Posts Tagged ‘Mikveh’

Words Drove Hadassa Margolese Away

August 15, 2013

This piece was first published on The Sisterhood blog at the Forward.

b-sisterhood-Margolese-081413Somehow, I did not put two and two together.

I read Hadassa Margolese’s post (in Hebrew) on the Maariv website back in May about her negative — even traumatizing — experience at her local mikveh (ritual bath) in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Then, recently, I read several Facebook posts she wrote about her family’s move to a new home. However, I didn’t realize until Tuesday that these two things were related. I finally made the connection when I read this JTA article about how Margolese, a reluctant activist, was driven out of Beit Shemesh not by the Haredim she had previously stood up to (when they harassed and intimidated her young daughter over her dress), but rather by her fellow Modern Orthodox neighbors.

Coincidentally, I also read on Tuesday a new e-book by Allison Yarrow, titled, “The Devil of Williamsburg,” about the notorious Nechemya Weberman sex abuse case. It’s all about how Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidic community covers up everything from minor misdoings to major crimes, routinely shunning community members who dare shine a light on them.

One can’t exactly compare the reporting of crimes like rape and child abuse to the writing of a column about nasty mikveh ladies who over-scrutinize you and don’t give you enough privacy. But, from what I understand, there seems to be a trickle-down effect happening. It’s no longer just Haredi Jews who are hounding and ostracizing those who air dirty laundry in public.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


The Mirror in the Mikveh

May 23, 2013

This article was first published in the Forward.

Can a Jewish purity rite be adapted for teens? (illustration by Kurt Hoffman)

Can a Jewish purity rite be adapted for teens? (illustration by Kurt Hoffman)

Ellie Goldenberg and Emily Blum are getting ready to immerse for the first time in the mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath.

One might assume that Ellie and Emily are soon-to-be brides; in traditional communities, women immerse in the mikveh for the first time before they are wed. But they’re not — Ellie is an 11-year-old fifth-grader at a Washington, D.C., Jewish day school and Emily is a 16-year-old junior at a public high school in the city’s Maryland suburbs.

Both were inspired to douse in the mikveh after they participated in “Bodies of Water: Honoring Our Jewish Bodies,” a new workshop at the Conservative Adas Israel Congregation in Washington that uses the mikveh as a tool to help girls and young women develop a positive and healthy body image.

“Mikveh has been an important part of managing my own body image for the past 13 years, and I kept thinking how it would have been better to have had this when I was younger,” said Naomi Malka, the director of the Adas Israel Community Mikvah, the only progressive mikveh — that is, open to any Jewish person for any reason — in Washington.

Malka is the creator of “Bodies of Water,” a three-hour workshop that combines nutrition education, yoga and an introduction to the mikveh. The Adas Israel Community Mikvah, which was founded in 1989, was originally used mainly for conversions. But today it is being used for creative and traditional purposes as well. Married women who observe Jewish purity laws immerse after their menstrual periods end to ritually cleanse themselves.

“I fully acknowledge how controversial it can sound to tell preteen and teenage girls that the mikveh welcomes them. In some communities and to some sensibilities this is tantamount to condoning premarital sex,” Malka said. An Orthodox rabbi consulted for this article confirmed that from a traditional halachic perspective, girls and young women should not be using the mikveh. As he sees it, staying away from the mikveh serves as a deterrent to sexual relations.

But Malka sees value in familiarizing teenagers with ritual immerson, whether they go on to use the mikveh for traditional or creative purposes. “I believe that in order for mikveh to take hold as a common practice — like kashrut or Shabbat — in progressive Jewish communities, it has to be introduced at a younger age and has to offer girls a healthy understanding of our bodies and sexuality within a Jewish ethic,” Malka said.

“Otherwise,” she continued, “[mikveh] will remain unexplored and we will raise another generation of Jews who are disconnected from this mitzvah.”

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


The Hasidic Dr. Ruth

May 10, 2012

This article was first published as “Coffee, tea…or intimacy?: Orthodox expert serves up advice on sex, marriage in Berkeley talk” in JWeekly.

Sarah Karmely

Sarah Karmely is a highly sought out expert on relationships between men and women, but you won’t find her shmoozing with Oprah or blogging in the Huffington Post. Instead, Karmely usually shares her wisdom about marital harmony with groups of religious Jewish women, like the one that turned out in Berkeley a week before Mother’s Day.

Although nonobservant Jews also seek her advice, Karmely’s primary audiences are Orthodox groups (usually all female) as well as individuals and couples who come to her for private counseling. She is herself Hassidic, having transitioned around 30 years ago from a traditional Sephardic lifestyle after experiencing what she believed was a miracle performed by the late Lubavitcher rebbe.

“She’s a Hassidic cross between Sophia Loren and Dr. Ruth,” said Miriam Ferris, program coordinator for Chabad of the East Bay, which sponsored the May 6 program, titled “The Mystique of Love,” at a private home in the Berkeley hills. Approximately 50 single and married women, ranging from their 20s to their 60s, attended the afternoon tea and talk.

Afterward, a smaller group of married women in their 20s and 30s enjoyed a more private discussion with Karmely about the mikvah, or ritual bath, and the Jewish laws of family purity.

In an interview, Karmely, 62, summed up her general thoughts on a happy marriage: If the husband-wife relationship “is good in the bedroom, it’s good in the living room,” she said.

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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.