This is a guest post shared by Rebekah Erev.
Tallit (prayer shawl) made by Susan Giffen at Queer Mikveh for NODAPL at Albany Bulb in Albany California, Ohlone land.
There is another world in this world.
It’s our responsibility to find it, to see it and do action to materialize it. Our actions heal. We work to build the world we want to come. It’s in our creative expression and our social justice work. We don’t do it alone. We do it in community.
The Queer Mikveh Project intends to be part of this living world to come. We are using the rituals of our ancestors to build a present and a future that is redemption actualized.
A mikveh is a Jewish ritual bath meant to purify the body and spirit.
Currently most generally accepted, formal mikvot exist primarily in synagogues. These spaces are segregated in their use by gender, in accordance with Jewish custom. I learned how deeply this custom ran when, in 2007, I was on fellowship at Adamah, a Jewish farming community.
Aviva Chernick collecting water at the Credit River/Missinnihe or “trusting creek” to the Mississaugas First Nations in Toronto. Bowl make by artist Nicki Green.
Our first week at Adamah, I learned of a custom of doing mikveh in the river, before Shabbat. “Men over to that side of the river, women over there,” we were instructed. I stood still, not sure where to go or what to say. As I brought the gender binary issue to the group, a gender neutral space was determined. Albeit initially imperfect, this organization has worked to integrate a Gender Non-Conforming mikveh. This experience has heartened me that Jewish organizations are capable of changing and adapting to the needs of their community.
If you are not a male or a female, if you are transitioning genders, if your sexuality isn’t accepted, if your body and spirit don’t conform to a binary gender norm, where do you go? Adamah, Mayyim Hayyim, Immerse NYC and a bunch of queer artists and queer Jews are starting to answer this question. The Queer Mikveh Project is a documentary film showing these remarkable rituals at work, and showing how ritual and self-determination are creating a new movement within Judaism.
Copper tub used during Orev Katz’s exhibit at Blackwood Gallery in Toronto, Mississauga of New Credit.
I think queer Jews are interested in the mikveh ritual because it’s a way to mark transition. It’s a time out of time. We often feel that the space we occupy in this world is ‘in between’. It’s a precious space, the space that’s attractive and illusive in it’s liminality. People have always been fascinated by gender. The torah mentions over six different genders. I once heard a teacher, Leticia Nieto say, “There are as many genders as there are people.” The hope is the Queer Mikveh Project can lift up teachings like these and liberate Judaism to both transgress and celebrate gender for what it is.
Orev Katz and Rosina Kazi at the Credit River, known as Missinnihe, or “trusting creek” to the Mississaugas First Nation.
I queer ritual by bringing my politics as sacred, by giving myself permission to feel holiness in simple words.
As Audre Lorde says, “the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.” I’ve made a choice to bring personal relevance to ritual. I’m a Jew and a queer with radical politics. A ritual might be a protest or it might be saying a prayer even if I don’t remember the Hebrew. That’s been the revelation of adulthood for me, to create more choices for how we engage with ritual.
I think politicizing ourselves rooted in radical queerness is part of building the world to come. For me the experience of messiah (Jews believe the messiah is essentially peace on earth, and hasn’t come to be yet) is in moments of embracing the wholeness of our experience both what’s difficult and liberatory. The messiah isn’t something in the future, it’s fluid like water. Our bodies are mostly water, so we can make our vessels holy by working for justice, embodying our ancestors wishes and future generations dreams. For me, that’s the essence of queerness and I hope it’s the essence of the Queer Mikveh Project.
All images from film still of Queer Mikveh Project documentary. Director and Producer: Rebekah Erev, Director of Photography Chani Bockwinkel
Rebekah Erev is an ordained kohenet, Hebrew priestess and artist. They hold a Master in Teaching and over eighteen years of teaching experience. They self-published the Moon Angels / Malakh Halevanah Oracle Deck and co-founded a two-year collective art school, DIY Art School.
Erev makes objects and creates public ritual as performance / ceremony invoking the scholarship of re-remembering as relevant, immediate and anti-colonialist. They have performed and participated in Open Engagement, HÄXÄN Festival, CTRL+SHFT Artist Collective, (Re)Visions Film Festival and shown work throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Erev is currently working on a film, Queer Mikveh, a Jewish ritual of transformation and water immersion. To learn more visit: rebekaherevstudio.com