bill Franz, my beloved husband of 23 years, died. I’m so grateful to the Adat Shalom community for
holding me in love and support during the unimaginable months of his illness and in the year of my grieving. I’ve found
tremendous comfort in observing the various Jewish rituals around death and mourning along with the many talks,
memories, and tears shared with friends and family. To mark the first year of Bill’s passing along with saying Kaddish and
lighting a yahrzeit candle, Rabbi Hazzan Rachel suggested a new to me ceremony created by Mayyim Hayyim Living
Waters Community Mikveh*. I love the water, swim thrice weekly, and so I was all in.
I never embraced the ancient practice of Mikvah, particularly the monthly immersion observed by women and its
implications of making oneself clean again for their spouse. Mayyim Hayyim, a ceremonial immersion in living waters, is
a 21st century reinvention to serve the Jewish community of today. The kavanah, intention of this practice, is: “I come
here today to mark the end of aveilut, my time of mourning.” While mourning doesn’t end according to a time table,
ritual for me becomes a marker of my healing. As Rachel has taught me, do the practice, feel it later—or fake it ‘til you
make it and reflect on what, if anything, I learned.
Rabbis Rachel and Julie accompanied me to the Mikvah at Adas Israel for this ceremony. The small room has a warm
pool about four feet deep, fed by rainwater (hence living waters). To be in my most natural state required removing my
clothes, jewelry, and nail polish and showering. I sat at the edge of the pool and had a soul to soul talk with Bill. Then I
asked Rachel and Julie to enter the room and bear witness to my reciting four blessings/passages with each immersion.
The essence of each passage touched me.
Over this past year, I’ve learned that grieving is not a linear process with a beginning, middle, and end. Rabbi Julie
suggested that as I entered the Mikvah I should “feel the ripples of the water; they are like grief; they come and go.” I
know that beginning anew will be full of laughter and tears, warm memories and heartache. Now each time I swim at
the Shriver Aquatic Center, I jump into the pool’s deep end. Down, down, down I go. I feel this complete immersion as a
moment of Mikvah, of healing, of life. And I surface a bit stronger, to begin anew.
*This ceremony was created by Matia Rania Angelou, Deborah Issokson, and Judith D. Kummer for Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters, 2004.