Adventures in Jewish Conversion: A girl from Alaska chooses to join the Chosen People
Friday, May 29, 2009
Mikveh and Naming
Today was a bit of an adventure. I drove out to Portage Glacier to scout out a mikveh site. I tried talking to the ranger at the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center, but she didn't know much about swimming in the area. Well, other than the water is cold and that the lake is 35 degrees. She was also good at pointing out the creek on the map, but couldn't tell me where it's deep. I thanked her for the map and set off for some scouting.
I decided that it would be pretty cool to be near Explorer Glacier and the map said there might be beaver activity there. Where there are beavers there are often deeper areas in creeks, so I headed that way. I made a slightly wrong turn that turned out to be a great place. I think it's the old Beaver Pond Campground; it looked like it had been a bit developed at one time. They closed that campground a few years ago, so that would make sense. I found a spot where the creek looked about waist deep and it was a beautiful place, so I hid a geocache. Then I realized that the snow cavity I was looking at was the remains of an avalanche and not Explorer Glacier, so I drove on to find the Explorer Glacier outlook point.
The Explorer Glacier area was perfect. The water was blue in the way only glacial water can be. I also noticed that the water was shallow for about a meter out and then there was a steep drop off. Exactly what I was looking for. So long as there were no people in the area, that would be the place. I would have moved my geocache to my mikveh, but there was already one nearby.
Now just to wait for my friend who doubled as my witness. A family was throwing rocks into the creek right at my chosen spot. They left a few minutes later, so it was time. As I took off my clothes, I thought that this might not be such a good idea. The ambient temperature was 53 degrees, and it was very chilly against my skin. I was not looking forward to getting wet on top of that.
I stepped into the water. At about my knees, I wanted to leave, but my friend encouraged me to push on. It was a bit easier after I laughed at my dog, who was trying to follow me into the water. We had to tell her to stay, because she can't be Jewish. I got about waist deep, and I was too cold for comfort. My friend again encouraged me, and I dunked under. I popped up, and believe me, I knew I was alive. I was very cold, and I said the first blessing as fast as I could. My friend said I looked scared, but I think it was a purely physiological reaction. My body was not interested in staying in that water, but my brain knew I had two more dunks and another blessing. I did them, and by the time I was done, it wasn't so bad. I felt peaceful, rather than cold. I can't promise that was a spiritual experience and not a physiological reaction, but it was nice.
I had a hard time putting my clothes back on. I had forgotten my towel, so I had to wiggle into them still soaking wet. When I got to my car, I used my t-shirt to wipe off excess water and put on my raincoat to keep the water off my car seat. Then I drove back to the Visitor Center, got dry, and changed my clothes. Then I drove back to Anchorage.
My friend hosted a Shabbat dinner; the food was wonderful. It felt nice to be around Jewish people and hear the blessings for the first time as a Jew. My friend tried to get me to light the candles, but I didn't know the melody for the blessing, so I asked not to.
After dinner I had to run to the synagogue for services. I had already told my Rabbi that I would be there, so he was planning to do my naming ceremony. I couldn't miss that. He surprised me and had me light the candles at the beginning of the service as well. I almost laughed, but I did it. I just recited the blessing and just about biffed it. I almost forgot l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat.
Toward the end of the service, my Rabbi called me up to the bimah. He brought out the Torah and read a passage about how the Torah is the Jews' greatest treasure. Then he handed the scroll to me and asked me to say the Sh'ma. I asked him if I should sing it or if I should recite it, and he told me I could choose. I sang it, because it didn't seem right to say it. Then he said that I have been known by the name my family gave me, and I will always be that person, but I will also be known by my Hebrew name, Miriam Tzipora.
I am now officially Jewish and beginning my new life as a Jew.
I hope it involves hiking and camping.
I also hope it continues to provide an outlet for my nerd-like tendencies.
It's been a great journey for some girl from Alaska.