by Marla Goldberg

Shalom.  Last Shabbat, we are delighted to welcome a new Jewish month alongside our regularly scheduled rest. The moon has been an instrument of keeping time for the Jewish people and it is how the ancients measured the months. From the earliest times, Rosh Chodesh (the first of the month) has been celebrated as a semi-holiday.

In the biblical period, feasts would be held, and women especially would seek out the prophets for advice and help. Today it is celebrated as a day of joy. Rosh Chodesh is a time for new beginnings.

Some consider it a time to test new skills or dare to make changes in our lives. Some set Rosh Chodesh as the day to embark on new hobbies or start on a new course of study—or begin to take better care of themselves.
For all, Rosh Chodesh is our perpetual new beginning, sanctioned and encouraged by the memory of so many other beginnings pursued over thousands of years.

In Judaism, the rabbis offered the following explanation for the special relationship between women and the new moon: after the Exodus, while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah from God, the Israelites, impatient and worried, succumbed to idolatry. They pooled their gold and made the golden calf. But in this case, the rabbis tell us, “The ‘Israelites’ means only the men. The women refused to participate and refused to offer up their gold and jewelry for such an abomination.”

“Yet when the time was right, they proved themselves generous, for upon Moses’ return and the building of the tabernacle, they gave abundantly of their mirrors and other prized belongings to help make the sacred instruments of the Temple.” God rewarded the women for their devotion and their generosity by granting them the new moon as their – our – holiday!

As we welcome the Hebrew month of Av, we consider with contemplation the notion of restoration. When we sit low on the floor and mourn the destruction of both Temples, we recite from the book of Eikah (Lamentations). This is in efforts to offer consolation, hope. We dream of rebuilding, beginning again, perhaps starting a new creative process. It is noteworthy that the sign of Av is the lion, aryeh, an animal that is a “fierce fighter,” symbolizing the endurance of our people.

Very soon after Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) we celebrate a joyous holiday known as Tu B’Av (the 15th of Av)—when “young unmarried women and men of Jerusalem would come to the vineyards and dance.  Marriages sprung up like wildflowers from this meeting.” Again, we are very lucky as Jews, to share hope for our future generations.

And as WRJ, we are delighted and comforted in having the opportunity to celebrate special occasions together.  We continue our holy work as sisterhoods, women’s groups, and districts–while enjoying friendships that span cities, counties, states, and even countries. We remain “stronger together” as we observe Jewish holidays and celebrate Jewish life.

As we light the Shabbat candles this week, please take a moment to reflect and see the brightness that WRJ offers us in our lives. And as we move toward our next hundred years, we can be grateful for our many opportunities to pursue new beginnings (all the while appreciating life’s lessons learned along the way).

Marla Goldberg is the President of WRJ’s Midwest District and attends Temple Beth Israel in Skokie, IL.