At last, the long-awaited birthday post!
So… due to a quirk in Jewish law, although Leah is biologically my daughter, because Mandy is her gestational mother she is not considered halachically Jewish (i.e. recognized as Jewish by Jewish law). She had to undergo an official conversion, which includes a ritual immersion. She was supposed to go to the mikveh (the place where the conversion and immersion take place) in the first week of April, but she wound up having to undergo a hernia repair instead, and you don’t immerse with open scars, so we had to wait a little bit. Then she was supposed to go in the first week of May, but we all know how that turned out – she was recalled by the hospital and got stuck there for four days.
Thankfully, the rabbi and the mikveh staff were sooooo patient with us, and we were able to work it out so that Leah’s conversion would take place on her first birthday. As an interesting side note, the mikveh attendant present at Leah’s conversion was the same attendant who was there when I went to the mikveh before our wedding seven years ago. She is also my friend’s mom! I didn’t know she worked there until I went up there before the wedding. It is such a small world, and so cool that she got to be there for two such significant moments in our lives. Also present at the ceremony were the rabbi (obviously), who is an old college friend, and two witnesses, who also turned out to be people we knew (plus a tiny tot belonging to one of the witnesses). 😀 It made the occasion even more special to have so many familiar faces surrounding us.
Another side note – mikveh is the Yiddish spelling – it would be spelled “mikvah” using Hebrew pronunciation and transliteration. FYI.
SO! On Leah’s birthday, we took her up to the Getty Museum, because isn’t that what every baby wants to do for her first birthday? We had a nice walk around, and I must say that Leah did seem to appreciate the Jackson Pollock work. She stared at it for a good minute. She didn’t care for the Queen Victoria collection, though. I guess she’s an art snob and only likes the modern genres. Alternately, she’s a baby and likes Pollock’s bright colors and squiggles. I’ll let you decide.
After the Getty, we went up to the mikveh. My dad met us there and came in with us to be there for the conversion. Then, after the mikveh we went out to eat with our immediate family and celebrated the little bubbeleh all together. My sister and cousin were planning a baby naming ceremony later on in the month which would be doubling as a birthday party for our larger circle of family and friends, so we kept it small for Leah’s actual birthday.
Going to the mikveh was a wonderful experience, but it had its tenuous moments. The most unnerving thing about converting a baby in the mikveh is that you have to let go of the baby completely while she’s underwater. It’s just for a moment, but she has to be fully immersed without anything separating her from the water, including Mama’s and Mommy’s strong and safe hands.
In discussing the mikveh with the rabbi who conducted Leah’s baby-naming ceremony (a different rabbi than the one who did the conversion – more details on that in a later post), I mentioned that this experience of letting go of Leah was similar to taking her home from the hospital for the first time. In the mikveh, you have to let go for just a moment and trust that everything will go the way it needs to go. Leah will hold her breath under water and will make it through that one moment when nobody is holding on. In leaving the hospital, we had to let go of all of the machines that held Leah in a position of safety and reassurance, and trust that in the absence of that support, the three of us would know what to do going forward. And I guess that is sort of a metaphor for parenting in general – life as a parent will be full of moments when we just have to let go. I’m sure we will have to remind ourselves of that point as the years go by.