“The Sacred Zoom Room”: Making meaning these High Holidays

By Sarah Waxman

For the past couple of weeks, as we welcomed the month of Elul, I blew the shofar for hundreds of women online. This year, we are preparing for the Holy Days and preparing for the work of forgiveness, from a distance. At a time when my “normal” High Holiday practice is not possible, I am adapting the ancient wisdom of my ancestors, combined with the power of my monthly community of women to help me grow, repent, reflect, and pray. Bringing my Rosh Chodesh tradition into my Rosh Hashana practice feels powerful, important, and transformative. This year, I’m gathering online with women to crack our hearts open, come together in community, and story-tell.

Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world, one of the four new years in the Jewish calendar, and a New Moon. Traditionally Rosh Chodesh, the new moon, is a time each month that women come together to learn and lift each other up. Rashi declared Rosh Chodesh a women’s holiday, and for generations since, women have found the ritual to be a time for having deep conversations and nurturing meaningful relationships.

Women who have participated in Rosh Chodesh groups over the course of their lifetimes often say that their circle (sometimes called a “Well Circle”) has been one of the most transformative and powerful spiritual communities that they belong to.

This year, I am searching for creative ways to express the deepest parts of my soul in order to make this Rosh Hashana meaningful. I called the people who identify as women in my family and asked them to join a special family gathering between the week of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We are going to meet in a “sacred Zoom room” and create opportunities for ritual, personal sharing, and something transformative together.

With the help of our High Holidays Guide, written by over a dozen women in the At The Well network, we have templates, articles, and scripts to help us speak to each other about forgiveness. There are meditations, embodied practices, and even lessons from a therapist on how to set intentions with your family. The Covid-19 pandemic has put tremendous strain on all of our relationships and communities. So let’s admit it, we need to do this forgiveness practice together.

One of the key rituals during the High Holidays is the mandate to return to ourselves, to do the work of Teshuva, turning inward to find the places where we missed the mark. This work can be intense, but it is also supposed to be sweet and done in the community. This year, let’s not lose that. Let’s get creative and bring back the ancient women’s tradition of Rosh Chodesh.

Calling all sisters, daughters, mothers, aunts, sisters-in-law, cousins, family friends: The new year and new moon are coming. It is time to lean on each other and the deep bonds of belonging to lift each other up as we enter 5781.

Sarah Waxman is Founder and Executive Director, At The Well. She is passionate about cultivating community and intergenerational connections.

Special thanks to Susan Berrin, one of the first authors to document the ritual of Rosh Chodesh in her book Celebrating the New Moon: A Rosh Chodesh Anthology, for feedback on this article.