Monologue in the Mikva
This essay is published on The Layers Project Magazine in partnership with The Eden Center. The image was taken during a performance of Mikva The Musical.
There I am — preparing for my presentation on disabilities at the mikva to 200 attendants that are being trained at a conference run by The Eden Center. My goal is to make them realize that as experienced as they are working at the mikva — some for over 40 years — they really don’t get what it means to go to the mikva with a disability. How do I get the point across that a woman’s entire mikva experience is literally hanging in their hands?! That a woman’s relationship with God, her husband, her body and her soul that night are all reliant on HER. What to do — but tell them the craziest true story that happened to you — and then hope that discussion about assisting women with disabilities will be more real and fruitful. Here it goes:
I gave birth on a Friday to my fifth child. The year was 1995. I had an epidural that left me paralyzed from the waist down. I was in great pain. The pressure on the spinal column was causing a violent headache. I couldn’t even hold my baby.
For the first 24 hours I tried to nurse him. Nothing. Zip. My body had shut down. When they wanted to give him a bottle, instead of feeling disappointed, I was relieved that someone was taking care of him. But they still brought him to me to hold.
Soon I was transferred to rehab at Hadassah Mt. Scopus. Within the first week, a frum nurse came over to me — a sweet, young nurse (younger than I by a good 10 years). She said, “You’re not ready to think about this now. But when you are you might not know whom to ask.” She said there was an accessible mikva in Baka, “and this is who you should call, here’s the phone number.” She was amazing.
When I brought it up with my husband he said, “As far as I’m concerned you take your time. Whenever you’re ready. There’s no rush. Even if you want to go to the mivka, just so that I can hand you things, and help you, and hold your hand, if you decide that’s what you want to do, that’s fine with me.” From his point of view, there was absolutely no pressure. It could also be he was a little bit nervous.
So when I was finally ready to go to the mivka I spoke to this nurse. She was wonderful. She made the arrangements for me and prepared me to go to the accessible mikva for the first time. She came with me into the shower and helped me do everything. And checked me afterward.
The first time after I became paralyzed, I went with my friend who is a very
matter-of-fact person. I didn’t want to deal with the heavy duty spiritual “This is so amazing. This is so beautiful…” She was an “Ok, let’s cut your toenails, ok, let’s get on with it” kind of person. Another friend came also “just in case.” Everybody’s waiting for me. Everybody’s talking about my story, being very dramatic about the whole thing.
There’s a ramp to get into the building and a lift to get into the mivka. It’s a special mivka, built like the letter H. There’s a place for women who can’t sit up. They have a special board on which a woman who can’t sit can be lowered into the water with two women who do everything for her. If she can sit unassisted, there’s a plastic bucket chair that she is moved to. And she’s lifted up and placed in the water. The chair is disengaged and somebody takes it away. She dunks. There’s a lady attendant in the water with her.
I transferred from my wheelchair into the other chair. I had to figure out where how I would sit and where I’d put myself. And then the mikva lady comes over (I’m stark naked, sitting in this chair) and she starts talking to me and asking me questions and telling me stories. It made me relax a little.
And you want to hear the most incredible thing about this? That nurse, that the wonderful woman had one five-year-old child. And she hadn’t gotten pregnant after that. She’d gone through all the tests and everything came out normal.
She just wasn’t getting pregnant. She went to the mikva a few nights after I did…and she got pregnant. To this day she is convinced that it was in the zechus of helping me. Her being so normal about everything opened the doors to Shamayim.
As the years went on, every time I would come to the mikva, the mikva lady would make a comment on whether I had gained a pound or lost a pound. I found out later that was because they were having trouble with the motor of the lift. I got a phone call, after I gave birth again, two and a half years later, that there was a problem and the motor wasn’t working well and they were only letting women who were 70 kilos or less use that lift. At 71 you have to drive to Petach Tikva – a five-hour round trip!
And then, the night I will never forget! It started out as a regular night at the mikva. All the regular players were in place and I was ready to toivel [dunk]. I was used to this by now, as it had been several years since I had
become paralyzed from the waist down following the epidural.
Everything went smoothly until it was time to lift me out of the water. I’m
sitting in the water, strapped onto a plastic, legless chair that is attached to
wires and operated by an overhead lift.
The drill is to lower me into the water, remove the chair, raise it and move it out of the way. With the help of a mikva attendant, I dip and the process is
repeated in reverse. I return to the chair, am raised straight up out of the
water and then moved across the room to be lowered onto a flat bench from which I return to my wheelchair.
Except this time, once I am raised up high out of the water and near the
ceiling, the lift stops working. The remote control doesn’t work. The
hidden buttons on the wall don’t work. And I am up near the ceiling. Wet.
The mikva attendants start to panic and run around like chickens. I start to
“We have to call Chananya!!” Apparently, Chananya is the local handyman
for all things mechanical or technical. All I really know is that no Chananya
has ever been a woman.
The attendants start to toss towels in the air with the admonition that I
should COVER MYSELF!!
“Calm down!” I cry down from my swinging perch. “Toss me my clothing
and I’ll just dress myself up here. I will not be strewn with towels when a
man comes in.”
“Can you do that?”
“We are going to find out,” I tell the attendants as I struggle with my bra.
Rivka, my stalwart friend and partner in all things mikva, stands on two
chairs to hook my bra from behind. I manage to dress myself and Chananya
Apparently, one of the attendants touched something with wet hands and
threw the whole works out of whack. I am so happy it wasn’t my fault.
As I slide over to my wheelchair and prepare to leave, I tell the mikva
attendants, “Look it wasn’t so bad and we all survived. You should be
happy it was me tonight and not someone else.”
The next month the remote was wrapped in bubble wrap and two plastic
Combined with Permission from 3 monologues in Mikva the Musical, a 2018 musical produced by Toby Klein Greenwald and Myra Gutterman which shares authentic mikveh stories via moving monologues and witty musical numbers.
Michele Thaler grew up in Philadelphia. She’s been in Israel for 32 years; she became paralyzed from the waist down 25 years ago after receiving an epidural. She was the director of the Forum for Religious Women with Disability, a part of The Center for Independent Living. Michele lives in Jerusalem with her husband and extended family.