Friday, April 17, 2015

The Mikvah, Vindication, and Vera

Hey Vera! You didn't tell me about how your conversion to Judaism went. How was it?

It went surprisingly well. I had an awesome turnout of folks who wanted to witness something incredible; a person going from Gentile (or non-Jew) to Jew, officially.  I say "officially" because the belief is, along the way of my Judaism studies, I "became" a Jew during that time period.  The conversion process is more of a celebration ceremony, cementing my place with the Covenant of Israel as a member of the tribe.

Ooooooh! Tell me more!

Okay, pipe down, have a seat. Heh.

A few folks weren't able to make the ceremony in physical presence, but they were there in spiritual presence. With that said, a few folks came over from the opposite side of town to my side of town via shared rides (either I or another person picked them up). Folks from the Wednesday morning Torah study class at temple and Chevrei Tikvah Chavurah (the monthly LGBT service held at temple) were also present for this event. And the rabbi was there, along with two other beit din judges (who both happen to have the same name that starts with a "W", heh).

The beit din is a panel of three judges that determine the worthiness of a Jewish conversion candidate to be allowed into the tribe (or Jewish community). Once you get past the judges (meaning, you provide satisfactory proof that you're ready to convert, not necessarily beating the two henchfolks and the big boss at the end of a video game), then you get to prepare yourself for immersion into a ritual bath, or mikvah.

Now, you can't just jump into the mikvah, oh no. These waters come from life (like, filtered rain water and such), and you don't just muddy them up because you can.  So, there are a couple of things you have to do before you go into the ritual bath.
  1. You have to take a shower. And not just before you arrive to the community mikvah building, we're talking about taking a shower inside the building. When you're getting ready for the mikvah, there is this preparatory room where you basically wash yourself of any of the "exterior" dirt that's on you.  Also, you have to wash your hair, comb your hair to remove any fallen strands, brush your teeth and rinse your mouth, no dirt underneath your nail beds, no body jewelry, and no nail polish.  There should be nothing on you in the way between your body and the mikvah waters. As you enter into the ritual bath, you are ready to be cleansed of any "interior" dirt.  So, to recap: shower for physical cleansing, ritual bath for spiritual cleansing.
  2. You have to enter into the ritual bath in the nude. Yeah, in the birthday suit; 100% nekkid. I said it. It's not like in Christianity where you wear a piece of white something to cover yourself as you get immersed into the baptismal pool.  Then again, in Christianity, you have folks watching you get immersed.  Not the case in Judaism, or at least in my case, converting to Reform Judaism.  The rabbi and the guests stood on the outside of the enclosed mikvah pool area, being separated by this thing called a partition, where you can hear someone in the mikvah, but it is discreet enough that you can't see them.  Because believe you me, there would have been some folks blinded by my pasty fresh-from-the-Caucasus-Mountains white skin, and I would have to have paid these folks for their vision restoration surgeries.
So, there I was: ready to go into this pool, the only thing separating me from it was a white towel.  I had asked the rabbi previously for an assistant to get into the pool; not because I needed a witness, but because without my eyeglasses I can't see for shit.  One of the W judges was kind enough to make sure I got in and out of the mikvah pool safely.  I did feel a bit bad for this judge; this W and I had never met before the beit din, and in 30 minutes, I'm already saying: "here, hold this towel."  If that's not the most awkward moment of 2015, then I don't know what is.

I grab the rail as I walk down the stairs into what basically resembles a mini swimming pool.  This sucker is large; not just a regular bathtub, but also not a community center swimming pool either.  My feet finally touch the water on the second stair, and the water felt nice. I mean, nnniiiiiiicccccccccce, heh. It was warm and comforting. As I took the remaining steps into the bottom of this pool, the water just welcomed me with open arms.  Heh, I didn't want to leave this son-of-a-bitch; this was one of those experiences that was truly and deeply better than sex.

Now I'm in the water, and I'm a happy camper.

The rabbi goes into some blessings, and then he goes into "I recite, you repeat" mode.  And I'm just keeping myself afloat, repeating the blessings the rabbi tells me to recite, a few words at a time.  Then, it's time for the first "dunk".

In this mikvah, you do three "dunks," or total body immersions, into the mikvah waters.  Now, W1 (my assistant, the one who's holding the towel) is not in the pool with me; W1 is standing next to the pool to make sure I'm doing okay. I do a little jump and allow my body to be encapsulated by the water. I reached the surface, ready for my next task.  The rabbi instructs to pick up a laminated card that has some blessings in Hebrew (and English transliteration, *phew*) and recite the blessings.  Now it's time for "dunk" number two.

And this is where something truly awesome happens.

Ever see that one episode of Transformers Prime where Starscream has that red energon going inside of him and is going through the Autobot base faster than the speed of sound?  As the scene slows down the motion to show Starscream moving at a "normal pace," he just lollygags around, collecting the precious items the Autobots worked so hard to collect (unf, he's one sexy mecha, but I digress, heh).

That's exactly the scenario of what had happened in the second immersion.

I know my eyes were closed while I was entirely in the water, but the vision I had was that I saw the window light in the water.  Then I felt something being completely extracted from me, and then something else was being inserted in its place.  I mean, dude; it was weird as fuck.  But I immediately was able to determine what had just happened.  The life that I had once lived, as an unfit misfit to most of society, waiting for my final curtain call to occur, was pulled out through my left hand by this "force." And this said "force" slipped into me via my right hand the life that I am about to live, as a loved and accepted individual within a community that had the fortitude to allow me into their world.

And as this transaction was taking place, another transaction was occurring at the same time.  In this light, I saw myself (currently, as a 34-year old, and dressed, of course), walking up to a child.  This child was me, at 8-years old; wanting to be loved and happy, but feeling so alone, afraid, and very sad.  I saw my 34-year old self take the hand of my 8-year old self and say: "Come, young Padawan. You and I got this. Together."

Then I found myself back on the surface of the waters again.  I felt, and was, vindicated.

That was a fucking ace experience, gentlefolks.

The rabbi picked up with having me recite the remaining blessings on this laminated card, and I go in for the final "dunk." I make it back up to the water's surface.  Finally, since the final blessing was not on the laminated card, the rabbi made me pronounce the Sh'ma, the declaration of G-d in a Jewish person's life, one word at a time:

Sh'ma, Yisrael! Adonai Eloheinu! Adonai Echad!
(Hear, O Israel! Adonai is Our G-d! Adonai is One!)

The rabbi and the guests, including W1, began singing "Mazel Tov," and I began laughing.  I made it.

I get out of the pool, grab the towel (nicely, heh) from W1, fluffed off, redressed, and rejoined the folks.  I signed my conversion certificate, provided to me by the rabbi.  Then the rabbi and I recited some final blessings.  The rabbi finished the service by announcing my Hebrew name: Ayelet Vered bat Avraham v'Sarah (Deer Rose, daughter of Abraham and Sarah), and officially welcoming me into the Covenant of Israel.

What can I say? That day was a good day.