Kavannah of Transformation

The first time I went to the mikvah was in 2010, when I converted with BJ (although I still think of it as confirmation, since my father was Jewish). The moment in time was clear; I had studied for a year, a group of rabbis approved it, I had been to the mikvah, and I had a new Hebrew name! Transformation completion.

But we are not always afforded such clarity, such moments in time⁠—replete with certificate and new name. Often, we desire transformation, but we think, we question, we doubt, we delay, we fear. Time horizons, visions, ideals⁠—transformation completeness⁠—can elude us. Maybe, in part, because we are always watching and reflecting and, in part, because for us, transformation does not include a full break from our previous selves.

When I think of transformation, I close my eyes and, like a child, picture the caterpillar becoming a chrysalis and emerging as a butterfly. The caterpillar simply does the only thing it is designed to do and then it is done, but it is no longer available to see itself change. It wraps itself in a silk shelter and goes about dissolving. It must completely stop being its former self to attain its next stage.

I sometimes wonder if we can apply some of this animal’s logic to ourselves. Can we create a safe space, set the wheels of transformation in motion, and then let go, not able to know the final version? I think, perhaps, this might be how it would feel inside that chrysalis, with no mirrors or self for reflection and no immediate, clear definition or trajectory for migration.

Perhaps that is why the mikvah is appealing to me this year. It feels like it can be an entry point, laying the groundwork for Yamim Noraim to be more like a chrysalis. So, this year, I will go to the mikvah again, the third time I have ever been, in the hope that this ritual will make some space for whatever will unfold during Yamim Noraim and over the coming year.

Written By Jenn Heettner

Jenn Heettner has been a member of BJ since 2010. She is interested in social justice and global Jewish communal life and culture. A New York native, Jenn is the Director of Global Program Informat...