Janice Rubin and Leah Lax

On View

September 8 – January 12, 2005


Wednesday, September 8, 2004, 6:00 – 8:00 PM

The Mikvah Project, Photographs by Janice Rubin and Text by Leah Lax, is an exhibition about Jewish women returning to, and reclaiming Jewish ritual immersion, a long-hidden Jewish ritual, and the powerful discoveries that come along with that process. The photographs and text document the face of this rite in America today, from Orthodox to the most secular, from traditional usage to the most creative, including both negative and positive experiences. Exploring the role of mikvah and the many shades of meaning it has for different women, from traditional to alternative perspectives, from various Jewish denominations, backgrounds and ages. This exhibition is on view at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum from September 8th to January 12th. The Mikvah Project documents the oral histories and anonymous portraits of a variety of women and how the mikvah has played a role in their lives.

The tradition of immersion in a mikvah, or ritual bath, has been observed continuously since Biblical times. Through the medium of photography accompanied by the words of the subjects, the Mikvah Project explores the subtle sense of transition and rejuvenation that results from following traditional customs. A collection divided into two series, the immersion series is a modest yet evocative and sensuous set of photographs capturing the transformative power of water. The portrait series combines interview quotations with photographs that respect the traditional privacy associated with the topic and reveal, without showing the subject’s face, something about their lives.

“Over the past 25 years, the American Jewish community has seen a growing trend from the traditional practice of the mikvah to personalization of it for modern use,” say Laura Kruger, curator. “This exhibit documents women making choices about different roles that a mikvah serves in their lives, aiding in their struggles with body image, using it as a tool for healing, spiritually recognizing major life events, all of which are acts that give meaning to life transitions.”

Janice Rubin is a Houston based photographer. Her work has been exhibited internationally. She was the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for her participation in the traveling exhibit “The Ties that Bind: Photographers Loot at the American Family.” Since 1976, her work has appeared in publications in the United States and Europe including Smithsonian, Newsweek, Town and Country, Fortune, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times.

Leah Lax is a writer, teacher and the mother of seven children. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art History from the University of Texas and is currently an MFA candidate in the University of Houston Creative Writing Program. Fluent in Hebrew and Yiddish texts, she spent twelve years teaching in Jewish day schools. She has conducted numerous seminars for teachers for the Houston Board of Jewish Education, and has been a frequent lecturer for Jewish educational groups. She is currently a teacher in the Florence Melton Institute. Her short story, “Berkeh’s Story” won the 2001 Moment Magazine short story contest. As a free-lance writer, she was mentored by novelist Rosellen Brown and novelist Daniel Stern. Leah is currently at work on a memoir that includes the making of The Mikvah Project.

This project was made possible, in part, through financial support from the Texas Council on the Humanities, The Houston Endowment, The Brown Foundation, the Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, The Harris and Eliza Kempner Fund, and the Hadassah International Research Institute. For further information about the exhibit and the tour, please visit www.MikvahProject.com


Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum
One West 4th Street (between Broadway and Mercer Street), Manhattan


Mondays- Thursdays, 9 am – 5 pm; Fridays, 9 am – 3 pm; Selected Sun., 10 am – 2 pm, Oct. 3, 17; Nov. 7, 21; Dec. 5, 19; Jan. 9. Admission: Free. Photo ID required, www.huc.edu/museum/ny Curated Tours for reporters/editors, group tours, and additional information: (212) 824-2205

Public Program

Wednesday, September 8, 2004 at 7pm
Celebration of Womanhood Through the Transformative Power of Water

Janice Rubin

This program is presented in cooperation with Lilith Magazine and Ma’yan.