In the deep stretches of Northern California, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I met with a group of fantastic women to explore my first mikvah experience. I had met them all—clothed—a couple nights earlier for Rosh Hashanah services, and had seen the sweet nature of their congregation. When I arrived at the meeting spot with my friend, it was quite obvious that we were a bit late. Everyone was already naked, relaxing on the lake’s shore.
The kindly (female) rabbi confirmed that this was, indeed, an unusual occurrence for a mikvah, but that’s just how it’s done in the Golden State. I didn’t mind, having rallied the troops in my town to enjoy skinny dipping in the great outdoors from time to time. It seemed very healthy to me, to be in the company of happy women of varying ages, looking as a human being should. I did not oggle their breasts or compare fannies in the competitive way that women so often do, but instead was focused on their warm smiles, and the feeling of ease that was filtering throughout my being. To be in such a beautiful place, at such an intense time of year, was more than I could have asked for.
Seeing these women as beings of the Earth, naked in all their glory, got me thinking of Judaism as a tribal religion—a reoccurring thought in my recent mind.
It’s amazing to think that such an ancient belief system, rooted in tribal understanding, has made it’s way into our separatist society. Judaism perpetuates the standards for tribal life, as explained by anthropology. There is an emphasis on exclusivity in certain matters, such as marriage rights and rituals, and a deeply engrained inclusiveness on a congregational, communal level.
As my accompanying friend commented, her favourite part of the Jewish experience, is the community aspect. If someone is ill or injured, the congregation will rotate in bringing and preparing food for the individual, going grocery shopping on their behalf, or even walking their dog. When someone dies, is born, or on any other occasion worth noting, food is brought in respect and celebration. Not everything in the Jewish world revolves around food, and the tribal lines are not as distinct as they once were, but so many aspects of this faith make sense when I see it through an anthropological lens.
I can deeply understand the turbulence of autumnal holidays, as many tribal peoples are said to view this as a time of deep emotional and spiritual transformation. It is also the harvest time, as celebrated by the Cherokee peoples in their Ripe Corn Ceremony, or the Aztec peoples during Ochpaniztli, the Month of Sweeping. Even the trees are cleansing, and in Northern California, the animals are appearing in the wake of long-awaited rain.
What a beautiful time to feel like a natural being, in the company of others. As a community of women, we gazed upon the reflections of the trees upon the lake, mirroring our own sometimes blurry, sometimes lucid feelings. We offered blessings to one another, and shared our intentions. We even went for a swim in the chilled pools, collecting snail shells as we went.
In an age where every girl I know is struggling with the internal demon of insecurities, and the hardships of daily life, I cannot possibly imagine a healthier way to cleanse the spirit.
Hi. I am Nahara, and I am thoroughly enjoying unraveling this great red yarn of life.
Header image courtesy of Stocksy.