Never Done: Russian Baths in Brooklyn
I love water. I love cold water. I love hot water. I love drinking water. I love swimming in water. I love oceans. I love rivers. I love lakes. I love waterfalls. I love swimming pools. I love baths. I love showers. I love natural hot springs. I love hot tubs. I even love rain. And snow. And hail.
I have been many times to the Russian and Turkish baths on the Lower East Side, and I've been to Spa Castle in Queens, and I've been to most of the hippie hot tubs and natural hot springs in Oregon. But I'd never gone to the shvitz in Brooklyn. Until now. You won't be surprised to hear that I loved it.
I went with Rimma, Dana, and Dara B. to Sandoony USA Russian Style Banya, on McDonald Ave and Avenue I, either in Midwood or Kensington, depending on who you ask. It's completely unpretentious and easy-going, with plastic tables and chairs interspersed with the hot tub, the cold plunge, and the cool pool, which are all in a central area, surrounded by three saunas, a steam room, and a restaurant where you can get dried fish, pickled fish, smoked fish, salads, meat dishes, potatoes, potatoes, and potatoes. And potatoes. And beer. And hot tea with cherry preserves. And green tarragon soda. And honey to rub into your skin while you're in the steam bath. And people of many body types walking around in bathing suits and sheep felt hats to keep their head from overheating in the sauna, but I don't understand that; it seems more like it would help retain the heat from the sauna and keep your wet head warm when you are not in the sauna, but what do I know? And potatoes. It is so not American, and I loved it.
I even remembered to say the Shehekhianu when I got into the hot tub. Maybe I remembered because it felt ritualistic to get into the hot water, and maybe I remembered because this had been on my list of things I'd never done, and wanted to, for years. The Shehekhianu, because I haven't written about it since the very first post of My Mussar Year, is the blessing that Jews say when we experience something for the first time, or for when we celebrate a ritual for the first time this year.
Baruch ata Adonai Elohenu, melekh ha'olam, shehekhianu, v'kimanu, v'higianu, lazman hazeh.
Praised be you, Adonai, king of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this day.
It's such a simple prayer, and for someone like me, who doesn't believe in God, it's such an easy one to embrace, because I believe that so many people and factors other than myself contribute every day to keeping me alive, preserving me, and enabling me to reach this day -- most of all, friends and water, in whose relaxed company I spent the entire day. Omeyn.