Celebrated each month at the new moon, the feminine ties to Rosh Chodesh come from a midrash, originating almost 1500 years ago. It says that as a reward for not contributing their jewelry to the creation of the Golden Calf, God gave this holiday to women.
Nowadays most Jews think of Rosh Chodesh simply as a minor holiday where a blessing is recited in synagogue. The only problem is that until the twentieth century the only people allowed to pray aloud in synagogues were men, thus taking women’s right to celebrate the new month away from them.
This pattern has changed as women formed their own Rosh Chodesh groups. One such group in Los Angeles, Westside Women, consists of female students from UCLA and the nearby conservative Sinai Temple. The goal of the program is to provide middle school and high school girls, whose ages range from 13 to 16, with strong successful female role models.
“The UCLA and Sinai program is wonderful and fun. Every time we meet it is a great experience where we learn something new by spending time with each other as a young Jewish women’s group. And not to forget, we have a blast every time!” says Sinai High student Ramona Saviss.
Together the Westside Women celebrate Rosh Chodesh at Sinai Temple, talking about the new month and sharing moments from the previous month. Each Sinai student has been paired up with a “big sister” from UCLA. Donna Pouladian, a UCLA junior, says, “It feels wonderful to be a ‘big sister’ to the young girls in the program. I see that they enjoy the program as much as the UCLA girls do.”
The integration of the two different age groups makes for a variety of perspectives, an integral part of the Rosh Chodesh program. One such discussion was about when we can be our true selves. What began as a discussion about superficiality turned into one about everything from moments when we feel self-conscious to admirable female role models.
Aside from Rosh Chodesh celebrations, the women also have programs that give them a chance to bond and give back to the community: a Hannukah party for autistic children; raising money for Project Chicken Soup, which prepares and delivers kosher food to Jews living with HIV/AIDS; rock climbing; a sleepover in the UCLA Hillel’s new building; and more community service.
While all of the younger participants have been active in Jewish youth movements, Michal Marks, their teacher at Sinai, says that the Rosh Chodesh program provides the impetus for some to return to Hebrew school.