In Orthodox circles, the mikvah is a ritual bath in which women immerse themselves at specific times — before marriage, after childbirth, following menstrual cycles. Going to mikvah is a mandated part of Orthodox life.
In non-Orthodox circles, going to mikvah has developed a bad rep as an irrelevant act done in an unclean, unkempt setting. It’s become, for most non-Orthodox Jews, an overlooked part of Jewish life.
Rabbi Sara Luria is trying to improve the mikvah’s reputation and increase its observance outside the Orthodox community.
Growing up in Brooklyn’s Windsor Terrace neighborhood, Rabbi Luria was active in in the NFTY Reform youth movement. A graduate of Trinity College, Rabbi Luria spent a year training in community organizing as a fellow at JOIN for Justice. She also trained as a birth doula.
After she was ordained at Hebrew Union College Religion in 2013, Rabbi Luria founded ImmerseNYC, modeled after Mayyim Hayyim in Boston, where she had interned. ImmerseNYC defines itself as a “pluralistic, Jewish, feminist” organization that encourages women — and interested men — to go to mikvah, not only for traditional reasons, but also as a healing and community-building exercise.
Women immerse themselves after such occasions as divorce, miscarriage, the death of a loved one or other times of spiritual “transformation,” Rabbi Luria said.
“I’m a Reform rabbi. I love ritual,” said the rabbi. “There’s something powerful about going under the water.”
Putting it all together: While a leader at Trinity College’s Hillel chapter, Rabbi Luria helped write a prayer book after a post-9/11 surge in attendance at Shabbat services caused a siddur shortage. Made with clip-art, a photocopier and a stapler, the siddur combined traditional liturgy and contemporary readings. “They still have it at Hillel,” she said.
Help for the homeless: Before she entered Hebrew Union College, Rabbi Luria volunteered at Rosie’s Place, a shelter for homeless women in Boston, coordinating public policy initiatives.