Photo: Rachel’s Well Community Mikvah. Photo by Victor Paru
Rachel’s Well Community Mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) opened in January 2018 in a secluded, natural setting on the Schnitzer Family Campus. Owned by the Jewish Federation of Portland with ritual supervision provided by the Oregon Board of Rabbis, the community mikvah is open to all who self-identify as Jewish. All attendants, or guides, are volunteers.
“Creative use of the mikvah for extra-halachic reasons are increasing exponentially at community mikvah’s like Rachel’s Well,” says Naomi Malka, who will bring her Bodies of Water program to Portland later this year (see sidebar).
Women come to Rachel’s Well to immerse monthly as part of their traditional observance of the laws of family purity. Parents and their teens come to mark a bat or bar mitzvah, brides and grooms come before their weddings, mourners and those recuperating from illness come seeking healing. Some men immerse Friday afternoons as they prepare for Shabbat. Gay male Israeli couples have come to immerse their babies born to Oregon surrogates before returning to Israel.
“I never thought I would find so much honor in being a mikvah attendant,” says Sandy Nemer. “There are so many reasons why the mikvah benefits us and these reasons are not so known. There are obvious halachic reasons and there are reasons that simply help us to re-connect, re-charge, re-set our lives. It is one of many beautiful gifts that Judaism offers. … The benefits of being able to have a spiritual ritual or renewal are immeasurable. The mikvah is such a blessing and such a gift. It can help put our everyday, hectic, insane, fast, chaotic lives back into perspective even if it’s for a moment. It can also keep us to our mitzvahs. I have seen women come in for healing and for celebration and come out of the waters anew, ready to start fresh. I am honored to be a part of such values.”
This fall, Federation will launch a fundraising effort to support ensuring Rachel’s Well is welcoming, inclusive and accessible to all Jews and those becoming Jewish, no matter what.
“Our stats far exceed any year the (former community) Goose Hollow Mikvah was open, certainly in recent years but quite possibly ever as the contemporary immersion movement has grown and parallel, the traditionally observant community,” says Caron Blau Rothstein, Federation’s lead professional for the mikvah.
Mikvah use in the past year includes:
- Nearly 400 immersions
- 190 for monthly family purity immersions
- Approximately 70 conversions, many of infants born to surrogates
- Half dozen men are Erev Shabbat regulars (60 immersions/year)
- 20 people came for healing
- All genders have immersed (men, women, non-binary…)
- 50+ for holidays, other celebrations and non-disclosed reasons
Reservations and donations accepted at jewishportland.org/mikvah.
Bodies of Water
Naomi Malka, mikvah director of Adas Israel Community Mikvah, will bring her Bodies of Water program to Portland this December.
Mikvah, Mindful Eating, Yoga/Meditation presents three ways to support/nurture positive body image in girls/women through a Jewish/mindful lens.
“Bodies of Water is an award-winning program that introduces you to mikvah as a path to body positivity from a Jewish perspective,” says Naomi. “Framed along with other healthy practices like mindful eating and Jewish yoga, this experience is a very special way to explore how mikvah is relevant in modern Jewish life. We will watch a demonstration immersion by someone in their bathing suit, explore different ceremonies for mikvah use, learn simple ways to bless our food and eat mindfully, and get a taste of Jewish yoga.”
Naomi developed the program “because I wanted to frame mikvah as a tool for positive body image and also put it into a context of healthy practice people already know about. Mindful eating and yoga are concepts people already speak about.”
She adds that mikvah contributes to a positive body image because it emphasizes the holiness of the body. “Mikvah is the only ritual where the body itself is the ritual. Your body is the ritual and putting our bodies in that context give girls a new light.”
Dec. 15, 1-4 pm for female-identifying middle schoolers and parent(s)/special friend
Dec. 17, 6-9 pm for female-identifying high school students
Questions? Contact Caron Blau Rothstein, firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-245-6449
Registration will be available late October at jewishportland.org/mikvah