Within the Rising Tide Open Waters Mikveh Network, a question was raised if there were any children’s books explaining the concept of going to the mikveh. Finding none, Mount Zion Temple Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker and Israeli mikveh specialist Haviva Ner-David took it upon themselves.
“We felt like it was really important, because, we’re trying to introduce this concept to people all over the world,” Spilker said. “Maybe a kid would be going with a sibling who was adopted, or maybe they’ll want to go for something to mark a transition.”
Their book, Yonah and the Mikveh Fish, comes out March 14 and explains the mikveh process in an easy-to-understand way for children.
“We didn’t want it to be ‘this is a mikveh and this is what it does,’ Spilker said. “We wanted it to be incorporated into the story, because that’s more the way kids are going to understand it.”
There’s a virtual book launch event on Sunday, March 19 from 4-5 p.m., there will also be a live story hour and fun event on May 7, sponsored by the both Minneapolis and St. Paul PJ Libraries, TC Jewfolk, Maayanot, Shmaya Mikveh and Rising Tide Open Waters Mikveh Network.
The story is about Yonah, a quirky, fish-obsessed kid who is about to start kindergarten. The day before school starts, Yonah’s parents take her to the mikveh, to mark her transition from preschool to kindergarten – like her brother did before he started kindergarten. Her brother tells her she’ll love the fish at the mikveh, and she is excited to go. But when she goes into the pool to dunk, she can’t find the fish.
“There’s a part where Yonah’s preschool teacher is explaining what a mikveh is, and that people use it for all different reasons,” Spilker said. “So it introduces the idea to kids, but it also introduces the idea to their parents or grandparents and to get them curious. And so obviously, the more people who know about it, the more people who might find it appealing and might use it.”
Rising Tide Open Waters is a progressive, egalitarian, global mikveh network. Maayanot Community Mikveh is Minnesota’s aspiring entrant to this network and is raising money for a location in the Twin Cities. (Jewfolk, Inc., TC Jewfolk’s parent organization, was Maayanot’s fiscal sponsor).
Spilker and Ner-David reconnected through the mikveh network – Ner-David runs Shmaya Mikveh, the only egalitarian mikveh in Israel on Kibbutz Hanaton. But the two originally met when Spilker was part of the first Mount Zion congregational trip to Israel.
“The two of us had this energy about writing a book, and so we met many, many times over Zoom,” Spilker said. “And had a Google Doc, where we would go back and forth with questions and things like that and ideas, and then we would get together and work on it.”
Ner-David’s daughter, Meira, is the illustrator. Because of that close relationship, it made for an easier time making changes and having discussions on what the characters were going to look like.
“We wanted to make sure there was some diversity represented in the book,” Spilker said, which meant having Yonah’s parents not both look like stereotypical Ashkenazi Jews. “So it was kind of a little bit of a dance back and forth. But we definitely had the story first, then she did the illustrations, and then we kind of talked about how we were going to make it all work together.
“I think it’s important in this day and age to show diversity in Judaism. But one of the core values of this egalitarian mikveh movement is that it’d be radically inclusive: Gender, age, race, sexual orientation, denomination, unaffiliated, affiliated, the whole gamut of inclusion. We wanted that reflected in what kids were going to be seeing in the book.”