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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As Jews, we symbolically give our children the Torah as their inheritance/path of life upon their bat/bar mitzvah. So, for menarche, I called upon the women in the circle to hand down to Morissa a teaching that had come from their own or other people's woman-experience.

Some spoke to Morissa from themselves; others read from books or poems or stories. People spoke about friendship; about pregnancy and childbirth; about belonging to community; about learning that women friends were not to be discarded when men came into their lives. I said--with some trepidation--that while she was still too young for my message, I welcomed her to a time when her mind and heart would catch up with her body, and she would be able to experience, as I have, the sheer pleasure of living in a woman's body.

Friends gave Morissa all kinds of books, as widely divergent as the lifestyles of the women present, [including]… several blank books waiting to be written by Morissa herself. Though many of the books were beyond Morissa's understanding or interest right then, they stood on her shelves as a legacy to explore when she would be ready, like treasure chests in the attic.

So, too, many of the words said or read to her were more than she could fully take in that night, but Morissa did know that she had received a welcoming full of love and hope.

Ceremonies Recognize Transformation

From our Native American sisters we had learned of a menarche ceremony--including men as well as women--in which the community sits in watch through the night over the rising cornbread. The night before Morissa's ceremony, she and I sat up through most of the night, kneading, talking, and watching the rising challah [braided Sabbath bread]. It was her first time to take charge (not merely to assist me) in the baking of challah. We brought her baked loaves to her ceremony, inviting "women to savor the taste but to save a small piece for the Tashlikh [Rosh Hashanah custom in which bread crumbs representing sins are tossed into a flowing stream] to follow.

Along with the moon as symbol, the ceremony called for water: water reminding us of the birth waters that bring forth new selves; and of Miryam, who sweetened the water in the desert so that it was fit to drink. Had the night been warmer, another month toward summer's heat, I would have chosen a site where we could have used water for a mikveh (ritual bath)--not from the tradition that calls for cleansing what is impure, but rather from the place of rebirthing our consciousness.

We often take for granted that extraordinary blessing which is our naturally functioning bodies. By immersing ourselves fully into cold water, we are startled to awareness that what is with us all the time is itself a miracle. By purifying our vision, we can see the (w)holiness that is all-present. In lieu of a mikveh on this cool May night, we used our crumbs of challah for a Tashlikh ceremony.

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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.