For Orthodox Jews, immersion in a ritual bath—the mikveh—is the cornerstone of family life and is central to Jewish women’s practice of their faith. Yet women from across the Jewish spectrum frequent the mikveh, often for surprising personal reasons. Roused by her own immersion experience, for years Varda Polak-Sahm, a secular Jew, patiently observed and interviewed women at the mikveh, gaining unprecedented access to this hidden world. The House of Secrets offers a richly nuanced, uncensored look at an experience that is for some holy and for others coercive, ultimately illuminating the remarkable power of ritual immersion.
About the Author
Yehudit Kafri Meiri is a 20th-21st century Israeli poet and a writer, as well as editor and translator. She was born in 1935 and lived as a child in Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh, where her parents were founding members. Yehudit belonged to the first group of children born in this kibbutz. After she got married, she moved to Kibbutz Sasa, where she wrote her first book, The Time Will Have Mercy, which was published in 1962, one year after she moved to Kibbutz Shoval with her family. In Kibbutz Shoval she published a few more poetry books and children's books and made her first attempt at writing prose including a book describing her childhood memories, All The Summer We Went Barefoot, which was successful and sold several editions. Yehudit Kafri, mother of three and grandmother of four, has lived since 1989 with her husband in Mazkeret Batya, where she continues to write and publish books of poetry and biographies. In 2003 she published an historical biographic novel, Zosha: from the Jezreel Valley to the Red Orchestra, which tells the life story of Zosha Poznanska, who was a member of the Red Orchestra and eventually killed by the Gestapo. This novel won The Best Literary Achievement of the Year Prize in Israel. It has since been translated and published in English, and in Polish, and lately in Amazon. Kafri published 9 poetry books and 9 others (children's books, biographies, and prose). Poems by Yehudit Kafri were published in Hebrew, Arabic, English, Spanish, Croatian and Russian. Kafri has won several literary prizes including the Prime Minister's prize in 1987, and other scholarship prizes.
“Polak-Sahm mesmerizes the reader with her encounters at the mikveh...brilliantly illuminates these tensions and their religious and cultural meanings, not just intellectually but, like all good anthropologists, in a way that produces a rich understanding of people’s lives.”
“A fascinating book . . . [Polak-Sahm] views the mikveh as a house full of secrets—the secrets of women, the secrets of life, the secrets of love and purity.”
—Peggy Cidor, Jerusalem Post
“Informative and fascinating . . . [Polak-Sahm] detail[s] a world many of us have no clue exists.”
—Olupero R. Aiyenimelo, Feminist Review
“A compelling examination of the nature and meaning of this ritual which has remained clouded with mystery and secrecy for centuries.”
—Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, SpiritualityandPractice.com
“[The House of Secrets] truly lifts the curtain on this world, often unknown to all but its participants. . . . [A] captivating book.”
—Carol Poll, Jewish Book World
“Unique amongst works about mikveh in that [Polak-Sahm] draws on the deeply personal and revealing narratives of religious and secular women who come regularly to immerse. The stories of these women come alive here.”
—Marion Lev-Cohen, Lilith
“Totally honest and full of surprises . . . Refreshingly, this writing is neither a Pollyanna version of the laws of family purity nor a cheap shot at them.”
—Blu Greenberg, author of How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household