Going to the San Francisco Mikvah on Sacramento Street was a very special part of my conversion experience. After studying for a few years with Rabbi Dan Feder (and having raised my young children in the Jewish tradition), I had no qualms about my readiness to convert, but frankly the mikvah experience did seem a little daunting! Being interviewed by the Bet Din and then to be naked in the mikvah and to have to remember how to say blessings in Hebrew (so all could hear) seemed, well…challenging!
Fortunately, it turned out that this was actually incredibly moving in a way that I had not totally anticipated! The procedure at our reform temple in Burlingame is to travel to the mikvah in San Francisco and meet the Bet Din – which for me was composed of our two Rabbis and the Cantor. I was incredibly appreciative of their effort and time in making the journey with me.
Betsy, the woman in charge of the mikvah, met my husband and I about 15 minutes before the Rabbis arrived and gave us a tour and some history behind the mikvah and its importance to the Jewish community. Betsy was very focused on the hallachic elements of the experience which was actually interesting to me, since this is not tremendously emphasized in our Reform practice. I was really grateful that my husband accompanied me for this. Although, he could not be a part of the Bet Din, he had a sense of the place and heard me say the blessings during the immersion.
After touring the facility, I met with the Rabbis and Cantor. The bet din, or final exam, turned out to be a wonderful conversation about what I had learned, what I found meaningful and challenging, which books I had enjoyed during my studies, and what holidays were meaningful to my family. It lasted 20-30 minutes. I felt a genuine curiosity about my journey and a sense of support.
I then showered and put on a robe and went to the mikvah and met Rabbi Bekah who (as a woman) was present with me in the mikvah room. I did three immersions. The idea was to be in a fetal position with the water of the mikvah being like the amniotic fluid. This is a rebirth. After each immersion, Rabbi Bekah would declare it “kasher”. After the first immersion, I said the blessing concerning immersion. After the second immersion, I said the sheheheyanu. After the third immersion, Rabbi Bekah and the Cantor and Rabbi Dan and my husband (who were all behind the door) sang, Siman Tov and Mazel Tov and welcomed me as a new Jew.
Fortunately, I was able to schedule the day off of work so I was able to enjoy some time with my husband and then do some preparation for the Shabbat Service in the evening. At this service, I received my Hebrew name and was asked to address the congregation about my religious journey and what compelled me to choose to live life as a Jew and be an active participant in the community. Although initially this too seemed to be a daunting task, I found spending some time putting my thoughts together and reflecting on my studies and Jewish experiences helped my preparation and focus. I am appreciative of Anita Diamant’s advice in her book, Choosing a Jewish Life, “Remember that the more intention—in Hebrew, kavannah—you bring to your mikvah, the more memorable and meaningful it will be (p. 127).”
It has now been a couple months since I had this experience. When people ask what this has meant to me, I can honestly say that it was more meaningful than I had anticipated. Instead of feeling somewhat like a visitor at the Temple and in my kids’ classrooms, I now feel like an active member and participant. Instead of feeling like an observer and studier of the community, I now feel engaged in a way that carries even more responsibility to help shape my children’s Jewish experiences and to find the opportunity to make a contribution to the larger Jewish community.