Mikvah, immersion in a ritual bath, is one of the oldest rituals in Judaism. Today, Jews in the U.S. and internationally are exploring how to make this practice more expansive and inclusive. Since 2017, as part of the open mikvah movement, Mayyim Hayyim’s Rising Tide Open Waters Mikveh Network has trained mikvah  guides, inviting Jewish people to connect with the ancient ritual and become leaders of it in their communities. This year, with support from the Jews of Color Initiative, Rising Tide announced a Jews of Color cohort for Seven Steps, their online mikvah guide training program, led by erica riddick , a Jewish educator and mikvah course facilitator.
The Mikvah ritual involves immersion in living water —a bath connected to a natural spring or a well of rainwater—to mark transitions such as marriage, conversion, or spiritual preparedness. The Rising Tide Open Waters Mikveh Network’s mission is to inspire, strengthen and support communities that embrace an open, inclusive and welcoming approach to ritual immersion. Rising Tide seeks to meet the spiritual needs of Jewish people across the full spectrum of the Jewish community. This means in part that every Jew should see their identity represented by a mikvah guide because diverse ritual facilitators make mikvah practice more accessible to Jews across differences of identity.
A central goal of this cohort is to elevate and invest in Black, Indigenous, Jews of Color, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews as wisdom-holders and educators in the open mikvah environment, advancing the movement by making Jewish ritual leaders representative of our Jewish community’s multiracial reality.
Lucy Marshall, the director of Rising Tide, described the open mikvah movement as a commitment to “ensuring that mikvah feels inclusive, accessible and meaningful to Jews of all denominations, identities, sexual orientations, genders, races, ethnicities, abilities, geography, and ages, and really expanding the number of folks who are invited into mikvah as a ritual that can be part of their own spiritual toolbox.”
erica riddick is a Jewish community educator and researcher who is leading the first-ever JoC cohort of Seven Steps. She felt inspired to facilitate this cohort after noticing that some people in the Jewish community felt alienated or disconnected from aspects of Jewish ritual, like mikvah. This tendency can sometimes be exacerbated for Jews of Color if their Jewishness is unfairly questioned by other community members or even ritual leaders.
erica hopes the program succeeds in inviting more people into the ritual fold of Jewish life in general. “It’s important for Jewish people of color to have ritual spaces because there’s so many messages that we get that tell us we’re illegitimate. And so having the space to connect with one another and build our wisdom on a corner of Judaism that’s been behind the curtain is really meaningful.” Surpassing expectations, 31 people registered for the Seven Steps online mikvah guide training program. “To me, that was a really strong answer to the invitation,” said riddick, who believes the community’s interest speaks volumes.
The mikvah training space for JoC serves as more than a place to gather for educational purposes; there is also a strong communal aspect to the cohort. erica sensed that for the JoC cohort, accepting the opportunity to learn more about mikvah was tied into a desire for community and understanding. “I think [the number of participants] came from wanting to go deeper, specifically in a setting where we can hear what other Jewish people of color are doing to integrate and balance the fullness of who they are in their Jewish ritual practice.”
When asked about her hopes for the future, erica described a learned Jewish community that draws upon its extensive toolkit of ritual practice to engage and combat oppressions within and beyond their own community. “I really want Jewish people of color to feel like they can make the rituals they need for their lives, and use whatever technologies they have at their disposal. One thing I really appreciate about the Rising Tide network is that it’s international. I love that there’s the potential through this cohort to tap into ideas that unite people globally, and to gain the opportunity to learn from other communities.”
1. You will see two different spellings for this ritual: mikvah and mikveh. “Mikveh” is the Ashkenazic spelling and is used in the title of the Rising Tide network. Elsewhere in this article, we opt to use “mikvah.”
2. erica riddick intentionally chooses to lower case their name, following the anti-racist feminist tradition of prominent scholar bell hooks. https://www.bustle.com/entertainment/why-didnt-bell-hooks-capitalise-her-name.