In the mid-’90s, when author Anita Diamant was working on a book called “Choosing a Jewish Life,” she visited the mikvah in Boston several times with rabbis of different denominations to see how they performed the conversion ceremony. At that time, the mikvah was the only one in Boston open to non-Orthodox clergy – one afternoon a week, she says. “It was not built for the purpose of converting to Judaism and it was not lovely and it was not welcoming. The more I went there, the more dismayed I was at the kind of welcome the Jewish community was offering people who were making this enormous commitment to becoming Jewish.”

Diamant, who wrote the best-selling book “The Red Tent,” will be in the Valley Oct. 11-12 for a Union for Reform Judaism program, “Sacred Waters,” and will be the featured speaker at the Oct. 12 Valley Beit Midrash opening event (see details below).

Seeking a more dignified and beautiful welcome to Judaism through the mikvah, Diamant started discussing the possibilities with people in the Boston Jewish community, as well as with many rabbis she had befriended while writing various books about Jewish contemporary life. Then, she penned an essay titled, “Why I Want a Mikveh,” which generated a lot of interest in the community. From that, she met a handful of women who were also passionate about building a mikvah. They formed a board of directors, convened rabbis from different movements to discuss the worth of building an inclusive mikvah, and then hired an executive director. It took them about three years to open Mayyim Hayyim, Living Waters Community Mikveh, which is now celebrating its 10th year.

Along the way, Diamant and her board had to raise money as well as consciousness about the need for a mikvah. “It’s really not part of the American liberal Jewish practice, or hasn’t been. It’s been seen as vestigial and very anti-women and had negative associations,” she says. “But there’s something very powerful about immersing in water.”

There are many reasons women and men use the mikvah, including conversion, marriage, overcoming illness, ending cancer treatments, breaking off an important relationship, ending breast feeding and becoming a grandmother or grandfather. It’s a place of transition, Diamant says. Women sometimes use the mikvah when they stop pursuing a medical solution to infertility, and pregnant women often immerse in their ninth month of pregnancy.

Women also come to the mikvah to put aside abuse, rape, abortion and other losses in the body that need healing, she says. Sometimes they come many years after a traumatic event. “They’ve been carrying it around and it’s yet another way to finish that business.”

“It’s not magic and it doesn’t work for everybody, but it winds up being a very powerful experience,” she says. “It’s physical, emotional and spiritual. ... The mikvah has been used to sanctify and to give women an opportunity to think about the passages in their lives.”

Diamant has a new novel coming out in December titled, “The Boston Girl.” That same week, “The Red Tent,” will be televised as a miniseries on Lifetime TV. “It’s a big week for me,” she says.


URJ program details

Who: Union for Reform Judaism

What: “Sacred Waters” weekend with Anita Diamant

—————————————————

What: “Mikveh Monologues” and reception

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11

Where: Temple Chai, 4645 E. Marilyn Road, Phoenix

Cost: $36

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What: “A Day of Learning”

When: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12

Where: Congregation Beth Israel, 10460 N. 56th St., Scottsdale.

Cost: $30  (Cost for both: $55)


VBM program details

What: 2014-2015 season opening event featuring Anita Diamant

Who: Valley Beit Midrash    

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12

Where: Temple Chai, 4645 E. Marilyn Road, Phoenix  

Suggested donation: $18

Registration: valleybeitmidrash.org.

Future speakers in Valley Beit Midrash’s Sy Sacks Memorial Lecture Series:

Dr. Rachel Korazim, a freelance Jewish education consultant specializing in curriculum development for Israel and Holocaust education (Oct. 30-Nov. 1)

Noam Zion, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute (Nov. 20)

Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (Dec. 9)

Rabbi Ed Feinstein, senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California, and author of several books (Jan. 25, 2015)

Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, head of school at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, California, and co-founder of Valley Beit Midrash (Feb. 6-7)

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of New York Jewish Week (Feb. 9)

Rabbi Dov Linzer, rosh yeshiva and dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (Feb. 22)

Rabbi Art Green, rector of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School (March 19)

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Firestone, professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (April 19)

Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute (May 3)

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