Even though Jews are not commanded to immerse on this occasion, the Rabbis thought that doing so might still be powerful and good.

In traditional communities today, however, few take the license to stray from commanded immersion.

Mikvah has traditionally been known as more of a utilitarian in-and-out chore than a personal or holy experience.

When her best friend started chemo, Chaya wanted a way to make her monthly mikvah as special as possible.

She ended up finding a new kind of holy cleansing—even though it broke all the traditional rules.

At traditional mikvaot, the spotlight is on a woman’s fertility and sexuality.

But for Jewish women with breast cancer, treatment means not only the end of their childbearing years, but also a deeply altered relationship to their physical and sexual selves.

That means being vigilant for everything from belly button lint to a stuffed nose and going head to toe to ensure no crevice or fold is forgotten. First, she lets acetone-soaked cotton balls rest on her nails.

Now, she’s scraping away at what’s left of the polish with a pair of tweezers, chin on her knees. The room is warm, smells like flowers, and is full of every conceivable cleaning implement: drawers of pink razors, glass jars stuffed with Q-tips, a comb floating in shockingly blue Barbicide.

Goldberg recalls immersing in an ultra-Orthodox mikvah in Israel, where she lived as a young adult and served in the military.

The mikvah was small and crowded, and she recalls the process of being “checked” by the mikvah attendant to make sure the immersion was , following the strictest interpretation of Jewish law.

Ashkenazi Jewish women are at unusually high risk for breast and ovarian cancer.