Mikvah Tales….

I have written before about the Monsey mikvah and how skeevy I felt the first time I went there. This was how I put it:

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.

It seems that every time I have returned to the Viola mikvah, it has been the same story. Apparently their policy is to check the fingernails and toenails, even if you politely ask them not to. The balaniot (mikvah ladies) were gruff and abrupt – they totally hindered my enjoyment of the fulfillment of this mitzvah.

After the last time I went there I told the KoD that I needed to find another mikvah to go to. There was no way I was ever going back to the Viola mikvah. I felt that the balaniot had gone out of their way to make me uncomfortable – I am not a recalcitrant child who needs to be bullied into submission. They did NOT actually bully me, but that’s how I felt. My experiences at this mikvah took away from the joy I used to feel at keeping this mitzvah. When mikvah time was coming up again I didn’t want to go. Honestly. I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that it was going to be uncomfortable and I would rather stay home with a good book than subject myself to someone else’s fine toothcomb.

There are other mikvaot in Monsey, but the Viola one is close-by and gorgeous. KoD convinced me to try it out one more time. I tried explaining to him what it’s like to be standing there and have another woman, one much more clothed than you, examining you and your body for irregularities. Yes it’s only the fingernails and toenails, but still, it’s invasive. I don’t mind the checking for hairs so much – that’s something I need help with. The rest of the checking makes me uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to put it in terms that the KoD would be able to relate to, but he boiled it down to this – it’s only 2 minutes of your time – grit your teeth and bear it, if you can, otherwise speak up and tell them you’re OK, you don’t need to be checked. Somehow speaking up in this situation seems tougher than it sounds. Sigh.

I promised him I would give this particular mikvah one last shot, even though I really didn’t want to. On the appointed evening I prepared myself at home – I wanted to be at the mikvah for as little time as possible.

I drove there, and sat in the parking lot. My evil inclination was arguing with me. I really didn’t want to go in. I really didn’t want to subject myself to inspection. I just wanted to be done with the whole thing. Sitting there in the car a little voice was telling me – “KoD won’t know. Just pretend you went. Your hair is wet – how will he know the difference?” That voice was making it sound just so simple. There was a problem – I didn’t want to go in, and there was a solution – so don’t.

I sat there for 3 minutes in the parking lot debating with myself. It took tremendous strength of will for me to get out of the car and walk into the mikvah, pay my $23 and go do the final preparations. As I was getting ready to press the button to summon the balanit, I felt so uneasy. I so wanted to enjoy this experience yet I felt dread in the pit of my stomach.

The aura around the balanit that arrived at my door was different than those of her coworkers that have attended me before. She just seemed to be of a much nicer disposition. Cheerful. Chatty. Non-intrusive. Yes, she checked my nails, but somehow I didn’t mind it quite so much (that plus the fact that I have gel nails, so there is less to check). The toenail thing bothered me, but she was brief – not like the others taking time and cutting stuff that wasn’t there….

She walked with me, instead of ahead of me, to the mikvah, chatting all the way, really putting me at my ease. She gave me privacy to remove my robe and descend into the ritual waters. Every time I dunked and raised my head out of the water, she sang out “KOSHER” – with such joy! Seriously. Like she was happy to be part of my mitzvah. She helped rekindle the inner light I used to have when doing this mitzvah. As she walked me back to the preparation room, she was playing Jewish geography with me, after I told her we are from Montreal. Playing Jewish geography without sharing one’s name is a little different, to be sure.

I was glad that I overcame that momentary temptation to not go in to the mikvah. I am still upset that I felt that unenthusiastic about the whole experience. I know that there must be some women who would have taken those negative feelings and just stopped going. The KoD trusts me 100% to fulfill this mitzvah. He trusts that when I go to the mikvah, I do it properly. How could I not have gone in? How could I have lied to him after not going in? I know there are women that do that, but how can they live with themselves? What is the point of Taharat HaMishpacha if you aren’t going to keep it properly? I have heard some women say that if a husband sleeps with his impurified wife it’s his aveirah (sin), not hers. But the decision between right and wrong is taken away from a husband who is not aware that his wife has lied about her immersion in a mikvah. Yes, fine, the wife technically does not commit the same aveirah (if indeed this assumption is true) but she has sinned by lying to him. There is no place for lying in a marriage. None at all.

The KoD knew how I struggled with the mitzvah of tevilah on this particular occasion. But he encouraged me and supported me, validated my feelings, and eventually it worked out well. I returned to my husband’s embrace knowing I completed the mitzvah in the right way.


16 responses to “Mikvah Tales….

  1. Kol ha’kavod! While the balaniot in my area are not so scrupulous with checking, I do have the inner voices. Mine have to deal with not wanting to get into the fact that I daven in the local traditional Conservative shul, and not one of the Orthodox ones. I hate the way that their expressions change after realizing that while I look like one of them, I am not what they expect. Luckily, I recently also had a balanit who made me feel so much more comfortable and helped me to not have the inner struggle as much.

    We need to continue to speak up and help others to find the strength to overcome the inclination. The mitzvah can be beautiful and we women need to help each other find the beauty in it…

    • the comments about removing hair reminded me that the same time balanit mentioned above also told me that there is no need to be machmir about removing stray hairs b/c they will float away from your body as soon as you get into the water anyway. as someone who sheds a lot, that was very comforting….

  2. KosherAcademic

    I’m glad you went through with it, but I wonder why the KoD pushed for you to go to this one “One more time”. I know he is fabulous and supportive, but why did he push for that, considering how you feel? It seems to me that you should try out some other mikvaot and then you can compare where you would like to be. Just my $.02 (and you know I love the KoD, which is why I’m having a hard time understanding this).

    • Knowing KoD – probably because the other mikvaot are not that local and he knows how uncomfortable I am driving to unknown locations; because I know how to get to this place; because I wouldn’t have had to call ahead for an appointment and we knew this place would be open. Also, and KoD pls chime in if I am wrong – the other mikvah I might have gone to is a chabad one and we have been told that they build their mikvaot differently – different bors or something – and it might not have been a effective tevilah.

  3. batya from NJ

    i am glad it worked out for you this time but the truth is, it is possible that you may have another bad experience at this mikvah in the future as you have had previously & that would be a shame. i think it may really be worthwhile to check out the other mikvaot that may be more comfortable for you (even if they are not as conveniently located or even if they are not as gorgeous). i would hate for you to have another bad experience at this mikvah & then once again experience doubts about whether or not to dunk in the mikvah etc which would be a shame…

    that said, i am glad that you overcame your evil inclination to not go in & lie to the KoD about going & i’m glad it worked out so much better for you this time around. however, since the Mikvah visits are generally once a month, you really may want to explore your options & avoid having to deal with the gruff balaniot who most likely still work at Viola & who you may encounter on future visits…

  4. I can relate! Try being stuck in Boro park!

    You said it best when you wrote “This mitzvah is between me and God.”Certain things are better left unsaid. At least outside of your home.

  5. Yossi Ginzberg

    The Rama”h (Primary commentator on the Shulchan aruch) wrote his commentary as an atonement for having inadvertantly abetted the women of Prague in avoiding going to the mikvah by eliminating the check-up system the husbands had. I guess the balaniot of Prague were also not very nice and gentle..

  6. Hadass Eviatar

    I go to the Chabad mikvah (can’t imagine their mikvah isn’t kosher!). They know I am Conservative and go out of their way to be friendly and supportive (and while they have removed the odd hair from my back, they have never touched my nails!). I’m thinking your Monsey ladies have too many clients and are not concerned with keeping them happy and eager to fulfill this difficult mitzvah. I, too, think you should explore other options, since you have them.

  7. From what I understand, it is truly unfortunate if the mikvah ladies are actually interfering with your joy in performing the mitzvah. I can only imagine how hard it is to begin with, and then to encounter unfriendly personnel once you are there.

    If Hadass Eviatar’s comment is correct, that is a bad reflection on this particular mikvah. It is good that this time you had a mikvah lady who was supportive, but what if you have to deal with one of the ladies who made you feel ambivalent about going? If you have some choices, you probably can determine which mikvah is better for you and go there (and since you are in the process of moving, you can learn while you are moving).

  8. Thankfully, in NY, there are MANY, MANY options of where to go to immerse. It is truly incredible the vast amount of choice we ladies have here. I would recommend searching out the various mikvaot to see how they “shape up” to the one closer to your home. You are not limited by not having a car, so why not try the different ones?
    I have been to more intrusive mikvahs, and more lax ones. I actually like that the balaniot check my fingers and toes for hangnails and left over polish. I remember once that I thought for certain I had removed all my eye makeup and an attendent caught it. Since then, I am extra careful to clean my eyes. But, these ladies take their duties as seriously as YOU take your immersion. I would try to appreciate their attention. I mean, they see dozens of women a night and they treat each lady as an individual.
    You wouldn’t want to eat meat that is “almost kosher”, so why perform an immersion that is potentially not kosher either? I am grateful to the balaniot.

  9. Former Monseyite

    I am sorry you had such a bad expereince at the Viola Mikvah – I used it for 11 years and miss it so! There is no other mikvah so beautiful. Try to focus on the postive aspects of the viola mikvah intead of the Balaniot.

  10. Another Former Monseyite

    I’m sorry too that you had a bad experience, living in an out of town community I truly miss the spa experience from the Viola Mikvah!! Also, this could be a symptom of OCD but I prefer it when the balaniot check my nails– I’m always super paranoid that I missed something.

  11. I’ve been to the Monsey mikvah once, and while I don’t mind the checking, I can totally see why others would. It’s your body, your choice. If you’ve told them before that you dislike being checked, and they’ve ignored your wishes, then you should leave.

    Unless you have a way to specifically ask for that “mikvah lady”, as I put it, there are plenty of other mikvahs to go to. They may not be as gorgeous, but gorgeous means nothing if your peace of mind isn’t there.

    I’m so impressed that you actually went in! You should be so proud of yourself.

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