There should be a Mikvah guide online to every mikvah. If you are going to be out of town and need to use mikvah facilities, you should be able to check online how much you are going to have to pay, and how the mikvah operates. (want to know why Jewish women go to mikvah go here).
Sure, the whole principle is the same. You go, you do your preparations, you dunk – the end. But as we know, right ladies, each place has its own way of doing things.
The mikvah that I use in Montreal is familiar to me – been going there for over 15 years. The mikvah lady is great, she isn’t intrusive, she’s respectful about your personal modesty and she makes using the facilities a breeze.
So here is how it works at my mikvah. You go in, no one asks you for money, but you know you have to pay $18 CDN. So you either give it to the attendant or you leave it on the counter in the bathroom. There were times that I forgot my money or my chequebook, it was never a problem. The next time I went I paid double or I sent in a cheque in the mail.
Either you get escorted to a room or you wait until one is free. There are 10 rooms at my local mikvah – and two mikvah pools. It’s very nicely decorated, and there is an air of serenity over the whole place. All the things you need for your preparations are provided – nail file, q-tips, comb, soap, shampoo etc. Fluffy white towels too. You do your stuff and you pull the bell to signal that you are ready. You have wrapped yourself in a towel, you have nothing on your feet or head. The mikvah lady knocks on your door, mine usually says “peekaboo” when you open it. (She is a gem of a woman, is our Mrs J). You hold out your hands, she briefly checks your nails and for any stray hairs that might have settled on your shoulders.
Then you walk to the mikvah, drape your towel over the side and descend into the water. Meanwhile she has walked away to give you privacy as you do this. You immerse, say the bracha, and out you go to get dressed. There is a room with hairdryers and mirrors if you need it, and you can exit straight to the parking lot without seeing anyone else.
Having been married 7 months, and partially living in Monsey, I have had to make use of a facility that is different from what I am used to. I hadn’t wanted to call up a friend and ask about it, as that would probably tell them that I was going that night, and one is taught to not be obvious about going to the mikvah.
My first visit. I arrive there, and am totally gobsmacked at the sheer size of the place. Apparently they have 80 preparation rooms. 80!! There is a lady sitting at the front desk which has a bank of screens displaying the feeds from all the security cameras. She takes your money – you pay $23 USD for which you get an automatic receipt, and it prints your room number on the receipt. You then follow the signs to your room. (I passed some other users of the establishment, all chassidish. Me in my habitual denim skirt and mitpachat – I felt so “frei” lol). Once you are in your room you do what you have to do to prepare – again, everything is provided. Mind you, at that price I should darn well hope so!! It has the feel of a luxurious spa – a women’s club!
They have a button on the wall that says READY which you press when you are ready to immerse. They have fluffy white robes hanging up, and those medical looking blue foot cover thingies to put on your feet. They also provide white terry turbans if you are makpid about covering your hair in front of other women. (I’m not. Any excuse to whip off my hair covering and I am so there).
What I wasn’t ready for was the mikvah lady to be intrusive and to check my nails so thoroughly. She came into the room, sat down, and like a manicurist, took out her clippers and cuticle remover thingummy and inspected my nails for minute traces of dirt, cuticles and polish. She did the same with my toenails. I felt weird. I know how to prepare for mikvah, I always do it properly. I don’t need some woman that I have never met before going over me with such a fine toothcomb. This mitzvah is between me and God. He has trusted me with the mitzvah of Taharat HaMishpacha – I don’t need some shnook of a woman telling me I am not doing it properly. Besides, where does it say that you have to remove the cuticles? I was never taught that. I do it because I like my nails to look nice, but I never realized it was a halachic requirement. (Jew Crew – can you weigh in?)
As I walked to the actual mikvah I was shaking my head, I just felt that my privacy had been well invaded. Standing naked in front of her as I was about to dunk felt less invasive. Usually it is a very spiritual time for me. I generally daven inside my head as I am dunking. But this first time at that mikvah I just had the heebiejeebies…
As soon as I had dunked, said my bracha, did the other two dips, I was out of there faster than a speeding bullet. I noticed on my way out the side entrance that they had nicely appointed places to dry hair and put on make up etc. That time I didn’t use them.
Honestly, that time I felt like I needed a shower after the whole experience. I guess knowing what to expect makes it a lot easier and you can be more spiritual. I have been to mikvaot in different places and this was the first time that I have ever felt skeeved out. But I performed the mitzvah, and that was the whole point of the exercise.