A Rosh Chodesh How-To

Starting and growing a Rosh Chodesh group.

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A Rosh Chodesh group can provide a unique opportunity for women to share experiences. After all, we are experts at our own lives. Talking about our upbringing, relationships with parents and siblings, experiences with death and mourning, the need for a spiritual dimension in our day-to-day lives, the joys and pains of relationships with significant others, how it felt to have an aliyah for the first time–all are potential themes to explore. Sharing the tales of these experiences will broaden your own knowledge while creating a bond between group members.

Second, perhaps you feel that there are no other women who share your concerns. You may simply need to speak up and let people know that you're thinking about trying to get a group started. The "old girl" network–one person tells another, who tells another–could circulate the message. You may choose, as some women have, to advertise through a synagogue newsletter, in the Jewish press, or even via the personals column of your local paper. Perhaps ask others in your Hadassah chapter, at your local day care center, or at the seniors' center where you take Elderhostel classes. Sometimes a specific event, such as a women's Seder, or an occasion when women gather together around a common concern serve as the impetus to form a group.

The Initial Meeting: Establishing an Agenda

A group of women gathers, either in someone's living room, in the shul library, or at the Jewish Community Center. A leader or facilitator–often a woman who's been involved in organizing this first meeting–has planned an introductory program. The format of this program will vary, depending on the interests, expertise, and experience of the leader-facilitator. Some groups will observe a ritual or celebration that is tied to a theme associated with the Jewish month, while other groups may begin and end with a brief song, poem, or activity, but focus mainly on a semi structured discussion or study session.

Regardless of the format, this first meeting should ideally allow people to introduce themselves and begin to get to know one another in the context of a Rosh Chodesh group: that is, as Jewish women. One way of doing this is to have each woman introduce herself by her Hebrew or Yiddish name, and by the names of her mother and grandmothers (for example, "I am Malkah, daughter of Rivkah, granddaughter of Gittel and Sarah"). Sharing a brief Jewish autobiography, as well as one's hopes for, and interests in, the group, is another tool to becoming a group.

These activities will hopefully highlight common experiences and themes which can become the basis for future programs and for the group's identity. The leader can facilitate this process by drawing out those who are reticent, containing those who go on at length, and emphasizing commonalities rather than differences among those present (for this reason, we don't encourage highly charged political issues to be the focus of an initial meeting). By the close of the first meeting, one or several directions toward which the group could proceed have probably emerged.

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Ruth Berger Goldston, PhD is a psychologist who specializes in group therapy training and consultation. She is a former chair of the National Havurah Committee.