Bracing for the new year, au naturel

It must have been quite a sight for the early morning dog-walkers on Rodeo Beach: 27 men plunging into the ocean, naked as the day they were born. 

The men showed up Sunday, Sept. 1 to participate in the annual Men’s Mikvah, a pre-Rosh Hashanah tradition started 10 years ago by Rabbi Michael Lezak of Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael.

Participants in this year’s Men’s Mikvah before their plunge into the Pacific.

“There is something raw and profound about waking up early, taking a real inventory of what’s good and not good in your life, and walking into the cold Pacific Ocean naked,” the rabbi said. “The ritual does the work.”

Lezak created the outdoor mikvah experience as a way of helping Jewish men get into the High Holy Day mindset of reflection and renewal.

This year’s event, as in years past, began at 6 a.m. with a gathering at the San Rafael synagogue in the darkened sanctuary, lit only by candlelight. Marc Press and his teenage son, Micah, both of San Rafael, took part.

“The rabbi asked the men to think about what we want to take forward into the new year and what we want to  leave behind,” said the elder Press, who has taken part in all but one of the mikvahs. “He does a magical job of getting people centered and focused, and really thinking about the holidays.”

From there, the men caravanned to Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands. It was an overcast day, with few other people on the sand. After Lezak instructed participants on the prayers they were to speak, everyone disrobed and entered the water, silently and alone with their own thoughts.

In proper mikvah fashion, they were required to completely immerse themselves.

“It often cleanses people and helps them leave some tsuris in the water and focus on who they want to be,” Lezak said. “It pries open parts of their soul that may have closed up.”

Following the dip, the men dressed and gathered to say the Shehechiyanu together. Then they all went to Mama’s Royal Café in Mill Valley for breakfast.

As for going au naturel in public, none of the participants seemed to stress out over it.

“We all have body issues on one level or another, we all have our own flaws, but this is how God created us,” Lezak said. “This is a sacred vessel you have been given for a short window of time. What do we do with it? How do we love ourselves, inventory our powers and rise up out of the water to a new year?”

Press wasn’t too concerned with causing a scene either, saying: “None of us are worth looking at.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.