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#1814 - Monday, May 31, 2004 - Editor: Jerry  

This issue features a few news stories that appeared very recently and speak to spiritual transitions. The first one is about the Mikvah, a Jewish spiritual bath of cleansing. The second is about new research linking brain activity and extremely positive near death experiences. The last two stories return to the water theme and speak of the kinds of Baptism that comes out of surfing experiences.

Spiritual Cleansing  

'The Mikvah Project' celebrates the Jewish ritual bath  


A deep current runs through the Jewish Museum of Florida, the spiritual cleansing power of mikvah water -- a ritual bath in the Jewish tradition. In a mix of art, oral history and ritual, the Miami Beach museum is presenting ''The Mikvah Project,'' a traveling exhibit created by the Houston-based team of photographer Janice Rubin and writer Leah Lax.  

In a supplementary exhibit, ''History of the
Mikvah in Florida,'' the Jewish Museum has added
a Florida spin, with additional research and
photographs documenting mikvah facilities
throughout the state.

A mikvah is a pool of natural water or tap water
with a designated connection to natural water
(rain water or spring water). Containing about
200 gallons of water that is also chlorinated and
maintained under strict hygienic standards, a
proper mikvah is built with a blueprint that
follows Jewish law. For 3,000 years, the rituals
associated with the mikvah have been the
cornerstone of Jewish tradition.

Under Jewish tradition and law, a mikvah is used
each month by married Jewish women following
their menstrual cycles. (According to Jewish law,
physical relations between a husband and wife are
halted during menstruation and resumed after a
woman has immersed herself in a mikvah.) Converts
to Judaism also undergo a ritual bath, and many
observant Jewish men go to the mikvah before
major Jewish holidays and before the weekly
Sabbath. In observant Jewish homes, even new
dishes are immersed in a special mikvah before
use in the home.

''It's a spiritual cleansing,'' said Rabbi
Solomon Schiff from the Greater Miami Jewish

``The water serves as a renewal
because water purifies and uplifts.''


Over the years, the mikvah ritual has been veiled
by modesty, Schiff said. That tradition of
modesty has given rise to mystery, which in turn,
has led to some misperceptions about the role of
ritual baths in the Jewish tradition.

''Other people have thought it was some kind of
old superstition. But when they see this exhibit
and read about all of various purposes and the
history of the mikvah, they will begin to realize
the importance of that ritual and appreciate its
value,'' Schiff said.

In literature and religion, water is often a
symbol of life. In fact, according to the Jewish
tradition, everything was created from water and
immersion in mikvah water represents a spiritual
rebirth, according to Rabbi Akiva Stolper of the
Congregation Ohr Chaim on Miami Beach.

``When you
come out of the water, you become reborn.''

With a mission to educate, the Jewish Museum
features mikvaot (plural of mikvah) from Key West
to Tallahassee. In photos and text, the museum
highlights the history, the customs and the
development of ritual pools in Florida. The local
display includes a broad range of facilities,
from luxury spas to the older bare-bones pools
that existed decades ago in Hasidic synagogues in
South Beach. The exhibit also highlights the
Daughters of Israel Mikvah, which was founded
during the 1940s and is the oldest ritual pool in
Miami-Dade County. Since its launch, that
facility has had three locations and is now
called the Bessie M. Galbut Daughters of Israel
Mikvah Center in Miami Beach.

''Today there are more than 25 mikvaot in
Florida, with more than 70 percent of them built
over the last decade,'' as more observant Jews
move to Florida and more Jews observe the ritual,
according to Laura Bolser, director of marketing
for the Jewish Museum.


The local display offers a glimpse of Florida
history, with colorful text about the
construction, revival and survival of mikvaot.
For example, after Hurricane Andrew, military
officials reportedly were fascinated to see that
the mikvah in Homestead survived relatively
unscathed, while other homes and buildings in
that area were demolished.

Collecting such details consumed well over a
year, says Marcia Zerivitz, founding executive
director of the Jewish Museum of Florida.
Zerivitz believes that the earliest mikvah in
Florida was built in Jacksonville in 1921, but
museum officials are leaving the door open for
discoveries of earlier facilities.

''We are like detectives here. It's an ongoing
process,'' Zerivitz said.

``We get totally
immersed in the subject.''

With a nod to South Florida's multicultural
community, the Jewish Museum exhibit includes
photographs and commentary about the religious
and spiritual importance of water in other
cultures. The exhibit includes photographs of
Mayan baths, a community of Haitian religious
pilgrims under a ''sacred'' waterfall in their
homeland and a Southern congregation of African
Americans during an immersion baptism.

Meanwhile, as documented by Rubin and Lax, ''The
Mikvah Project,'' highlights the stories of women
around the country who participate in the ritual
bath. For the sake of privacy, the women --
Jewish women from diverse backgrounds -- were
photographed without names or faces. One
photograph features an elegant portrait of a
single hand trailing through water. The exhibit
also includes actual underwater photographs of
models in simulated immersions.

'I really wanted to respect the ritual,'' said
Rubin, the photographer, during a telephone

Documenting both women and models in various
mikvah settings was a ''transformative'' process,
Rubin said. Her initial reservations about
immersion rituals have been replaced with the
understanding that the mikvah represents ``a very
rich experience.''

Lax also approached the project with mixed
feelings. But after listening to and recording
the personal histories of women -- ranging from
young mothers to post-menopausal women -- Lax
concluded that the mikvah ritual involves an
embrace of self, of God and of spirituality.

''It's a ritual of transition,'' Lax said.  

Photo: Janice Rubin/from the Mikvah  

(Article contributed by Mary Bianco to NDS News:    

'Near-death' survivors show brain-wave abnormality, study finds  

By Carla McClain ARIZONA DAILY STAR   Many people who have undergone near-death experiences - a profoundly affecting glimpse of a loving afterlife - have abnormal brain waves, a University of Arizona study has found.  

This is the first scientific confirmation that something extremely unusual is going on in the brains of people who briefly died, reported leaving their bodies and moving toward a loving, peaceful light or presence, then were resuscitated and returned to life.  

The finding does not prove or disprove that
near-death experiences are actual encounters with
a heavenly afterlife, but it may help explain why
lives and attitudes are often dramatically
changed by such experiences.
  "This is the first study ever to find
neurophysiologic differences in people who have
had these experiences," said Willoughby B.
Britton, the UA researcher who led the study,
published last month in the journal Psychological

"They have to some extent an abnormal brain. But even after going through a life-threatening trauma, they are absolutely psychologically healthy, with no post-traumatic stress, no fear response.  

"This gets to the question of how the brain and consciousness and reality interact. Everyone wants to know how the spiritual and the physical meet."  

Throughout human history, people who have suffered traumatic events that nearly killed them - cardiac arrest, drownings, violent accidents, medical complications, allergic reactions, even suicide attempts - have reported eerily similar
transcendental scenarios.

They almost always involve a sense of leaving the
body or viewing it from a distance, transcending
time and space, entering a dark void or "tunnel,"
encountering and being strongly attracted to a
bright light or sometimes a religious figure,
with an all-encompassing feeling of peace,
warmth, unconditional love and welcome.

In some cases, the "dead" undergo a "life review"
- a rapid unfolding of life events, with an
understanding of how their actions affected

However, this is not the typical response to
life-threatening trauma. Most people react with
intense fear, anxiety, sometimes lasting for
months or years, resulting in post-traumatic
stress disorder marked by nightmares and chronic

Only about 10 percent to 18 percent of people
instead have these extremely positive "near-death
experiences" that leave them with little or no
fear of death or danger, an optimistic outlook on
life, increased spirituality, and often major
lifestyle improvements.

"They can't wait to have it happen again, they
have no fear whatsoever. You have to ask, are
these people completely crazy?" said Britton, who
specializes in studying the neurologic effect of
traumatic events.

"It is a moving experience to be around them.
They are different. You can almost sense it."

The results of her study prove they are. During a
night of sleep, Britton recorded the brain waves
of 23 people who had near-death experiences,
comparing them with the brain patterns of 23 who
had not.

An unexpectedly high number - 22 percent - of the
near-death experiencers showed a rare brain-wave
pattern known as "synchronized brain activity" in
the left temporal lobe. That is a simultaneous
firing of neurons - sometimes described as "an
electrical storm" - in that part of the brain. It
is the kind of abnormal pattern seen in people
who suffer epileptic seizures in the temporal

By contrast, normal brain waves are described as
de-synchronized, with neurons firing at different
times. Only one of the non-near-death group
showed an abnormal, synchronized pattern, which
occurs in only 1 percent of the general

If the study had continued on multiple nights,
more of the near-death experience group would
have shown the abnormal pattern, Britton

"But even on a one-night study, the rate was 22
times higher in the NDE group than would have
been expected. That is a very, very high rate,"
she said.

The near-death-experience group also showed
unusual sleep patterns. Most took an unusually
long time to reach the REM stage of sleep - the
stage of rapid eye movement, known as the dream

"This may explain the change in temperament
people have," said Britton. "REM latency is a
marker for mental health. A long REM latency is
an emotional bias toward the positive. People who
take only a short time to get to REM sleep are at
high risk for depression."

But what the study does not reveal is whether the
near-death-experience people had abnormal brain
activity and unusual sleep patterns prior to
their mystical experiences, or whether the
experience caused the unusual brain and sleep

"If these patterns existed before the NDE, it may
mean they are predisposed to a positive response
to stress - that is, to having a pleasant
near-death experience rather than post-traumatic
stress," Britton said.

ut it is more likely the near-death experience
caused the brain changes, said Tucson
neurosurgeon Dr. Philip Carter.

"From my own personal knowledge, I would predict
that the abnormal EEG (brain wave recordings)
correlated with the hypoxia - the lack of oxygen
to the brain - during the traumatic event," he

He pointed out that epilepsy in that part of the
brain - which shows the same kind of abnormal
pattern - is usually caused by a hypoxic event,
such as when a fetus is deprived of oxygen during
a stressful birth.

In fact, it is well known that temporal lobe
epileptics also experience spiritual
near-death-experience-type episodes during
seizures and are profoundly affected and changed
by them in the same ways near-death experiences

"When the heart stops, when the brain shuts down,
during the traumatic event, we do know there is a
lot of discharge of brain activity," said Carter.
"The brain is the ultimate computer. When it
shuts down and reboots, it comes back with a lot
of activity that can cause changes.

"So I think most of this can be explained on a
physiological basis. I certainly don't want to
say there isn't an afterlife, but I don't think
these experiences are the evidence for it. They
can be explained."

What Carter does think is possible is that the
actual process of death may be pleasant, rather
than painful and frightening, based on the
testimony of a physician friend of his who was
resuscitated after his heart stopped during a
heart attack.

"He talked of being warm all over, he saw a
shining light, he had the feeling that death
wasn't so bad. The actual process of death was a
good experience, a good feeling," he said.

But most near-death experiencers, by far, are
absolutely convinced they have seen the true
afterlife and felt the infinite love of God. All
the scientific discussion is just the chitchat of
those who haven't been there and done that.

"There really is no such thing as death. We go
from here up into the light. We change form and
go on," said Susan Dayton, 58, who underwent a
near-death experience 30 years ago, when she
suffered a blood clot to the brain.

"It was the most intense, warm, loving, beautiful
experience I've ever had. I can't even describe
it. I was surrounded by light and love. It was
like going home," said Dayton, who participated
in Britton's study.

Noting that prior to that she had a drinking
problem, smoked two to three packs of cigarettes
a day, and "got married too often," Dayton said
her life has changed "dramatically."

"I simply quit all that. I've been sober for 20
years. I have a heart now, a sense of compassion
for others, and absolutely no fear of death.

"Believe me, this is not just the brain
misfiring. There definitely is a God."

But for Tucson attorney Dan Dudley, who also
entered the tunnel, and saw and felt the
intensely loving light 13 years ago - when he
nearly died from flesh-eating strep A - the
experience has dimmed somewhat over the years.

"Certainly it changed me," he said. "I just don't
have any great concern or anxiety about dying,
and I deeply believe in the power of prayer."

For a while after, his priorities did change.
Making money was no longer his main goal.

"But when reality sets back in, that feeling
fades somewhat," he said.

He is well aware of the debate raging over what a
near-death experience really is.

"Does the act of dying cause the brain to
download all its neurons, or is it a genuine
spiritual experience?

"All I can say is it was a wonderfully peaceful,
loving, warm place to be, an overwhelming
sensation. I choose to think it was a genuine
spiritual experience."

Rite takes place at beach where teen was rescued
By Onell R. Soto UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER May 24, 2004

A teen who nearly drowned while surfing Saturday
returned to the same stretch of Torrey Pines
State Beach yesterday and got back in the water
for a celebration of life as he and two dozen
other members of his church were baptized.

Mathew McGee, 14, still wore two hospital
bracelets. One, snapped on his wrist before
doctors knew his identity, bore the name "Doe."

Mathew, a Torrey Pines High School sophomore from
Del Mar Heights, said little about his ordeal.

"I just like surfing and I got knocked out or
something," he said of his near-death experience.

Bob Johnson, senior pastor at non-denominational
Canyon Hills Community Church in Carmel Valley,
found a message in Mathew's survival.

"You could be in heaven right now," Johnson told
him in front of other church members gathered on
the sunny afternoon. "But you're here because God
has a plan."

Photo: A day after nearly drowning, Mathew McGee (center) was baptized at Torrey Pines beach by pastor Bob Johnson (left) and youth ministries pastor Paul Murray of Canyon Hills Community Church.  

Like he does every week, Mathew had gone surfing
Saturday with a friend, 16-year-old Preston Harp.

Preston said it is not unusual to get separated
in the surf, but something was different Saturday
when he didn't immediately spot his friend in the

"I had a feeling that something wasn't right," he

He started looking around. He saw Mathew's board,
and then he spotted Mathew face down in the
chest-deep water.

Preston grabbed his friend and set out for shore.  

He was almost out of the water when two people
happened by. They were cardiologists out for a
day at the beach.

They helped get Mathew on his side so the water
could begin flowing out of his lungs.

Disoriented when he came to, Mathew battled with
paramedics and lifeguards. Soon, Mathew was in an
ambulance speeding to Children's Hospital.

Within an hour of his arrival, doctors used a CT
scan to check his brain.

Kitty McGee, Mathew's mother, rejoiced at the
news that he was OK.

McGee, said it's unclear what knocked him out.  

"I don't know if he hit the bottom or his board
hit him," she said.

Mathew spent the night in the intensive care
unit, and was released in the morning.

By afternoon, as planned weeks ago, he joined
dozens of others back at the beach for a baptism
in the waves.

"Surfing is like a baptism... . A rebirth. A
conversation with God."

Soul of Surfing: Marty Schreiber lives a life that may be fading
By PEGGY TOWNSEND Sentinel staff writer

Photo: Marty Schreiber, with all his gear and Diva the dog, has logged more than 20,000 miles riding his surf bike between his home in Live Oak and his favorite surf spot at Pleasure Point.  

It costs Marty Schreiber $200 a day to surf.  

Marty knows this because he runs an automobile
repair business out of the back of his truck and
since he charges $80 an hour to tune up an engine
or change out a set of spark plugs, he figures
that’s the cost of the two-plus hours he spends
in the water every day.

"I had to come to an understanding with my wife
and family," says Marty, who by his own
calculations pursues a sport that costs him about
$52,000 a year.

"I could probably have a nicer house or send my
daughters to college," he says. But surfing is
something he needs to do.

No matter what it costs.  

Surfing is like a baptism, he says. A rebirth. A
conversation with God.

It even makes him a better mechanic, he says.  

Out in the water there is no Iraq, no cars with
oil leaks, no bad days, says Marty, who’s known
around town simply as Marty Mechanic.

"It’s people walking on water, man," he says.  

Every day, the 55-year-old Marty throws a leg
over his black Honda scooter or his fat-tire bike
and heads for Pleasure Point. His surfboard and
beach umbrella are strapped on tight. One of his
three dogs always rides shotgun on the back.

It makes him cry when he talks about how much he
loves the sport.

"It (surfing) raises the spirit and makes you
believe in God," he says.

"Oh yeah girl, it reinvents you every day."  

Marty’s not the only one who looks at surfing
that way.

After a May 2 article in this newspaper about the
way the high cost of living here is drowning the
surf-bum spirit, a number of people wrote to us
to talk about the soul of the sport, the way it
used to be and the way it is now.

We heard from famous 70-something surfer Fred Van
Dyke who says love is what is needed in the
water, and from a man who believes the invention
of the wetsuit and surf leashes made the waves
more crowded. We got memories and advice and
inspiration. We’re presenting some of those
letters today for you to read.

For Marty, who has four children (his two grown
children include an ex-Marine and a sheriff’s
deputy), no day would be right without a slug of
coffee, a high-performance vitamin and an 8 a.m.
session at Sewer Peak.
  It’s the only spot he surfs.  

"Yesterday it was just blowing at Sewer Peak,"
says Marty, driving to an oil change he’s got
scheduled at the Point. "It was ‘Victory at Sea.’
  But while less hardy souls huddled in the lee of
the cliffs around the point, Marty unstrapped his
board from his scooter and headed into the
wind-chopped ocean.

It cost him $200.  

And it was good.

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