Minnesota is about to birth a new mikveh – a different kind of mikveh than what most of us have known and the first of its kind in the Upper Midwest. The longtime vision of Rachel Stock Spilker, one of the cantors at St. Paul’s Mount Zion Temple, Maayanot Community Mikveh of Minnesota is on its way to becoming a reality.
“After several years laying the groundwork, the project kicked into high gear this year, and we are excited to share our progress,” Spilker said.
Maayanot, meaning “wellsprings” in Hebrew, will be an open mikveh and a center for healing, celebration, and transformation. It will draw participation from people across the spectrum of Jewish synagogue affiliated and unaffiliated, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and background. “Our new name includes the word ‘community’ to reflect the kind of mikveh we are trying to create – one where everyone feels welcome and included,” Spilker said.
Spilker explained that an open mikveh reclaims and reimagines the ancient ritual of water immersion to broaden its applications and appeal in the 21st century. “We will offer new ceremonies for all types of life transitions – from milestone birthdays to gender transition to celebrating cancer remission – inviting people to mark their special moments in a sacred Jewish way,” she shared.
Like other open mikva’ot, Maayanot will include an education component that goes beyond teaching about mikveh itself. Some open mikva’ot offer classes for post-conversion, pre-b’nei mitzvah, and newlyweds. “Rather than duplicate any of the current offerings in our community, we see ourselves partnering with other Jewish organizations to broaden educational opportunities for everyone,” Spilker said.
“Maayanot will be a blessing in countless and unexpected ways,” says Anita Diamant, best-selling author and founding president of Mayyim Hayyim, the ground-breaking open community mikveh in Newton, Mass. “Mayyim Hayyim has been open for 18 years, and in that time, the people who walked through our doors have taught us the importance of this ritual and this resource – not only for life transitions we anticipated (weddings, conversions) but for situations we could never have imagined (before and after military deployment). We have hundreds of stories about the power of mikveh for Jews of all denominations, ages, and descriptions, for people becoming Jewish and their loved ones. From celebration to solace, for education and affirmation, Maayanot will add a new, beautiful, and holy dimension to Jewish life in Minnesota.”
Five years ago, Mayyim Hayyim created Rising Tide Open Waters Mikveh Network, an offshoot that supports and promotes the open mikveh movement in cities across the world, including Maayanot. Twenty-one open mikva’ot (plural of mikveh) are operating today in the United States, Canada and Israel, and more than a dozen are currently in formation across the globe.
Lucy Marshall, director of Rising Tide, lives in Minneapolis and is enthusiastic about Maayanot’s progress and trajectory. “Maayanot has already become such a strong leader in the global movement in the ways it has elevated community voices, provided innovative mikveh education, and reflected a vision for the open mikveh that all of us can see ourselves in,” Marshall said. “This feels like the missing puzzle piece the Minnesota Jewish community needs to help create the inclusive Jewish future that so many here want to see.”
This spring, Maayanot raised $100,000 in seed funding to amp up its planning efforts. Support includes gifts from a dozen community members, grants from the Minneapolis and St. Paul Jewish Federations, and discretionary fund donations from all of the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Modern Orthodox congregational clergy in Minnesota.
Heidi Schneider and Joel Mintzer provided an impactful matching grant of $50,000.
“This project is deeply personal to Joel and me,” said Schneider. “I became Jewish by immersing in a mikveh here—one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Sadly, I also had access to our local mikveh denied to me when I sought it out after I suffered a number of pregnancy losses.
“Joel and I are excited to join others in our community in marking our milestones, transitions, losses, and turning points with the beautiful healing ritual of immersion. We are pleased to be able to provide a matching grant for Maayanot, because we know the impact this open mikveh can have on building our Minnesota Jewish community. We look forward to witnessing how the mikveh enriches so many lives, as more Jews have access to and celebrate their spiritual journeys in its waters.”
Jim Stein, an incoming member of Maayanot’s inaugural board of directors, wants the community to know that mikveh is not just a women’s thing. “Men and people of all gender identities and expressions have connected to Judaism through open mikva’ot,” he said. “I’m ecstatic that Maayanot will provide opportunities for meaningful connections for all of us here in the Upper Midwest.”
Sara Greenhalgh, another incoming board member, shares Stein’s excitement. “As a queer Jew of Color, I see Maayanot as a place with belonging at its core,” they said. “In my national work with Maayim Hayyim, I am focused on providing Jewish women of color opportunities to access the ritual of mikveh, which has not previously been a particularly accessible experience for people of color. I’m excited to continue that inclusion work with Maayanot here in Minnesota.”
Maayanot is forming a Board of Directors, which will convene in September, and is in the process of filing for nonprofit 501(c)(3) status. The organization has hired Excelsior Bay Group to help lay the groundwork for a major fundraising campaign. A Site Exploration Committee is working to find a suitable building site that is as convenient and accessible as possible for members of the community. Maayanot aims to open in 2024.
Maayanot is presenting two summer events to provide an introduction to mikveh rituals. Cantor Spilker and Rabbi Sara Brandes will present Old Mikveh Meet New Mikveh on Wednesday, July 27 at 7 p.m. in the backyard tent at Adath Jeshurun Congregation. More information and RSVP here. On August 28, Maayanot and Hineni will co-host Rosh Chodesh Elul Mikveh Lake Immersion, an opportunity to experience the ritual of mikveh at a Minneapolis lake. Details and RSVP here.
(Editor’s note, Jewfolk, Inc., the parent organization of TC Jewfolk, is the fiscal sponsor of Maayanot until it receives its 501c3 status).