Author Diamant sparks spread of healing waters

By Suzi Brozman

Anita Diamant

In coming weeks you’re going to hear a lot about a new ritual phenomenon coming to Atlanta, the Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah, or MACoM, which in Hebrew means “place.”

The mikvah is important in Jewish law and tradition but one often limited in use outside the observant community. Yes, it emphasizes aspects of sexuality, but its waters do much more — revitalizing the spirit, nourishing the soul, providing a connection between Jewish history and the hectic secular world we inhabit today.

A mikvah is a pool of water with strict rules on size and the way the water is gathered. Its traditional uses include purification, most commonly for a woman’s monthly use and before a wedding.
Today, those uses are expanding to include life changes, divorce, new beginnings and any time a person feels the need for cleansing and a new start.

This redefinition has expanded the mikvah’s community presence and its use by men and women from all Jewish streams.

That growth is in large part because of the imagination and efforts of famed novelist Anita Diamant. She recently spoke about the ancient halachic practice of immersion and how she got involved in developing a communitywide mikvah center.

“I was writing a book on conversion,” the “Red Tent” author said. “The last stage of conversion is immersing in the mikvah. There is limited access to the mikvah for the liberal Jewish community in Boston, where I live. Non-Orthodox Jews can only use it one afternoon a week. I went one day — there was a line out the door. I was dismayed that these people had to wait in line.”

Married to a man who converted years ago, Diamant was dismayed at the situation. “Conversion is powerful, and it deserves respect. … It wasn’t a very welcoming experience. So I started talking to people, saying we should do something about this. Boston is a creative, groundbreaking city, so it wasn’t hard to find interested participants.”

Her vision, as she described it in an essay, was to provide a place where people could celebrate a personal ritual. She foresaw a place where people could celebrate; share gifts, candles, songs and blessings; and savor new beginnings. A bride or groom could pray, recite a psalm and reflect on the life-changing events to come.

On sadder occasions, the mikvah could be a healing place, a spot to refresh your soul after a divorce or serious illness, after chemotherapy or a pregnancy loss. Water is soothing and is in many ways essential to Jewish spirituality.

Intrigued by her ideas, a small group of people got together in Boston, raised money and got community assent.

“We opened in 2004 and are now concluding our 10th year,” Diamant said. “We see Mayyin Hayyim, Living Waters, as a real jewel in the crown of Boston’s Jewish community. It’s an international model of what a community mikvah can be — enhancing Jewish life and expanding it.”

Diamant said some 2,500 people a year visit the mikvah’s campus. Half are children, brought on school or camp trips. The mikvah has been used for some 2,500 conversions, each with participants having time and space to share the occasion with family, friends and rabbis.

Some use the mikvah’s four separate pools on a monthly basis. Many more use it episodically for the cycles and seasons of women’s lives.

Men use it too, privately and separate from women.

Guides, male and female, are available to help. A modern education center provides a world of information at mayyimhayyim.org.

Hear Diamant

Anita Diamant is making two appearances in two night. She’ll appear free at The Temple, 1589 Peachtree St., Midtown, on Sunday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m. to support MACoM. Visit www.atlantamikvah.org for more about MACoM.

Diamant will speak at the Marcus JCC, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody, the next night at 7:30 to discuss her latest book, “The Boston Girl.” Tickets are $10 for JCC members and $15 for others. Visit www.atlantajcc.org, or call 678-812-4002.