Women inspired by author to build modern-day mikvah
In 2008, a group of women attending an event featuring Anita Diamant, author of "The Red Tent," were so inspired by the writer's portrayal of a modern-day mikvah in Boston that they began meeting less than a month later to begin envisioning a similar facility for the San Diego Jewish community.
They incorporated that same year to create Waters of Eden, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development and creation of the San Diego Community Mikvah and Education Center, a facility that will not only allow Jews of all backgrounds to participate in the ritual of immersion, but provide a spiritual forum for celebration, education and learning.
As 2009 rolls over into 2010, the organization has announced the official launch of the fundraising and community education component of its plan with the presentation of "The Mikveh Monologues" at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla.
"This is our coming out to the community," said Lisa Braun-Glazer, a psychologist who lives and works in La Jolla and serves as president of Waters of Eden's board of directors.
Understanding the mikvah tradition
Mikvah translates to "gathering of waters." It is a Jewish purification ritual that dates back thousands of years.
"Its primary purpose was to provide a gateway to intimacy between a husband and wife," said Lenore Bohm, a board member and rabbi for more than 25 years. Other traditional applications included brides preparing for their wedding ceremonies and men preparing themselves spiritually for Jewish holidays.
In the Orthodox community, there are strict requirements for who can participate and for what purposes the immersion may be applied, requirements in place at the three mikva'ot currently operating in San Diego.
For nontraditional immersions, local Jews must drive to a mikvah two hours away in Los Angeles or use the ocean, which affords little privacy. While the construction of the Waters of Eden mikvah will be completing in keeping with Jewish law, its uses are being expanded, Bohm said.
"Those of us who are involved in making this happen are doing so with a great sense of humility and awareness of the history and power of the mikvah and its place in Jewish life," Bohm said, "and with a great sense of hope for the opportunity that this will allow a whole new generation and new Jews to reclaim this ancient ritual in ways that can be very personally meaningful and Jewishly affirming in the 21st century."
Reinventing the mikvah tradition
"There are many ways to be Jewish not in conjunction with a synagogue or an organization," Bohm said. "But for most people, rituals take place within the context of a synagogue or Jewish institution. The idea of Waters of Eden is to open up the doors of understanding the mikvah as profoundly and authentically Jewish but useful and legitimate in other than the most traditional contexts.
"Waters of Eden will be a place for Jews who aren't necessary connected with a synagogue or established institution to reconnect or connect for the first time on a spiritual level, a level that has holiness as its prime value."