By Adela Renna
Over the past fifteen years of moving all over the world with my American diplomat husband, our career has taken us often to places where life is not easy. Whether in Slovakia, The Gambia, Armenia, Congo or Botswana, the most challenging mitzvah to keep has been Taharat-Hamishpacha (Family Sanctity).
I feel very fortunate now to be able to peruse the Great Park Synagogue Mikvah, which is without doubt, the most beautiful and comfortable mikvah facility I have ever used. However, in the past, I have dipped into the raging Atlantic on dark nights and have braved ice cold water in a mountain lake or in old mikvaot where the heating systems were malfunctioning. I have spent money on air tickets to fly to places with a Jewish community and have walked past soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs once I've gotten there. I have often had to drive for hours on terrible roads sometimes to reach the nearest mikvah. I've even at times had to travel to different countries, as I now do from Botswana to South Africa.
Despite these experiences, my most profound and inspirational tevila happened in the tranquil city of Frankfurt, Germany. When we were living in Armenia in 2008, my husband had to travel to Frankfurt for a week- long business trip and rather than driving myself the six hours to use the nearest mikvah, I flew to join my husband and made an appointment at the Westend Synagogue Mikvah. On the night of my immersion, I made my preparations at our hotel and arrived to be greeted by an elderly lady, who led me to the bathroom and towards the mikvah. After I immersed, as I was coming up the few steps, I noticed a number tattooed on my attendant's forearm. This not only sent shivers down my spine but led to a great revelation; I did not know her life story, but undoubtedly the lady had gone through some horrendous times. Nevertheless, she had not given up on her Jewish heritage, by helping other women perform their sacred duty. After my encounter with a Holocaust survivor attendant, I realized that despite the difficulties and obstacles I face, I still have the most precious gift: the freedom to observe my mitzvah freely.
Not every month is Taharat-Hamishpacha easy to fulfill, but the remembrance of the immersion experience in Frankfurt is often something that gives me great strength to think about being a link in a chain of women from different places and across generations who have sacrificed much more than me to fulfill God's Torah.
Adela Renna is originally from Slovakia. With her American Foreign Service Officer husband Daniel, she has lived in The Gambia, Armenia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Most recently she lived for three years in Washington, DC where part of the time she served as the President of the Board of Directors of the National Capital Mikvah. Adela currently lives in Gaborone, Botswana with her husband and three small children.