Rosh Chodesh groups help connect women on a monthly basis for spiritual inspiration, Jewish rituals and friendships.
By Jen Lovy
Featured photo by Jerry Zolynsky
Not that Jewish women need an excuse to get together and find inspiration but, if they did, the celebration of a new Jewish month offers such an opportunity through a variety of Detroit-area Rosh Chodesh groups.
“Participating in a Rosh Chodesh group is a great way to ground yourself once a month. Women are always busy, often doing so much for others. This is a unique opportunity to tap into something reflective and meaningful,” said Itty Shemtov, who runs the Rosh Chodesh Society at The Shul in West Bloomfield.
“One of the greatest things I find about these gatherings is that during every meeting there is that aha moment where participants walk away in awe over what’s presented. We could be discussing topics like Purim, where everyone knows about the holiday, or we could be talking about something more obscure like Jewish views on sleep; regardless of the topic, there is always that time where something really resonates.”
These women-only gatherings have probably been done in some form for centuries, according to Shemtov. However, Rosh Chodesh groups really emerged in the 1960s and ’70s, the same time the women’s movement gained momentum.
According to biblical commentary, Rosh Chodesh is a particularly special day for women because while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the women refused to relinquish their jewelry for the creation of the golden calf. God rewarded them by making the start of each new month a holiday where they did not have to work. Some explain that it’s considered a holiday for women because the waxing and waning of the moon is connected to a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Regardless of the reason, the celebration of Rosh Chodesh has evolved to include a time for women to meet regularly on or around the start of a new month to learn and explore themes related to women. The emphasis of these get-togethers is typically centered on spirituality, Jewish ritual and celebrations.
Groups in Detroit
These groups are popular around the globe and can be found in various forms throughout Metro Detroit. Some run under the auspice of congregations, others operate through Jewish organizations, and a few are organized and run independently by like-minded women.
The Rosh Chodesh group at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills started approximately six years ago as a one-time women’s event. However, because it was so well received, it evolved into a series of gatherings held throughout the year.
Another began because the Downtown Synagogue didn’t have a sisterhood and congregants wanted to get women of different ages together for discussions on Torah and relevant women’s issues. Although no longer affiliated with the synagogue, the group is in its eighth year.
The most significant expansion of local groups began three years ago when the first Rosh Chodesh Circle was formed by The Well, an outreach organization for young Jewish adults in Metro Detroit. The Well now runs nine groups, thanks to funding provided by a local donor and educational material provided by, and often confused with, an international organization called At The Well.
These groups are a collection of like-minded women “open to trying new things and engaging more deeply with spirituality, wellness and friendship,” according to Avery Drongowski, 26, The Well’s community manager.
Drongowski said The Well groups are carefully put together based on a variety of factors including participants’ shared interests, stages in life and careers.
Simply stated, their model for putting together groups is based on asking the question “could these women end up being best friends,” according to Drongowski. “Our goal is to make strong, lasting relationships.”
Brooke Bendix, 34, of Detroit said the Rosh Chodesh Circle has made a positive impact in her life by creating strong bonds with other like-minded young Jewish women.
“Once a month, in the Jewish tradition of Rosh Chodesh, our circle of nine young women comes together and re-connects on a more spiritual level and that has been something unique to be a part of,” Bendix said.
Rosh Chodesh groups, like Bendix’s, operating under the auspices of The Well, rotate between participants’ homes where they gather for dinner followed by a discussion related to the monthly theme. It is up to the host to use the materials provided by At The Well and add her own spin when presenting on the topic. Cooking demonstrations, yoga sessions and art projects are among some of the more hands-on experiences groups have incorporated in their get-togethers.
Participants say what makes these groups work so well is the small sizes, which allow the women to really get to know each other and feel comfortable sharing deeper thought and ideas. For example, when a sex therapist spoke to one of The Well groups, the women were comfortable discussing intimate topics.
Rosh Chodesh group members generally look at the coming month and pick topics relatable to women. So, around the month of Nissan, when Passover occurs, talks with themes of freedom are typical. In Tishrei, when the High Holidays fall, repentance and redemption are popular.
Chance for Renewal
Each fall, Adat Shalom holds its kick-off event. Then, throughout the year, Rabbi Rachel Shere leads five Rosh Chodesh study sessions that are free and open to the community.
“It’s an opportunity for renewal and readjusting your perspective,” said Rochelle Lieberman, who chairs the events. “Rabbi Shere does an incredible job of pulling together ancient texts and current situations for a meaningful and spiritual conversation.”
Lieberman estimates an average of 25 women attend each session with some “regulars” participating and others coming when they can.
When the Downtown Synagogue didn’t have a rabbi, Dorit Edut, a pluralistic rabbi, volunteered to help the congregation. It was then that she and congregant Sydney Skully started gathering women to meet for Rosh Chodesh.
While no longer affiliated with the synagogue, the group continues to gather monthly. It has a participant list of approximately 25 women, ranging in age from late 30s to early 70s. Typically, 10 to 15 women attend each month, rotating homes and picking topics a few months in advance.
Past discussions have included women in the Bible, modern women’s issues and women in Jewish art, which including a visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Before delving into the monthly topic, each meeting begins with lighting candles and saying a blessing over the yuntif, according to Edut, a resident of Huntington Woods. They are also sure to have a goblet filled with water to signify Miriam’s cup. This is done because, according to Midrash, Miriam was associated with finding wells in the desert and when she died, the water was said to have disappeared. The group also reads from The Jewish Book of Days, a work by Rabbi Jill Hammer, containing passages for each corresponding day of the Hebrew calendar.
“Often we add our own intentions or hopes and wishes for that month. And, then, of course, we eat,” Edut said.
Adat Shalom will host a Rosh Chodesh event to welcome the month of Sivan with Torah study, prayer and light refreshments from 7-8 p.m. Tuesday, June 4. For details, contact Rochelle Lieberman at Rochelle.firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about The Well’s Rosh Chodesh Circles, contact Marisa Meyerson at email@example.com. To learn more about The Shul’s Rosh Chodesh Society, contact Itty Shemtov at firstname.lastname@example.org. For details about Rabbi Dorit Edut’s group, contact her at email@example.com or (248) 556-6316.