My second daughter, Meira, got her period for the first time earlier this year, right before her bat mitzvah. With her older sister, Michal, we had initiated a new family ritual of a “period party” – but this time, things were different.
First, Meira didn’t seem so excited about the idea in the first place, and I knew it would require some convincing for me to persuade her to agree to go through with it. Second, my family no longer lives in Jerusalem, where these kinds of quirky spiritual things are more commonplace. We now live in the Lower Galilee, where the population is more stratified between religious and secular, and is also more conservative in terms of spiritual and religious experimentation. When my oldest daughter got her period for the first time, we were living in Jerusalem, and although I admit that only one other of her friends (whose mother is also a rabbi, like me, and a Jewish Renewal Rabbi at that!) had a period party after her (and her party was only with adult women, not the girl’s friends), I felt more comfortable inviting Michal’s friends to her party than I did inviting Meira’s friends to hers.
But I knew I would regret having not done it if I had let it slide. As tired as I am in my last month of pregnancy at age 42, I reminded myself how important intentionality and ritual is in family life. As a parent, one of my roles is to put my ideology and values into practice through experiential rituals that become part of our particular family’s practice. If I skipped the period party with Meira, it would lose its status as a family ritual, and who knows if I would end up having one for my next daughter Hallel, and for the yet unborn fetus (a girl) due to join our family in two weeks, God willing?
But what is so important about a period party? Well, despite the openness in our society about matters sexual as compared to when I was growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s, menstruation is still taboo, a perpetuation of the notion that it is something girls and women should be embarrassed about. As though each human being did not grow inside a mother’s womb surrounded by a uterine wall, and as though the fact that that uterine wall sheds and is replenished to create new life is somehow shameful.
But even more than putting menstruation out in the open, my purpose in holding period parties for my daughters is to actually celebrate their transition into womanhood. At their bat mitzvah celebrations, they teach Torah (at Meira’s bat mitzvah she did this through a midrash art project that she presented to our guests) and display their ability to lead the community in prayer, but there is no talk of the physical changes going on in their bodies. Becoming a woman with the ability to grow life and bring it into the world is an amazing and empowering experience that is strikingly ignored in traditional Jewish life. It is this glaring hole that these period parties are meant to fill.
And so, at Meira’s period party, we began with a ritual immersion in the mikveh (luckily I happen to run the mikveh at Kibbutz Hannaton, where we live, and so I did not have to convince anyone that this was appropriate). Michal and I welcomed Meira into our family’s circle of women and offered to be there for her as she embarks on her journey as a woman. Then Meira immersed three times, each time reciting a blessing—first a blessing on ritual immersion in the “living waters,” then a blessing praising God for making her a woman, and then the blessing praising God for giving her life, sustaining her, and bringing her to that very special moment. Of course she did not get through the mikveh ritual without a few giggles, but she was amazingly present and cooperative.
Then, when she emerged all shiny and wet, dressed in her sweats and the fuzzy deep red scarf Michal knitted for her that we presented to her when she arrived at the party (with a card attached naming her one of us, a “BLOOD SISTER,” like I did for Michal at her period party), Meira’s friends showered her with chocolate candies, and we all sat down to eat while appropriately selected music played in the background. The room was decorated with red heart balloons and the food set out on a red tablecloth on the floor. The spread consisted of all red foods—pomegranate juice, pomegranate seeds (we were lucky to find some pomegranates in the store despite the fact that the season should be over by now), cherry tomatoes, cranberry muffins, beet chips, and strawberries dipped in chocolate (winter is strawberry season in Israel). This was perhaps a bit over the top, but that was part of the idea, as well as the mood I wanted for the party. Serious but fun – and almost exaggerated and audacious in its celebration of something that most people are afraid to even mention.
When we were finished snacking and schmoozing, we beaded a necklace (with red beads, of course) for Meira. As each of us took our turn to place beads on the beading string, we offered Meira a blessing. The blessings ranged from Michal’s wishing Meira better luck with tampons than she had at her age to my wishing her a life full of appreciation of and pleasure from being born a woman. Touchingly, her friends participated in this exercise seriously and without too much giggling. I was pleasantly surprised.Maybe these kids’ parents thought it was weird. Or maybe not. But I would not be surprised if at least one of her friends that was present does something similar when she gets her period. At least, I hope so.
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