When the day of my mikvah had come, it was typical San Francisco foggy weather but something was obviously different about it. I felt a bit intimidated by what's going to happen to me, yet I was calm and at peace. It felt that something very important is going to occur, spiritually significant. When I was taking off my clothes with the skies being orange because of the smoke from forest fires, I caught myself correlating this with the verses, when the world was just emerging in the Torah and that the culmination of the most important moment in my life is about to happen. I was ready to step into the cold waters of the Bay but, surprisingly, the water was beyond comfortable, as if HaShem covered me with his warm tallit to save me from cold temperatures. Rabbi Jessica and Lisa were mentally holding my hands as I went further and further into the water. All my intimidation disappeared once I looked back at them. Water became very pleasant. When Rabbi Jessica pronounced the prayers and I submerged three times - my entire life flashed in front of my eyes, even the moments that I almost forgot about! Once I came back from the water, the world became different, clearer, I even became more aware of the people and notions around me. This is something I don't think I can explain with simple words: it must be felt and the feeling is amazing. This was especially important for me because this way I spiritually bring my Jewish ancestors together and keep that connection: my long-"erased" Jewish ancestry is now restored! That's why my entire conversion at Sherith Israel was so important to me.
I turned back to the conversion mentor, Lisa, for more details about an ocean immersion. I asked about HOW it is done and about the temperature of the water. She said:
We did the two Bay mivkahs I attended at the beach by the St. Francis Yacht Club; I believe the other one was at Aquatic park, but more or less same environment. The people stripped down to bathing suits on the beach, went into the water and removed their bathing suits under water. After performing their immersions they put their bathing suits back on under water and came out. We wrapped them in towels to dry off and then the put their clothes back on; there is a restroom very close by that they could use if they wanted to remove their wet bathing suits before putting their clothes on. They recited the Shema in the water. They did not hold a Torah - we don’t do that at the indoor mikvah either; the recitation of the Shema is the last thing after the immersions. We all shivered and sang siman tov and mazel tov.
My sense is that people have found the water to be very cold but they are so excited that it doesn’t actually feel cold; both the people I witnessed said it felt good.
Quite honestly, because it’s the Pacific Ocean, hence cold, windy, and usually choppy water, it’s kind of a hodgepodge. It’s hard to hear because of the wind; they can only let go of their bathing suits for a brief second, etc. Immersion in a calm ocean or lake would be a much more tranquil affair and offer more opportunity for intentionality. And yet, you see from Aharon’s narrative how meaningful it was to him to do it this way.
I can't resist sharing with you Aharon's additional comments about making aliyah and living in Jerusalem.
The High Holy Days were magnificent here! I got to know a couple of families in the suburbs of Jerusalem who are affiliated with the Ramban synagogue and we had an amazing celebration. It truly feels more connected to HaShem over here, even though they're from the Orthodox denomination. I know different parts of Israel are quite different in a religious sense like Jerusalem can go too extreme in terms of observance but nobody really cares about Judaism in Eilat. I love Jerusalem! I truly found my spiritual destination here and will stay here. Probably, I'll have to undergo Orthodox conversion (more symbolic, than actual) here as Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl will require it to become a full-fledged member. I'm shocked about the number of young Americans in there who study the Torah with such dedication. The English version of the Torah comes in handy as I'm still learning Biblical Hebrew. Russian too, to be honest, but, I believe, submerging myself into the language environment - that's the only good way of actually learning the language. Yes, it's very challenging, but having such a big team with me is very important, a day here flies by very fast when I'm at the Torah discussion. I'm absolutely grateful to HaShem that I ended up here, in the Holy Land.
You can read more here on My Jewish Learning, but I found this article to be rather discouraging.