Menarche

This ceremony uses elements of Jewish and other traditions to share a sense of possibility and openness with a newly menstruant girl.

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Excerpted with permission from A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC).

The night arrived--not exactly as imagined, but powerful nonetheless. Rain clouds and thick trees hid the full moon. An early closing of the Palisades Interstate Park forced us to move from the flowing Hudson to a trickling brook. The arrival of police cars--keeping the neighborhood safe--gave this most natural of ceremonies a hint of the forbidden and eerie.

More than a dozen of us, holding candles to share with the moon the task of illuminating the dark, gathered in a circle with Morissa and the other young girls in the center. We sang the song "Love Is the Only Answer" from a David Zeller album, which ends with the words "watch our circle grow."

Sharing Woman-Experience

As I gazed at the faces of loved friends in the circle, I realized that a world of possibilities of living as a woman were represented in that circle: married women with children; unmarried women with children; married women without children; unmarried women with lovers either male or female; unmarried women without lovers. The straight-and-narrow slice of the world that was offered to me as truth-and-all when I began to menstruate, has, like the full moon, swelled with possibilities for Morissa and the young women of her generation. But do we dare show it to our children?

I began the ceremony by supplying some background:

"We bring the ordinary into holy consciousness through ceremony/service/celebration. By moving a life-moment from its private enclosure, often clouded with secrecy, fear, shame, and curse, we confront those feelings that have lived for generations within us, and replace them with pride in the miraculous workings of our body.

"For many of us who have grown up with ambivalent messages from our mothers and grandmothers, this affirming message does not come so easily to pass on to our daughters. We don't really know where or why we hide this life passage--which many cultures don't hide--but we have internalized the need for secrecy.

"We have finally come of age as women to ask: What have we lost in our failure to take pride in our changing bodies? What does that say about our feelings for ourselves, our daughters, our community of sisters? It is time to use ceremony to purge us from feelings of shame, disconnectedness, ordinariness.

"This ceremony of menstruation calls for a moonlit night: the moon, like a woman's cycle, waxing and waning; the full moon like an egg bursting forth from the ovary fully ripe. The full moon, coming right in the middle of Morissa's cycle, gives a feeling of congruence, of being on target, of being in touch with the Holy One of Being. How absolutely right it feels tonight, to celebrate Morissa's fullness with that of the moon and our "weave of women" (as Esther Broner's novel has named it)! The very ceremony is a microcosm of what it means to be a woman, to speak a special intuitive language with other women and the universe."

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Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow

Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow directs the Shalom Center and is the author of numerous books, including Godwrestling, Godwrestling--Round 2, Seasons of Our Joy, The Bush is Burning, and These Holy Sparks.

Phyllis O. Berman

Phyllis Ocean Berman directed Elat Chayyim's Summer Program and is coauthor of Tales of Tikkun.