Thursday, September 4, 2014

Can You Have Guests at Your Conversion Mikvah?

Yes, yes you can. But remember, you're gonna be naked. So choose wisely.

But you may be wondering, "Guests?? Why would I want guests?!" There are three types of potential guests:
  • Asking a same-sex friend to be your mikvah attendant (to make sure you're prepared properly and answer any questions)
  • Asking same-sex friends to go into the mikvah room itself to watch you dunk
  • Asking friends of either gender to accompany you to the mikvah and/or greet you afterward
Of course, all of these guests are encouraged to take you out for lunch or dinner afterward!

When it comes time for the conversion mikvah, people seem to instinctively know whether they want someone to accompany them or not. You may not have a choice as to who your mikvah attendant is, but friends and family should be allowed either in the room or outside the room.

Some are adamant about being alone, as I was for Conversion 1.0. It didn't work out that way, but that's how things go. Everyone had the best of intentions and invited guests on my behalf, so I tried to not be upset that my conversion day wasn't going "according to plan." That took superhuman effort because it was such an important day that I had built up in my mind. It was no longer "perfect," and I felt it was really important that I should cross this bridge alone after doing the rest of my journey alone.

Others automatically know who they want to join and in what capacity. However, these hopes can also be crushed by scheduling. You rarely get much choice about the day and time unless you absolutely can't make it (and you'll probably move mountains to get into that mikvah before the rabbis change their minds!). After all, scheduling three rabbis who have other communal obligations is usually trickier than your schedule. But your friends and family... they may not be able to move those mountains. 

So what is it like to have a guest in the mikvah? I didn't find it very stressful; it probably made me less stressed. The procedure: the mikvah lady fetched me from my preparation room, asked all the checklist questions to make sure I prepared correctly, led me to the mikvah, and let me get into the water. Only then did she call in the women I brought with me. They stood with the mikvah lady while I stood with my back to them and the door where the rabbis were. I believe there was also a sheet around my neck for more privacy ("privacy in the mikvah"?? lolz). I was able to joke around with my friends about this very awkward situation because that's how I deal with awkward situations. None of us knew what was expected of us, and we all felt awkward. But because I had my friends there, the awkward was manageable and actually became a great bonding experience. 

Eventually, the rabbis asked their final questions, I had my first dunk, the rabbis shut the door, I had two more dunks, and then everyone sang Mazal Tov. Afterward, the women left the room, then the mikvah attendant gave me my robe as I exited the mikvah. I went back to the preparation room to become presentable again.

And here's where the guilt kicked in. My Southern over-politeness emerged, and I felt horrible for everyone having to wait on me. I didn't take a single minute to think about what had just happened, got dressed quickly, threw on some basic makeup, and ran to greet everyone. ...Wet hair and all. And apparently that is not normal. The rabbis looked shocked and said they had expected me to be much longer. I didn't need to rush. Learn from my mistake. This is one time when everyone understands you will need some time to collect yourself and get ready. Take a few minutes (or more) for yourself.

The take-aways: make your conversion how you want it (as much as you can). But don't fall into the trap of anger and frustration if things don't go "according to plan." And take as much time as you need after the mikvah to get ready to return to the real world.

1 comment:

  1. Take as much time before, too! I rushed the preparation because I was so hyperaware of people waiting for me. And because I did a Reform conversion, I was worried that they weren't used to a Reform candidate being so careful in preparations and would be impatient. I did SO much else to prepare physically, starting a week before when I removed my red toenail polish knowing that it would need days for the red dye to fully come out of my nails, and then I felt rushed when it came down to the actual moment! I, too, am a polite Southerner concerned about other people's needs (also a social worker - bad combo!) but kicked myself for it later. That's my only regret, is that I didn't take the time I wanted to fully prepare beforehand.

    I invited only my wife and my closest Jewish friend to the mikvah. Everyone else was just invited to the ceremony in the sanctuary later that evening. I invited my friend because she was my mentor throughout my journey, from the first day I told her, "I think I want to convert. But shhh, don't talk about it again unless I bring it up because I'm afraid of whether I'll be able to follow through with it." So it seemed only fitting she would be there for this step of the journey, too. Both she and my wife stood outside the door with the beit din to hear my splashes and blessings and yelled "mazal tov!" afterward. I'd had no idea they were there til then!! Fortunately I have a female rabbi who had agreed to be my mikvah attendant (since the mikvah is kind enough to allow Reforms to use it but don't want to be involved) and that felt much less awkward than I'd feared. I was barely aware of her presence, and comforted by it at the same time.

    One beit din member who I don't get to see often (she taught my Intro to Judaism course), my wife, my friend and I all went to lunch afterward at a kosher deli nearby. I tried all kinds of traditional Jewish foods that I hadn't yet sampled. It was just an amazing day - I'm so glad those people were there, and so glad no one else was!