There’s a Shark in the Mikvah

There’s a Shark in the Mikvah

I just discovered such a sweet book! There’s a Shark in the Mikvah by Penny Harrow Thau and Naava Pasternak Swirsky is a newly-released collection of humorous stories about the mikvah. Here’s a few of my favorites:

shark cover
Mikvah Mom

The children of a mikvah lady grow up under interesting circumstances – not only is their mother often not home at night, she’s always going to the mikvah!

My daughter once asked me why other mothers daven in shul on Friday night, while I daven at the mikvah, and why is the mikvah so dirty that I have to clean it all the time?! (When they were younger my kids were convinced that my job was to clean the mikvah!)

Although I tried to train my children to say that “Ema is at work” when people call for me, they often forget and tell total strangers that “Ema’s at the mikvah!”

When my daughter was two and a half years old, her pre-school teacher, who does not live in our community, told me with a raised eyebrow that my daughter liked to take a purse and a doll-carriage and announce to her little friends, “Shalom! I’m going to the mikvah now!” I quickly explained about my night job, and resolved to be more careful how I spoke around the kids.

On the other hand, the greatest advantage of being a mikvah lady is that I never have to come up with an excuse when it’s my turn to dunk in the mikvah!

A Blessing on Your Head

Before making aliyah, I worked as a mikvah lady. One evening, I had a visitor who told me that when she used the mikvah in Israel, the mikvah lady gave her a blessing when she emerged from the water, and she suggested that I do so as well. So once I had wrapped her in a large towel, I took her hand and gave her a bracha.

This became my regular practice with all of the women after they immersed, and they always seemed pleased to receive a bracha.

However, one night, one of the women asked me quite seriously to please NOT give her a bracha anymore. When I asked her why, she replied that right after last month’s bracha two of her children became engaged, and it was quite overwhelming!

We both had a laugh, but I respected her wishes and did not give her a bracha that month…

Switching Roles

Usually, I go to the mikvah, and the mikvah lady tells me what to do when I’m in the water. But one time, to my delight, I got to switch roles.

I’m a physical therapist, and I had a patient who needed hydrotherapy. Unfortunately, there were no local hydrotherapy facilities where we lived. I said, “It’s too bad that we don’t have a pool with warm water for you to do your exercises in.”

My patient replied, “You mean like a mikvah?”

I laughed and said, “Yes.”

She said, “Well I happen to be a mikvah lady, and I have the keys to the mikvah.”

So that’s how I found myself at the top of the mikvah stairs, telling the mikvah lady what to do in the water!

Double Dipping

My husband, our baby daughter and I were on summer holiday in Australia. One day, we met up with our two sisters-in-law, one brother-in-law, six nephews and nieces, two of my husband’s childhood friends and their toddler, and drove to a beach far from the city.

I needed to go to the mikvah that evening, but as we were in the middle of nowhere, the Indian Ocean was going to have to do. I was warned by my kallah teacher that, for reasons of modesty, one simply does not discuss intended visits to the mikvah. I, however, have found that this secrecy itself sometimes leads to awkward situations. So I braced myself and mentioned my impending dip to my sister-in-law.

She looked unperturbed and totally unruffled – and proceeded to tell me that she had to dunk as well! I breathed a sigh of relief and wondered how she always managed to be so cool about absolutely everything. We knew that we must remain faithful to our kallah teachers and ensure that the rest of our party wouldn’t find out. So, as the sun set, we told the gang that we were going for a walk with our husbands.

As we headed toward the water past the other beach-goers, fishermen began to arrive for a spot of night fishing among the swimmers and the surfers riding the waves out on the horizon. I’m used to the Mediterranean Sea – that calm and warm body of water where one can bob up and down on the waves for ages. The Indian Ocean, on the other hand, is cold – really cold and really choppy. As we began to formulate a plan, a problem arose – our husbands pointed out that there was no way they were going into the water without wetsuits, as no one in their right mind would enter the ocean at that hour without one. We managed to procure one wetsuit, and then straws were drawn to see who would go first.

As I waited there I began to wonder: How will I pull this off amidst the various beach-goers, fishermen and surfers? How long could I tread water? Will the fishermen think I’m drowning? Have the fishermen ever met a Jew? When was the last shark attack (a not uncommon occurrence in Australian waters)? How will I get out of the water? How will I react to the cold?

My sister-in-law and her husband entered the ocean first, while my husband and I chatted casually, trying not to look out onto the water.

When the wetsuit landed with a thud next to us, it was our turn. I waited patiently as my better half got into the wetsuit. What a struggle! What a man!

We swam out, and I somehow managed to disrobe. I looked up at the incredible night sky and watched as all the stars winked down at me. I dunked three times, and it was the most liberating and incredible feeling I have ever had. For those few seconds I was not cold or scared. I was one with nature and felt embraced by the canopy of heaven.

On our return we said hello to everyone and scooped up our daughter. Just when I thought that we had pulled it off without anyone being the wiser, my other sister-in-law smirked and said, “Hey, where did you all just disappear to?”



  1. This was really nice to read! My husband wanted me to to the same in Miami (while on vacation) but I “chickened” out. Now I know that other people do it too!

  2. I had the same situation when we’ve been on a vacation in Italy. a friend of mine came with me as a mikve lady… was quite scary, but at the same time, I felt HKB”H everywhere…

  3. I loved this book! You can read two more excerpts and my review over on my site, Adventures in (Jewish) MamaLand.

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