Because we had a couple of conversions to celebrate, which require a mikvah immersion, and because the only kosher mikvah in town is the Pacific Ocean, our chavurah met last Friday morning as the sun came up to daaven Shachrit on the beach. It was a beautiful clear day after weeks of overcast and haze: surfers and swimmers came and went (and looked at us funny - lots of tallits and even a few sets of tefillin, and tefillin look very odd if you've never seen them before) as we chanted. A couple of outrigger canoes slipped out silently through the shallows, toward the outer reef, and in the far distance a huge container ship moved across the horizon toward the docks. Two of those weird Army helicopters suspended from their double rotors buzzed across the sky.
Mikvah immersion requires that you be naked, and this was accomplished by going in wrapped in a pareu, which was unwrapped and held up by attendants as a curtain/mechitza for modesty. The converts emerged from the water one by one, dripping wet and singing Shehechiyanu. An elderly Italian tourist stood by and watched, almost in tears. "Che bello," she said, over and over again. She was a Jew from Torino, and had seen or known of many a mikvah immersion, but never one like this. "I say Shehechiyanu for me, too. Because I see it, the first time."
Shehechiyanu is the prayer that you say when doing something for the first time. "Blessed are you Lord our God, ruler of the Universe, who has kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this moment."